Politics is a Game, and the Players Want to Win

by | May 7, 2024

Politics is a Game, and the Players Want to Win

by | May 7, 2024

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The recent massive “foreign aid” bill which gave over $60 billion to Ukraine was a key victory for what we call the “Uniparty.” However, this was not just a cash transfer; more accurately, quite a lot of the money went as spoils to the American military contractors who supply Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Joe Biden and Donald Trump came together with both parties in the legislature to fleece the taxpayer in favor of narrow financial interests and American client states, all while attacking our freedom and provoking a third world war. The whole picture is quite bleak.

Still, even if the people at the top usually win, it is a mistake to assume they have everything under direct control. Perhaps it is fair to say that electoral politics is more like professional sports than professional wrestling: it is competitive but they’re in the league together. The players all benefit greatly at the expense of the spectators, but there is much more money in winning. While it is probably best that we avoid paying for this dismal spectacle, the need for public support does sometimes provide real opportunities to pressure the politicians competing to win and get the best spoils.

Donald Trump may have proven himself to be a full swamp creature about the most important things, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t real hatred for him from powerful people in our society. It is common for libertarians or others cynical and exasperated by government to think this is all an act. While obviously there is a lot of behind the scenes pressure, society is generally too complicated to be fully controlled by any close conspiracy.

For example, it may be true that people like Donald Trump and Elon Musk—the two most prominent examples of wealthy people who sometimes appear to be against the machine—had elite support throughout their careers and generally go along with elite consensus on the most important things, but it doesn’t mean that at other times they aren’t in conflict with others of their class. The needle can move on issues due to the behavior of prominent individuals that don’t conform to the way they are expected to behave. In fact, it’s common that whoever proves the most important leader of the masses was initially promoted by the elite but turned against their class. The most prominent example in history is Julius Caesar, who may have become a tyrant, but regardless was of the popular faction. It is fair to say that he wasn’t in on the assassination conspiracy against himself—clearly he became a real problem to the upper class, in one way or another.

It’s common for cynics to call many people “controlled opposition,” usually without real evidence, simply because they aren’t in agreement on every issue or there are limits to their courage. There are certainly instances in the world where someone is paid to pretend to be an opposition leader, but more commonly they could be better called “allowed opposition.” In many countries that have a nominally free press but have problems with press freedom, real journalism still takes place, but journalists also know how far they can go without finding themselves in trouble. Journalists may collect information on the corruption of a cabinet minister, but wait to publish until he is already falling out of favor without needing any instructions to read the situation. In politics an opposition party may really express a different vision for managing the country, but not be so hostile as to get themselves killed. Trump’s support of the Ukraine bill seems to signal he has understood the amount of opposition allowed. At the same time, Trump’s conflict with the Pharisee class—who are below the ones who make foreign policy decisions—is real. Trump is not in cahoots with any of the people making him go to ridiculous legal trials or with the academics and media figures who lose their minds whenever he speaks.

The two sides in American politics keep most policies the same as far as it would impact the ruling class on a personal level, but there are a great deal of spoils to be had. There is of course corruption of all sorts that goes with being close to the faction in power. Perhaps even more important than that, even though our government system is not supposed to be based on “patronage,” there is still an enormous amount of it, and an entire swarm of attendants transfer home ownership in northern Virginia when control of the White House changes parties. For the people who work these campaigns it can make or break their career if their man wins. Many oligarchs commonly donate to both sides, and you can be sure they are expecting to get something from it.

While some elections may involve outright cheating, or in non-competitive races “owners” may choose some unelectable crackpot who appeals to a smaller and more fanatical base, they are still out for victory. This gives the public at least some leverage to be treated differently, even if our government is ever less responsive. One small example is that Democrats have long been obsessed with banning menthol cigarettes, and as happened again recently, pulled back out of concern for angering black voters. It isn’t the most important issue to most people, but it is also a clear demonstration of rulers having a feverish desire to oppress the public but not doing so because they expect the public wouldn’t take it. What the public thinks still matters if a group cares enough about a sufficient issue to impact an election.

There is no denying that the political and financial classes almost always win while the public loses. But it is a mistake to think that elections are choreographed when so much money is at stake. There is competition and conflict at every level of our leadership. One should be cautious about buying into caring about the game they play, but at the same time, the results matter a great deal.

Still, there are some important uses for recognizing this truth. It is not accurate to write our government off as a grand conspiracy, when in reality there is generally a multitude of competing conspiracies. But perhaps most importantly, in the end they rely on public support to get the spoils they so badly want. Despite the fact that it is often discouraging and involves many defeats, advocacy with your countrymen remains important, even in the most trying circumstances.

About Brad Pearce

Brad Pearce writes The Wayward Rabbler on Substack. He lives in eastern Washington with his wife and daughter. Brad's main interest is the way government and media narratives shape the public's understanding of the world and generate support for insane and destructive policies.

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