The Thirty-Nine Steps

At the end of The Thirty-Nine Steps (the John Buchan novel that largely created the spy thriller genre), the hero is about to give the signal for arrest of a ring of German spies. But their pose as ordinary middle class Englishmen is so convincing that they persuade him to join them as a fourth for bridge. Fortunately, a sudden movement alerts him to their true identity and he comes to his senses, blowing his whistle to call in the waiting police.

I’m reminded of this whenever I look at the political scene in the United States. The Republicans have made it obvious that if the votes in the 2024 election go the wrong way for them, the result will be overturned and their candidate (most likely Trump) will be installed. If they win under the existing rules, they will change them to ensure that no Democrat is ever elected again. Yet everyone is pretending that the situation is normal, trying to work out whether (for example) Roe v Wade is a trump card, and if so, who holds it.

The obvious question is: who, if anyone, will blow the whistle? Unfortunately, if there ever was a moment to do it, that moment has passed. Perhaps Biden should have invoked the Insurrection Act immediately after taking office, and arrested Trump and the Republicans who voted to overturn the election. But that was never going to happen, and would have failed in any case.

Nothing is forever. That includes democratic governments and the autocracies that have so often replaced them, only to fail in their turn. At some point, the whistle will be blown, but that point could be a long way off.

Meanwhile, there’s time to take a few more tricks before the game is called off.

12 thoughts on “The Thirty-Nine Steps

  1. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is run by people who reached peak energy and competence last century. With the best will in the world, a bunch of 80+ year-olds are simply no match for the Trump Repubicans’ army of ambitious, unprincipled opportunists. Not when the latter have the support of half the politically-engaged citizenry, who seem to spend their days seething with resentment about whatever grievances their talkback radio and cable TV have ranted about lately. Reading the likes of James Carville and Ruy Teixeira makes one want to weep, with their deluded insistence that really Democrats would win back “working class votes” if only “progessives” would stop being so EXTREME and revert to the neoliberalism of the Clinton years.

    Yet I still have hope. The Republican Party federally is a waste of space – basically an extension of the Trump machine. But Trump can’t live forever. When he dies, there’s likely to be a massive brawl for power among right-wingers at state level. Texas and Florida, in particular, are likely to compete bitterly for dominance. Political movements based on a cult of personality have a history of disintegrating when the leader departs the scene, unless s/he has carefully planned a line of succession. Trump does the opposite, moving to disempower anyone who could possibly threaten his undisputed control. So it’s reasonable to anticipate an extended period of dysfunction among American right-wingers in the post-Trump/McConnell era, which a new generation of Democratic leaders should be able to exploit.

  2. kenalovell, you might replace :”simply no match for the Trump Repubicans’ army of ambitious, unprincipled opportunists. Not when the latter have the support of half the politically-engaged citizenry, who seem to spend their days seething with resentment about whatever grievances their talkback radio and cable TV have ranted about lately.”

    … with “those animated by incandescent, unquenchable, focused anger”.

    Makes them extremely hard to win over or change direction. Or blow the whistle on.

    From:
    https://thepointmag.com/examined-life/anger-management-agnes-callard/
    *

    “Callard, Agnes, ed. (2020). 
    On Anger. 
    MIT Press. 
    ISBN 978-1-946511-56-0.OCLC 1163958035. 
    On Anger was selected as one of The New Yorker’s “Best Books We Read in 2020.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnes_Callard

  3. Prophecies are best left to religious gurus, they say they know the right people.

    I’m still optimistic of better outcomes. Things change so fast and the Russian invasion of Ukraine was to me quite shocking, absolutely shocking.

    The fierce response by Ukraine was certainly not prophesied and shows their overriding humanity – they have shown restraint in situations where human shields were used despite massive provocation.

    Returning to Trump, I’m putting my money on the inherent goodness in people to see this thing through. If we don’t have that, we don’t have nothing.

  4. JQ you ask “who, if anyone, will blow the whistle?”

    A Whistle & blower movement  suggestion.

    Initiated via a new take on The 39 Steps called “The 39” (Trolls).

    The trolls being Trump and the Republicans, Foxy ‘ol Rupert supplying false nareitives, with Manchin playing the cottage owner .. (who) “Unfortunately, the man turns out to be one of the enemy, and with his accomplices he locks Hannay into his storage room.”

    Other Democrats will play Hannay, the milkman, the innkeeper, Harry Bullivant, Marmaduke Jopley etc.

    An anti-troll troll movement kicked off by “The 39”.

    Not a person. A giant blow hard and keep blowing movement,  to make and use a big enough whistle, to attract and hold enough humans “gigantic amounts of attention”.
    *

    Martin Gurri
    “Then you have people like Trump, who knew how to use the troll principle of the internet to get himself gigantic amounts of attention—enough that he could get himself elected president.

    “So I don’t think necessarily the fact there’s a lot of information weakens everybody. It weakens the system; it weakens the structure, weakens hierarchy.”

    https://www.discoursemagazine.com/culture-and-society/2022/04/08/misinformation-disinformation-and-propaganda/

    wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Gurri
    *

    And who will play the lead,  mouthpiece of the remake of “The 39 Trolls” anti troll troll movement?

    “A planned television adaptation for Netflix as limited series … starring Benedict Cumberbatch was reported in April 2021.” wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirty-Nine_Steps

  5. I think you make a mistake when you say the cult of trump and the unscrupulous republican politicians have the support of half of the citizens. They are just louder and more ‘righteous’, meaner and more prepared ( take the federalist society for example) problem with the rest of the uninvolved Democrats is getting them to see the urgency of the moment. Which of course is not helped by the pathological need of the Democrats of congress constantly wanting/expecting bipartisanship. F#ck bipartisanship. They (or highly respected leaders) should be calling a spade a spade. Civility went out the window and it wasn’t the Democrats doing the throwing. STOP being scared of the media. They will call the ‘how dare they’ at the Dems no matter what. Do they want to save their republic or not?

  6. A long recess is called for to “change them to ensure that no Democrat is ever elected again.”.

    It seems “the [US] president’s power to fill vacancies during Senate recesses” is a bit like a blackhole. Don’t get close, to it or it will suck all energy and everyone and everything in, and then be unable to be seen (amended). And an even bigger whistle needed to fix it then.
    *

    “What was the flaw that Gödel had found? … Stephen Hawking suggests that it involved the president’s power to fill vacancies during Senate recesses, and Barry University law professor F.E. Guerra-Pujol conjectures that it might involve the constitution’s power to amend itself. Maybe it’s best if we never discover it.
    (Thanks, Louis.)
    https://www.futilitycloset.com/2022/05/12/godels-loophole/

    Morgenstern’s account

    Click to access Morgenstern_onGoedelcitizenship.pdf

    *

    “The Court held that the clause allows the president to make appointments during both intra-session and inter-session recesses but only if the recess is of sufficient length, and if the Senate is actually unavailable for deliberation, thereby limiting future recess appointments. The Court also ruled that any vacancy in an office can be filled during the recess, regardless of when it arose.[1] The case arose out of President Barack Obama’s appointments  ..”
    wikipedia.org/wiki/NLRB_v._Noel_Canning
    *

    “Gödel’s Loophole

    …”In summary, Gödel’s loophole is that the amendment procedures set forth in Article V self-apply to the constitutional statements in Article V themselves, including the entrenchment clauses in Article V. Furthermore, not only may Article V itself be amended, but it may also be amended in a downward direction (i.e., through an “anti-entrenchment” amendment making it easier to amend the Constitution). ”
    Capital University Law Review, vol. 41 (2013), pp. 637-673
    Dec 2013
    F. E. Guerra-Pujol
    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2010183

  7. Newspeak from “Eric Trump tells MAGA mob they are the “party of love” in greatest lie yet”.(^1)

    ..providing “Unexceptional Politics … “Berlusconismo is distinguished by its variety-show effect and anthemic proclamations: with the Ministry of Love or Party of Love, featuring, d’Arcais writes, “rituals of enthusiasm worthy of Ceaucescu, replete with slogans and songs—‘Thank heavens there’s Silvio!’” A political pasquinade, Berlusconismo resorts to the mawkish props of hair transplants and face-lifts, sexual boasting, and vulgar jokes to distract from the spectacle of counterfeit democracy.”(^2.)
    *

    ^1.
    “Eric Trump tells MAGA mob they are the “party of love” in greatest lie yet.

    “This is the greatest movement we’ve ever seen in political history,” Donald Trump’s arguably “dumbest” son said. “I love you, and I love everybody in this room. … There’s never been a movement where it’s actually based in love … Never, never before!”
    twitter
    com/
    patriottakes/status/1526261533059293186

    https://boingboing.net/2022/05/16/eric-trump-tells-maga-mob-they-are-the-party-of-love-in-greatest-lie-yet.html
    *

    ^2.
    “Unexceptional Politics

    …”It goes without saying that governance at a standstill has only been further exacerbated in the era of Trumpism. Legislative blockage is not only the chronic symptom of politics as usual, or the nasty aftereffect of government shutdown and paralysis, but also channels a lethal undertow, a death wish; it tolls the suicidal endgame for deliberative democracy.

    “One thinks here also of Berlusconismo, which the Italian philosopher Paolo Flores d’Arcais associated in the 2011New Left Review with the destruction of critical independence brought about not by Fascism, but “through the creation of a pensée unique that blends conformism and commercial spectacularization, reducing culture to a form of consumption.” Berlusconismo is distinguished by its variety-show effect and anthemic proclamations: with the Ministry of Love or Party of Love, featuring, d’Arcais writes, “rituals of enthusiasm worthy of Ceaucescu, replete with slogans and songs—‘Thank heavens there’s Silvio!’” A political pasquinade, Berlusconismo resorts to the mawkish props of hair transplants and face-lifts, sexual boasting, and vulgar jokes to distract from the spectacle of counterfeit democracy.

    “…this bombast dissipates into vatic trumpetings. Trumpism—whose “ism” is keyed to populist autocracy—is identified with a rogue way of speaking that provides scaffolding for an absent political discourse. The proper name is tautologically performative, which is to say, Trumpism trumps public interest by facilitating the decampment of the citizen from the demos to media theaters of depolicitized life. Trumpism lines up on axis with Berlusconismo inasmuch as both qualify as names for oligarchic name-branding, pasquinade, and the mastery of political special-effects. In each case, the proper name erects a fence—a wall—around a motley assortment of personality traits, bait and switch tactics, and crass publicity stunts that supply the playbook of political impasse.”…

    https://www.americanacademy.de/unexceptional-politics/
    *

    A movie “The Party of Love” Starring:
    “ERIC TRUMP PULLS AHEAD IN RACE TO DETERMINE DUMBEST TRUMP OFFSPRING:
    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/07/eric-trump-election-night-votes

  8. There is Berlusconism and there is Burlesqueconism. The very enjoyable light romantic comedy “Music and Lyrics” featured Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore and Haley Bennett hilariously playing Cora Corman. A Cora Corman performance in it is pure Burlesqueconism with hilarious cultural misappropriate of Buddhism. “I’ve got to have my Buddha Tonight”.

    “… the decampment of the citizen from the demos (and any other cultural and religious meaning) to media theaters of depoliticized life”.

    Look up “I’ve got to have my Buddha Tonight” if you will. I better not post a link here. People might not agree the satire is as relatively harmless as I think it is.

    But when pop culture is adapted to promote neo-fascism (like Trumpism) it all gets far less harmless for certain.

  9. And don’t miss the movie version of “The Thirty-Nine Steps.” I adore it.

    Other than mutterings of vague hope, I haven’t anything to say about the topic. We can only hope that there remain enough principled people on the right here. In the papers, there are pieces about intra-party skirmishes happening in various states. Those good people are still out there, but we don’t know how many.

    Here’s a question. My good friend was telling me about how much better Australia has done with covid. And I congratulate you! Then I was wondering, wait aren’t those Fox News people, the Murdochs, from Australia? How come your politics still works? I am jealous.

  10. N: – “My good friend was telling me about how much better Australia has done with covid. And I congratulate you!

    In 2020 and early 2021, but IMO data indicates it’s not better now. Per ABS, dated Apr 28:

    Key statistics
    * All-cause mortality data in this report includes both doctor certified and coroner referred deaths. Cause-specific mortality includes only doctor certified deaths.

    * In 2022, there were 15,805 deaths that occurred by 31 January and were registered by 31 March, 2,865 or 22.1% more than the historical average.

    * After cancers, doctor-certified deaths due to COVID-19 were the second most common cause of death in January 2022.

    https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/causes-death/provisional-mortality-statistics/january-2022

    Per RACGP:

    Cases and deaths are many times the amount modelled ahead of Australia’s re-opening – although there has been surprisingly little discussion.

    https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/what-do-rising-covid-19-case-numbers-mean-for-gene

    Even Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph is now reporting: “Covid-19 is on track to become Australia’s second or third biggest killer in 2022, causing almost as many deaths as dementia and heart disease.

    But Australia’s mortality stats were highlighted at this blog nearly two weeks ago: https://johnquiggin.com/2022/05/04/message-board-2/#comment-252664

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