Alexander Vindman: America’s Laocoön?

In her book “The March of Folly,” Barbara Tuchman uses the myth of Laocoön as her first example of folly. The Trojans ignored Laocoön’s warning not to admit the Trojan horse. That didn’t end well for the Trojans. Ignoring Laocoön was folly.

In his recent substack essay, The Coming Alliance Between Billionaires, Tech Giants, and MAGA-Ideologues, Vindman is a modern Laocoön, warning us of the WhatsApp group “Off Leash.” Created and managed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, Off Leash is ca. 400 individuals in government and tech, who with a wider network of right-wing thinkers and pundits are conspiring against the “Biden Regime,” “globalists,” and liberal democracy as a whole. Vindman paints a frightening picture:

“According to [Ken Silverstein, writing in The New Republic], participants in Off Leash view the ideal American society to be one where the “plebs” (average Americans like you and me) are allowed to vote for whatever they please, yet only the policies approved by the elites are enacted (needless to say, the participants of Off Leash consider themselves to be the elites).

“This vision of a controlled un-democracy resembles the “neo-monarchist” vision for society espoused by Curtis Yarvin and the wider neo-reactionary movement. Since the early 2000s, Yarvin has cultivated an audience of aggrieved programmers, founders, and CEOs within Silicon Valley, all of which view democracy to be an obstacle to human progress (and their own personal success) and consider the best society to be one that is managed like a startup. In theory, this would mean doing away with voting, dissolving most functions of the government, and having all authority entrusted to a single executive figure. In practice, Yarvin’s neo-monarchist worldview would mean making voting arbitrarily difficult for most Americans, removing all regulations and restrictions on industry and finance, and eliminating the few remaining vestiges of social welfare. Essentially, Yarvin and the neo-reactionary movement are looking to launder unpopular right-wing ideology by painting democracy as an obstacle and appealing to society’s managerial class.”

The 20th century gave us several examples of government overthrow: Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917, Mussolini and the fascists in 1922, Hitler and the Nazis in 1933 and Mao and the Communists in 1949. But in all these cases, the dictators who seized power did it in countries that were largely agrarian and/or had little or no experience with Democracy. I can’t think of a single example of a political coup lead by billionaires. In fact, billionaires have the most at risk from revolution and the most to gain from stability. Vindman waves that off:

“Ultra-rich right-wing radicals like Musk believe they will not be affected by the erosion of democracy and liberalism in the United States. They live their lives untethered to the realities of America, with the ability to use their resources to relocate anywhere and weather any storm (or so they think). With their personal security guaranteed, they begin to view our government as merely a vessel to preserve vast wealth. They are wrong. American democracy is what allowed for their prosperity in the first place, and property rights mean very little in authoritarian regimes. It must be ego that blinds them to the threats to their own interests.”

Maybe. His analysis is compelling, but he’s describing the imagined goals of people who have never run even a small city, let alone an industrialized nation of over 333 million people that has been a functioning democracy for nearly 250 years. Whenever I read dire analyses like this, I have to ask myself what are the historical antecedents. While the Confederacy in the Civil War was driven politically by the slave-owning Southern aristocracy, the fighting was waged mostly by men who didn’t own slaves. And there is no comparable threat to the wealth of the US aristocracy today commensurate with the massive loss of wealth occasioned by the abolition of slavery.

So read the Vindman essay yourself. It’s certainly important and thought-provoking. And don’t get me wrong, I think a second Trump presidency will be dangerous for American democracy. But one of the enduring features of the US form of government is its inertia. That, and a reflection on modern history makes me think (or hope) that Vindman is hyperventilating.

The plot against America?