Kunstler asks “are Americans ready for tyranny?”

Summary: In this chapter of my podcast with James Howard Kunstler, we discuss the growing power of America’s elites – and our drift to tyranny. This is one of the most interesting discussions I have had in many years. It provides a great introduction to the FM website’s themes.

Soon we’ll have statues of our own tyrant to bow down before!

Statue of Caesar Augustus in Rome, Italy
Statue of Caesar Augustus in Rome, Italy.

Are these the Crazy Years in America?
— Are Americans ready for tyranny?

Part 3 of a podcast interview by James Howard Kunstler.
KunstlerCast 322 is posted with his generous permission.

Kunstler is a skilled interviewer, and led our discussion into some fascinating areas. I will be using some of his insights in future posts. This is a cleaned-up transcript of the third chapter of the podcast, with links added for more information.


JHK – That I think that’s a good point. How much of these battles between the Left and Right are the equivalent of an intellectual civil war? What might that lead to?

It’s an interesting question. I don’t have an answer. This comes back to what you were talking about earlier: what’s going on in the House? I believe it is all about power. They natter about RussiaGate, UkraineGate, and Trump grabbing women’s pussies – and therefore he should be removed from the White House. It’s just jousting. The actual words are irrelevant.

I think most people realize that by now in some way. They have tuned out. You either hate him or you love him. You think that he should be in or should be out, but the actual arguments are irrelevant. They started making the case that he should be impeached on inauguration day – so you know the actual arguments don’t matter. They’re just playing with the machinery to see if they can get him out.

JHK – Is there such a thing is the Deep State, in your view and how did it emerge into its current manifestation as something of an antagonist to the public interest?

I’m always amazed that people even question this? Eisenhower, who by the way knew about these things, didn’t use that phrase. But he warned about the Military-Industrial-Complex, which is of course the core of the Deep State. He warned about it in 1961. Since then is it has expanded by orders of magnitude. That we’re talking about whether there is the Deep State is, in my opinion, more a matter of we just don’t want to see it because it’s too scary.

I think this is a very common subtext to many of our discussions about our society. There are people who point to fairly obvious emerging phenomena. There are other people who have their eyes closed, saying “I don’t see it!”

The Deep State emerged from the WWI and WWII war mobilizations, combined with the mobilization to end the Great Depression. These created an unprecedented (in the US) political and governing machinery powered by alliances among our elites. During the Cold War, the Deep State took on a life of its own. Trump’s term is a milestone in its history. A milestone is a marker of no intrinsic significance by itself. It points to an important point on the path. To exert its full force, the Deep State has had to emerge from the shadows. As Gandalf says in Lord Of The Rings,“When the plot is ripe it remains no longer secret.”

The Deep State can only exert a fraction of their full power from the shadows. Now they feel their strength. They are standing tall.

For a clear warning of where we’re going, see this NYT op-ed: “Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President” by William H. McRaven (Admiral, retired, and former commander of Special Operations Command) – “If this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs {i.e., do what the Deep State commands)…then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office …the sooner, the better.” This is an explicit declaration of insurgency by the Deep State against the Constitution.

JHK – I did not cast a vote for Trump or his opponent. But I’m impressed with his resilience. If nothing else, he has stood up to an amazing amount of official adversity. Have you noticed that – or is that something that you might not agree with.

I believe that the Republicans have realized that they’re finished if they let the Democrats win this thing. They’re fighting about Trump like kids play a Capture the Flag – he’s the flag. They can’t lose. It’s an essential struggle. If the Republicans in the Senate vote to kick Trump out, they’re done.

The Deep State has moved against Trump because he’s a clown. They would never have tried this against LBJ. He would have declared special hearings, put all the senior guys of the Deep State in a special charter plane – which would have crashed over Iowa. He would have made a speech, saying “Oh my God, it’s so terrible” and declared a day of mourning. Trump’s weakness has brought the deep state into the daylight.

This comes back to your point. It’s a coup. Not a “coup” in a literal sense, but it is a tremendous assertion of power. Or perhaps the next stage in their assertion power

JHK – Do you have any expectations about the Barr investigation and the Durham investigation, and whether that will act as any kind of a corrective to these Deep State usurpations?

I’m not a believer that these commissions and reports are more than a bucketfull warm spit. Perhaps they will indict a bunch of people. But I’m a skeptic on that. On the other hand, I believe that Washington is like an iceberg. As you know, 90% of what’s happening in Washington is invisible to us. I know some very well connected people in this country and it’s invisible even to them. So something could come out of those that is much closer to your vision of what will happen than mine. I wouldn’t even be surprised.

JHK – What do you make of the whistleblower episode?

I can’t quite think of the right metaphor for it. They’re just manufacturing narratives. One of the structural strengths of the Left is that they have – not control, but dominance of the major media. This is one of the great requirements to control politics: to manufacture these narratives and sell them to us.

JHK – That was the next thing I wanted to ask. What we call the mainstream media seems to be seriously off its rocker these days, publishing amazing amounts of bad faith dishonest stuff. The Washington Post has been accused for decades of being the official errand boy for the CIA. You could say the same thing about the New York Times and the State Department. But the shamelessness of their dishonesty is just epic these days.

I don’t look at it that way. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but it’s a choice of perspectives. It’s a battle and we’re now in the pursuit phase. Are you familiar with the phases of a battle? We are in the pursuit phase, the Deep State and its allies have won. They’re charging across the field after their broken and defeated enemy – us. You say “they’re off the rocker.” I say, “Wow, they are powerful!” You can see that they’re winning by the way they’ve liberated themselves from mundane facts.

JHK – What is it that they’re winning, exactly? Do you mean the narrative war? Because it doesn’t seem to me that they’re necessarily going to win the war.

The war isn’t about removing Trump. I mean that would be wonderful for them, but I don’t think that was ever the goal. Rather the goal was to cripple President Trump. It’s like when rich people sue a critic, or the sheriff arrests a critic. So then he fights in court for 2 years. Then he wins but he is bankrupt. Trump has spent like 80% of his energy fighting the Deep State and its allies, and this phantom that they’ve manufactured. They’ve already won. Trump can’t run in 2020 on a tremendous list of accomplishments. He will have to run saying that “I survive these attacks, and it has taken all my energy to do so.” That’s not too impressive thing. Imagine if Trump didn’t have to spend his entire term fighting the Deep State. Imagine what he might have done? We don’t know but it’s possible he might have done great things. They have won by preventing that.

JHK – Let’s switch to another kind of metaphorical bugbear: the globalists. Do the globalist, so-called, actually exist? Who are they? Who do they serve? How do they get away with what they are doing?

As we all know, the world has become smaller. That’s a good thing. Marshall McLuhan, the global village, and all that. One aspect of the global village is that it has one set of elites. They become a group – a class – because they realize that they have more in common with each other then they do with us.

I saw this in the Boy Scouts. I was on a Director and VP of a Boy Scout Council. I realized that it was essentially controlled by the 1%. The Boy Scouts used to be run as a grassroots organization by the local elites. The guy who owned the funeral parlor, the doctor, and the guy who owned 3 car dealerships, etc. Those people don’t count anymore because wealth is so concentrated. You have a handful of local leaders who now work with their peers across the country. They’ve developed a class solidarity.

It’s happening around the world. It’s a transformative event brought about by modern communication and transportation mechanisms. Their unlimited greed has provoked a great deal of opposition, which is beginning to get violent in many corners of the world. Peasant protests. …Peasants protests are a way for peasants to vent their frustration. They are the opposite of effective political opposition.

JHK – So you see this as being symptomatic but not necessarily meaningful.

They are meaningful because it shows that our elites’ power is so strong that there is no longer meaningful opposition to them. You see protestors dressing up as unicorns or twerking in the streets. That makes our elites really really happy.

JHK – Paradigms are known to flip pretty suddenly, though. Personally, I think we’re going to see that happen in the years ahead, and that a lot of the accepted conventional wisdom of the now is going to be regarded as ridiculous in 5 or 10 years. But I’ve also said that because we are floundering so badly in constructing a coherent consensus about what’s happening to us, that the time will come when the American people will beg someone to tell them what to do – and channel their energies into “useful” avenues. That sounds like a pretty authoritarian recipe to me.

You’re certainly right. A lot of our differences, our perspective about things, can move suddenly. But those are merely recognition of long term trends. You mention that we are moving toward autocracy. That has been happening for a long time. Look at Gallup’s Confidence In Institutions surveys that they do every year, there are 2 institutions that Americans have vastly more confidence in than anything else: the military and the police. The governing institutions by which we stand together to rule ourselves are at the bottom of the list. That tells me that we’ve already made much of the transition to an autocracy.

Another indicator: ask people if they would be willing to surrender freedom of speech. Large numbers are happy with that. Robust numbers of the young {see here and here} are willing to give up freedom of speech. They’ve grown up in the Administrative State, and are comfortable with its soft tyranny.

“Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man”
– Attributed to the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola.

The Left has been programming these kids since birth. Now they’re coming out of the assembly line, suited to grow up in a tyranny. Our elites are training us much like you train dogs because that’s how our elite see us. The Transportation Safety Administration treats us like dogs. You stand there in your socks, holding your shoes. The pretty young girls have to take their sweaters off for “investigation.” It trains us to be peons, and that the proper orientation to authority is to bow low.

————————- End of part three of the interview. ————————

Other chapters of this interview

  1. Kunstler asks “are these the Crazy Years in America?
  2. Kunstler asks “where are America’s leaders?”
  3. Kunstler asks “are Americans ready for tyranny?”
  4. Kunstler asks “what is America’s future?”

About Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler
Photo by Charlie Samuels.

James Howard Kunstler (Wikipedia) worked as a reporter and feature writer for several newspapers, before working as a staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975, he began writing books on a full-time basis. Kunstler is the author of 12 novels and has been a regular contributor to many major media, writing about environmental and economic issues. He is a leading supporter of the movement known as “New Urbanism.”

He has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, MIT, and many other colleges. He has written five non-fiction books.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.  Also, see a story about our future: “Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see these posts about leadership, about ways to reform America’s politics, and especially these…

  1. Important: A 4th of July reminder that America is ours to keep – or to lose!
  2. What comes after the Constitution? Can we see the outline of a “Mark 3” version of the USA?
  3. The Coming of a New American Republic – by James V. DeLong.
  4. A third American regime will arise from the ashes of the present one.
  5. Origins of what may become the 3rd American Republic (a plutocracy).
  6. We’ve worked through all 5 stages of grief for the Republic. Now, on to The New America!
  7. Our institutions are hollow because we don’t love them.
  8. After Independence Day, look to America after the Republic.
  9. Are there limits to institutions’ regulation of our actions?

Books about a possible future

The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith (2011). See a review by Martin van Creveld.

Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook by Edward N. Luttwak. He is a political scientist known for his works on grand strategy, military history, and international relations. This is his best-known book.

The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics
Available at Amazon.
Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook
Available at Amazon.

23 thoughts on “Kunstler asks “are Americans ready for tyranny?””

  1. Agree. Just recently some members of Catholic parish made arrangements and paid for a policeman to be at every Mass in a prominent way. Fear is expressing itself. Trump, I think, is a result of that fear. He is our dictator stand-in. A rather powerfless one to be sure but he’ll do for now.

    I recently purchased a copy of a painting that captures today’s world. I think. It is George Grosz’s ‘Eclipse Of The Sun’ (1926). “The painting is a scathing indictment of the military-industrial complex and of materialism, featuring an industrialist, a general, and four headless members of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, all under a sun that is obscured by a dollar sign.”


    George Grosz's

    1. Michael,

      “Just recently some members of Catholic parish made arrangements and paid for a policeman to be at every Mass in a prominent way.”

      Why? What prompted that?

      “Fear is expressing itself.”

      There are quite a few surveys that measure many of our fears. I don’t believe they show any increases.

      “Trump, I think, is a result of that fear.”

      Why do you believe that? Fear of what? People don’t feel fear – it is fear of something.

      “He is our dictator stand-in.”

      Why do you say that? With what evidence? I can’t think of any.

      1. Why? What prompted that? (police at church)
        Answer: All the recent killings at churches. Also, our pastor has set up a sophisticated security system.

        “Fear is expressing itself.”
        Answer: Conclusion to police at church.

        “Trump, I think, is a result of that fear.”
        Why do you believe that? Fear of what? People don’t feel fear – it is fear of something.
        “He is our dictator stand-in.”
        Why do you say that? With what evidence? I can’t think of any.

        Answer: Trump was elected in part, in my opinion, because of fear of continued government intrusion, take over by the elites and wage stagnation. Trump votes were expressing fear of powerlessness. Trump is a dictator stand-in, i.e., the powerful guy who will try to restore faith in our country and ourselves and attack the elites who are feudalizing America. The evidence is the fact that such a out of nowhere kind of show-boat guy like Trump won. Hardly anybody thought he would. If Trump loses another dictator type would emerge.

        All I was doing in my comments was to support what I thought you were saying.

      2. Michael,

        “All the recent killings at churches.”

        What killings at churches?

        Re: reason Trump was elected.

        I’m unconvinced by the story-telling about US elections. 99% of this is just fiction people dream up to flatter their biases. I would be more impressed if somebody imagined a narrative that proved his core beliefs to be wrong.

        “The evidence is the fact that such a out of nowhere kind of show-boat guy like Trump won”

        Imagining reasons then saying that they are true because Trump won is a bit …odd.

      3. Michael,

        Everybody has their own thoughts about these things – so I don’t say this as anything but my own perspective: I’d believe we would all be better off is people said that “President X’s core beliefs are my beliefs.”

        A belief that “my” values and perspectives are certainly right, which “correct” implies, leads imo to unnecessary conflict and inhibits both essential dialog and even more valuable learning.


      4. “A belief that “my” values and perspectives are certainly right, which “correct” implies, leads imo to unnecessary conflict and inhibits both essential dialog and even more valuable learning.”

        My belief is that we should have core values which we vigorously proclaim and defend. My core beliefs are based on orthodox Catholicism, the kind in vogue prior to Vatican II. Accordingly, I reject most of what the Catholic Church stands for today which is secular humanism, socialism, and geopolitics.

  2. “Are Americans ready for tyranny?”

    I appreciate your thoughts presented here on current events.

    It appears to me Americans are ready to believe anything CNN/MSNBC tells them, if one is of the liberal Trump hating variety. Noise, extreme noise and hate on the left.
    I, for one, have tuned out and turned off the boob-tube. Skimming headlines on the internet tells the tale.

    Trump has unfinished business to attend to. The show must go on and it will, it always has. #KAG

    1. Ron,

      “It appears to me Americans are ready to believe anything CNN/MSNBC tells them,”

      People on the Right say that of the Left. Those on the Left say that of those on the Right.

      As I, and many others, have shown – both are correct. Remember how many on the Right – including Trump – who believed that Obama wasn’t a citizen?

    1. Sven, be careful about trusting Fox News in general (other than their polls, oddly). They frequently have a very high noise to news ratio (like sometimes 10 to 1).

      CNN is the liberal equivalent but they usually don’t exceed 4 to 1.

  3. I clearly remember Ollie North telling the entire nation on live TV that a, de facto, deep state was running everything during the Iran-Contra hooha years ago.

  4. “…but it is a tremendous assertion of power. Or perhaps the next stage in their assertion of power.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Please describe in more detail the phases of battle–this process seems more and more relevant.

    One other thing, I have been spending more and more of my time trying to grasp/discover, the nature of the factions within the National Security State and the respective policies these factions are pushing.

    Angelo Codevilla’s (he had direct experience in various levels of government and intelligence services–initially worked for Bendix Aerospace Systems Division on Air Force contracts to study Soviet military tactics, also a U.S. Navy Officer doing intelligence and counterintelligence work, was a briefer for the Chief of Naval Operations and spent some time on the Staff of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) offers many important insights into how factions come to be, in a book he wrote in 1992 “Informing Statecraft: Intelligence for a New Century.”

    He describes himself as an academic “who has been as far “inside” as one can get, who is not part of the anti-intelligence lobby, but who is emphatically no “insider.” He in not in awe of U.S. intelligence or the people who run it.

    For example: ” Inevitably the Defense Intelligence Agency must be understood in contrast to the CIA’s Deputy Directorate of Intelligence. The first impression one receives after taking the George Washington Parkway from the CIA’s wooded domain overlooking the Potomac to the new DIA building on the tidal flats of Anacostia is that one has come down in class. Everything about the people seems lower, from rank and pay to pretensions. Clothing changes from wool or cotton to synthetics– “…when occasionally a DIA civilian or retiring military officer is offered a job at CIA he is regarded as having made a major step up.

    Another example of the potential origins of factions is his comment that “With regard to the military, the attitude of CIA analysts is devoid of ambiguity. Military intelligence is to intelligence as military music is to music. Those polyester-clad Pentagon civilians no less than uniformed officers are nothing but advocates of military special interests. They are the subordinates of tank drivers,pilots, carrier admirals etc. At best they wear blinders and are prisoners of a narrow point of view. They did not go to the right schools, they are not broadly educated and they see life in terms of simple conflicts.”

    Such statements might begin to get at the more contemporary tensions, like say between former DIA chief Michael Flynn and CIA/State Department types.

    Is there a significant split between operational people and more front office types like Brennon and Clapper?

    1. James,

      “Please describe in more detail the phases of battle”

      Here is the usual western model. Here is the US military’s mind-blowingly ornate version, complex to the point of uselessness. As we saw in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US military ignored their own schema when planning it.

      “the nature of the factions within the National Security State”

      That is an interesting subject, about which much ink has been spilled. But my guess is that important factions are at the top, about which we know as much as French peasants knew about the factions at Versailles.

      Re: inside the intel “community”

      It has always had, all like organizations, a pecking order. The DIA was setup in 1961 by the Pentagon in response to their frustration with the CIA – which had, to some extent, broken free and established a life of its own. DIA says what the senior levels of the Defense conglomerate want it to say, as the various military intel organizations dutifully say whatever their branches’ leaders want them to say.

      The individual analysts often agree about the facts when chatting – then write separate reports, or advocate in combined reports – for the “truths” that their bosses want. It’s a dance. That this dance wastes trillions of dollars and gets troops killed is unfortunate, but a minor factor to those playing the music.

  5. The Man Who Laughs

    “Not a “coup” in a literal sense, but it is a tremendous assertion of power. ”

    Edward Luttwak in Coup D’Etat gives the following definition of a coup:

    “A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.”

    In this case, the infiltration was of the secutity agencies. In most cases, the infiltration involves at least a part of the armed forces. I would argue that by Luttwak’s definition, it is in fact a coup. It’s not like most of the coups we’ve seen, but the definition seems to fit, I think.

    “The Deep State has moved against Trump because he’s a clown. They would never have tried this against LBJ. He would have declared special hearings, put all the senior guys of the Deep State in a special charter plane – which would have crashed over Iowa. He would have made a speech, saying “Oh my God, it’s so terrible” and declared a day of mourning. Trump’s weakness has brought the deep state into the daylight.”

    There’s a lot about what we’ve come to call Russiagate that we don’t know, but I think it’s pretty well established that the spying on the Trump campaign began before the election, and after any attempt to counter the coup plotters risked being depicted as obstruction of justice. I understand that you don’t like Trump, but your chronology is a bit off in this case. Whatever mistakes he’s made, and that’s a pretty long list, I think we were always going to be here. It’s been a long time coming.

      1. Frank,

        “I am also skeptical that “patriots” will rise and overthrow the deep state.”

        Too very different things. We won’t have a civil war, imo, because we’re pleasant peasants. Not the kind of people who make the immense effort – and risk and sacrifice – of large scale political violence.

        “Rising up against the Deep State” is politics. It has thrived in secret because many of its policies are very unpopular with the public. While going public has allowed them to move more powerfully, going public might arouse opposition. To which they are extremely vulnerable.

        There is another effect of the Deep State going into public opposition to the President — The big lesson from this that any president not-a-clown has learned from the past three years: the Federal bureaucracy must be purged quickly after the inauguration. Holdovers used to be useful – since the vetting process has become an out-of-control monster, so that the administration could not be up and running quickly. Doubly long if bringing in “outsiders” to the nat security machinery.

        But now holdover officials – or any of uncertain loyalty – are time bombs. A president formerly could assume that they would serve with some degree of political neutrality. Now he (or she) must assume that they will act as insurgents – attempting to paralyze or destroy the new team. We’re back to the 19th Century, when appointed officials (ie, those without civil service protection) were routinely dumped – replaced with those from the incoming party.

        This will disrupt the Deep State to some degree, perhaps immensely.

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