Bitcoin’s rise reflects America’s decline

A little over 100 years ago, there was a bubble asset that rose and fell wildly over the course of a decade. People who held it would have lost 100 per cent of their money five different times. They would have, at various points, made huge fortunes, or seen the value of their asset destroyed by hyperinflation.

The asset I’m referring to is gold priced in Weimar marks. If this reminds you of bitcoin, you are not alone. In his newsletter Tree Rings, analyst Luke Gromen looked at the startling similarities in the volatility of gold in Weimar Germany and bitcoin today. His conclusion? Bitcoin isn’t so much a bubble as “the last functioning fire alarm” warning us of some very big geopolitical changes ahead.

I agree. Central bankers have over the past 10 years (or the last few decades, depending on where you put the marker) quashed price discovery in markets with low interest rates and quantitative easing. Whether you see this as a welcome smoothing of the business cycle or a dysfunctional enabling of debt-ridden businesses, the upshot is that it’s now very difficult to get a sense of the health of individual companies or certainly the real economy as a whole from asset prices.

The rise in popularity of highly volatile cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could simply be seen as a speculative sign of this US Federal Reserve-enabled froth. But it might better be interpreted as an early signal of a new world order in which the US and the dollar will play a less important role.

The past four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his toxic politics have taken a toll on the world’s trust in America. That has also diminished trust in some quarters about the dollar’s stability as the global reserve currency. This feeling reached an apex during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building. As financial policy analyst Karen Petrou put it in a recent note to clients: “There are many casualties of this quasi-coup, but the US dollar may well be among them. It’s no more immortal than any other category-killer brand.”

Trump certainly devalued Brand USA. But he is also a symptom of longer-term economic problems in the US — problems which have in recent years been papered over by low rates and monetary policy, which kept asset prices high but also encouraged debt and leverage.

Bitcoin’s rise reflects the belief in some parts of the investor community that the US will eventually come in some ways to resemble Weimar Germany, as post-2008 financial crisis monetary policy designed to stabilise markets gives way to post-Covid monetisation of rising US debt loads. There are, after all, only three ways out of debt — growth, austerity, or money printing. If the US government sells so much debt that the dollar starts to lose its value, then bitcoin could conceivably be a safe haven.


How We Learned That Slavery is Wrong – Professor Alec Ryrie

It seems obvious now, but it hasn’t always. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the old consensus that slavery was a mere fact of life, a tolerable evil, broke down, as Protestant activists opposed slavery ever more forcefully – and as other Protestants defended it ever more idealistically. As this lecture will explore, the result was not only the end of legal slavery but profound changes in Protestant Christianity which resonate to the present.

Reaganism is the Model for Trumpism – Matt Tyrnauer director of ‘The Reagans’

The documentary series “The Reagans” shows that President Ronald Reagan’s roots are corruption, racism, and corporatism. Trumpism is not an anomaly but walks in the footsteps of a right-wing construct to achieve tax cuts for the rich and undoing the New Deal. Director Matt Tynrauer joins with Paul Jay.

Why did the British have to burn down the White House even though the War of 1812 was mostly a side-show for them and mainly about defending Canada from the US Army?

Firstly, because the Americans burnt York. By burning the White House, the British were demonstrating, “Look, actions have consequences. You burn our towns, we burn what we please in your capital city.”

Second, it was also a poignant lesson in being civilised. The British were demonstrating just as much by what they didn’t burn as what they did. The Americans looted and then burned the whole town of York, individual residences and all. The British only burned American government buildings, and enforced strict discipline to protect private property. The residents of Washington D.C. were surprised and impressed that there was very little crime committed by British troops, and what little there was resulted in immediate hangings of British soldiers. This was Britain’s way of saying “Look. This is how a civilised nation and civilised army behave. We make war with governments, not people. We don’t tolerate our soldiers behaving like bandits.”

This, of course, brought into question the whole American war effort, and what it was really about. Why were we fighting this nation, who were significantly more powerful than us, but still exercised restraint? Who were the villains here?

British restraint also conveyed another lesson, which gets to the final point. The British were saying, “Look, we could hurt you a lot worse if we fancied to do so. Maybe it’s time to stop before we lose all patience and become so inclined?”

The third reason was the irrationality of the whole American venture. The British were really struggling with how to handle what seemed to be an utterly insane policy on our part. Our official pretext for the war was the Orders in Council, with Britain stopping American ships to look for and impress British subjects into Royal Navy service*. However, the British had rescinded the Orders in Council on 16 June 1812, two days before the American declaration of war. Still the Americans attacked. Now, it was two years later, and the Americans were still fighting. The American government was really after Canada, but wouldn’t admit to it, so how was one to negotiate? How do you negotiate with someone who demands that you stop doing something you aren’t doing?

*(Britain did not recognise a person’s right to give up being His Majesty’s subject. However, what is not well known is that service on American ships was the most popular career move for Royal Navy deserters, so much so that the USS Constitution’s crew had more Royal Navy veterans than it did native-born Americans. It was this that prompted the British to target American ships for searches.)

Of course, the British knew we wanted Canada, but that was insane too. The United States of America was at that time a rather insignificant and backwards nation whose entire navy in 1812 consisted of 20 vessels, none heavier than a large frigate, and only 3 of those, 3 lesser frigates, and the rest less than that; whose army at the time consisted of 11,774 troops, 5,000 of them newly recruited; and they were picking a fight with what was one of the two most powerful nations of the day, with over 1000 ships in her navy, 500 on station at any one time, 85 in American waters alone, and a service widely considered the best in the world as well as largest; they had deployed an army three times the size of the whole US Army to the Iberians Peninsula alone, that being hardly the whole of their land forces, and were likewise considered one of the best armies.

Somehow, the American leadership had been mad enough to think that such a contest could possibly have a favourable outcome for them, which was mind boggling in and of itself. But now, two years in, with the Royal Navy firmly in control of the American coastline, the US economy wilting rapidly, half its navy captured or sunk, the rest doing all they could to stay out of British reach, they were still fighting. London was at a loss how to treat such irrationality, so they settled on simply trying to find ways to inflict increasing amounts of pain and demonstrate British power until the Americans finally awoke from their delusional state. Burning the capital was simply one more way to do that, one more chance to say “Are you quite done yet?”

While Madison had finally agreed to start negotiating in January, it hadn’t gotten anywhere, principally because of American fixation on expansion into native lands to the west. As Lord Bathurst put it: “Till I came here, I had no idea of the fixed determination which there is in the heart of every American to extirpate the Indians and appropriate their territory.”

The British still vainly hoped to put in a clause protecting the indigenous peoples from further expansion, thinking that would be a fitting concession to make the Americans learn something from their folly; other than the Duke of Wellington, who quickly grasped that Bathurst was right, and such a thing would never be bargained out of them. So the White House was burned and the fighting carried on.

Trump’s New Civil Religion: The New “Lost Cause”

The storming of the Capitol is a creation myth for a political movement.

Image Credit… Mike Theiler/Reuters

Since the presidential election was called for Joe Biden on Nov. 7, President Trump has cultivated the myth that the election was stolen. Despite his claims of voter fraud and election mismanagement after dozens of courtroom losses, it’s become clear over the past few months that there is no real legal basis for contesting the election results.

But myths are often invulnerable to reality. As the “Stop the Steal” mantra spread from the White House to the mouths of conservative members of Congress and the halls of Republican-controlled state houses, and throughout conservative social media, something insidious and predictable happened: Senators such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley announced they would object to the results of the election on Jan. 6 because so many Americans doubted the validity of its outcome. The myth became the basis for contesting the facts.

A myth becomes reality through ritual, when its story is dramatized and its adherents brought to collective participation in it. When Trump supporters took hold of the Capitol, temporarily halting the counting of the Electoral College votes, they brought the fiction down upon the levers of government through temporary mob rule.

It is tempting to think of this insurrection as akin to Pearl Harbor or Sept. 11, but doing so places an act of domestic terrorism in the historical lineage of attacks from external actors. If we are going to reckon with the import and legacy of Jan. 6, we must look inward.

After the Civil War, Reconstruction saw the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery and granted equal citizenship to Black Americans. In the years after the war, the nation witnessed Black Americans’ integration into Southern political life. Local chapters of the Union League and other organizations mobilized Black voters and fostered Black candidates for local and state elections. In 1868 South Carolina had a Black-majority state legislature; in 1870 Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first Black American to serve in the United States Senate. For a short while, it seemed that liberty and justice for all was an attainable legal goal.

However, in the late 1860s and early 1870s, white Southerners developed the notion of the Confederacy as the Lost Cause in order to combat the radical changes taking root in Dixie. The Lost Cause is sometimes referred to as revisionist history, but I would call it something else: collective memory in the form of Confederate civil religion.

According to proponents of the Lost Cause, the South was the victim of an invasion by “Yankee vandals,” as Caroline Janney, a University of Virginia historian, phrases it. In response, they framed themselves as occupying the moral high ground in the conflict — a class of honorable and loyal families who defended their soil and way of life in the face of undue Northern aggression. To make their case, they had to argue that slavery was not the real issue of the war, but rather a pretext for a political and economic power grab.

Like the myth of the stolen election, these claims are historically untenable. But the historical realities are less important to the myth than the narrative, rituals and symbols that developed in conjunction with the Lost Cause.

As Charles Reagan Wilson, a Southern historian, has shown, Lost Cause mythology was enacted through the rituals of Confederate civil religion: the funerals of Confederate soldiers, the celebration of Confederate Memorial Day, the pilgrimages made to the hundreds of Confederate monuments that had been erected by the dawn of World War I. The rituals and symbols instilled in the younger generation the nobility of the Confederacy and the moral vacancy of its enemies. Together, they supported a religious myth that for many Southerners supplanted the historical record. The men who died in battle became its martyrs. The generals became its patron saints.

The civil components of the Lost Cause were combined with Christian mythology. The South played the part of Christ in the Christian drama — crucified, yet unrisen. The saints in this Lost Cause theology were the heroes of the Confederacy — most notably Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. A scholar of Southern religion, Paul Harvey, put it this way: “Key to this mythology was the exalting of southern war heroes as Christian evangelical gentlemen. Evangelists of the New South era immortalized the Christian heroism of the Confederate leaders and soldiers and dovetailed them into revivals of the era.” No matter one’s denominational affiliation, it offered a story and a set of high holy days every white Southerner could celebrate.

The Lost Cause is an example of how collective memory works. Collective memory is not concerned with historical accuracy; its preoccupation with the past is based on a desire to mobilize a vision for the present and create a prospect for the future. Heather Cox Richardson argues persuasively in her recent book “How the South Won the Civil War” that even though the Union defeated the Confederacy on the battlefield, the South won the war by creating a Southern identity that led to the emergence and re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the institution of Jim Crow laws, and then spread west to provide fuel for the Chinese Exclusion Act and acts of violence against Native Americans — all on the basis of resentment, myth and symbol, rather than facts or truth.

Make America Great Again is a politics of grievance complete with its own myths and symbols. Mr. Trump’s rallies have been the ritual locus of his brand of nationalism. They create a collective effervescence in attendees that leaves them seething at their political enemies and ready to follow the president down any authoritarian road he takes them. Moreover, Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry have shown that Mr. Trump’s religious support comes from Christian nationalists who believe the United States was built for and by white Christians.

Like the Lost Cause, MAGAism is buttressed by religious narratives and imagery, and its gospel is spread through houses of worship every Sunday. For some evangelicals, Mr. Trump is a divinely ordained savior uniquely able to save the nation from ruin at the hands of godless socialists, Black Lives Matter activists and antifa. So it’s no surprise that as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, they waved a mix of Confederate, Christian and Trump flags.

MAGAism also has an eschatology based on conspiracy. As Marc-André Argentino, who studies QAnon, told me by email, for many Trump supporters, including growing numbers of white evangelicals, Jan. 6 figures as “the start of the long awaited period of tribulation that will announce the arrival of the promised golden age.” In other words, Jan. 6 is both a beginning point and a sign of the end, a rebirth for the dangerous delusions of extremists who see violence as an appropriate means for finishing what they started in order to usher in a new world.

The lasting legacy of the Jan. 6 insurrection is the myth and symbol of Mr. Trump’s lost cause. He has successfully nurtured a feeling in the 74 million Americans who voted for him that they can trust neither their government nor the electoral process. By encouraging them to question the validity of votes in some of the Blackest cities in the country, such as Detroit, and stoking anger that such constituencies would have the power to swing an election, he convinced them that the process is rigged, thus giving his supporters the moral high ground. This creates the foundation for a collective memory based on a separate national identity held together by the tragic stealing of his presidency and the evil of his opponents.

The Lost Cause provides a blueprint for winning the war, even though Mr. Trump has lost this election. After Mr. Biden’s inauguration, if prominent Republican figures encourage their followers to accept the results, but not defeat; if they pick up Mr. Trump’s leadership mantle by fostering resentment and the desire for revenge through their Twitter feeds; if they perpetually call into question the legitimacy of the U.S. government through an army of evangelical pastors less concerned with reality than with disseminating the myths and symbols of Make America Great Again as a vehicle for Christian nationalism, it’s not hard to see how they will become heirs of the Lost Cause. That should frighten us all.