Tech Populists vs. Wall Street Oligarchs

You want unity? Here: Everyone today is now wondering who will emerge next with big Trump energy. Maybe no one, maybe someone with a lifetime of political experience—wondering, wondering.

Few speculate that actually lots of people have already arisen with big Trump energy, but a strong signal suggests this is so.

To see it let’s work backwards. Many disagree over just what Trump’s energy is or entails. Some say it is precisely the product of his irruption as a sort of unauthorized politician into political life at the highest level. Unofficially his candidacy and presidency were no problem at all. Officially they were treated as a hostile attack on the host body demanding the full array of antibodies, an all-hands scramble to surround, neutralize, and eliminate.

There is something to this, but pay attention to the background: Trump had the means and the will to invade the official political system because of what his financial status enabled him to do with regard to not just money but brand and attention. Yet this status was not at all hostile or alien to the official financial system—a fact which emanated through Trump’s financial policies, often in the person of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. He was among the very top Trump officials who viewed cryptocurrency and encryption as a sort of dastardly financial duo deserving attack and, if not outright destruction, co-option—mastery—by the established financial system.

So despite the way big Trump energy was channeled and deployed against the corporatist oligarchy and the woke religion it adopted in order to safely consecrate its wealth, power, and status, Trump never directed his energy against “finance,” meaning its uber-oligarchs, the ruling caste of the oligarchic system. Yet what could be bigger Trump energy than doing just that?

The paradox can be illuminated by considering how difficult—perhaps impossible—it is for a single man, no matter how powerful, to directly attack the financial superstructure of the oligarchic system. In this instance, the size of the Trump energy required to do this seems to be too big for just one person to effectively channel. The oligarch who could muster enough energy to attack the system would be summoning a force so powerful it would kill him or her.

And so, we wonder, would not a real consummation of big Trump energy in this sense have to involve coordinated channeling of force by perhaps fairly large numbers of decentralized people, all somehow aiming their energy beam at a vulnerability in the oligarchic financial system itself?

Yet this is just what is happening on Wall Street thanks to a certain kind of invasion of enterprising online guys. 

Availing themselves of legal but unorthodox investment means, they are piling into underperforming stocks being sold short by big hedge funds. The boys are squeezing the funds into an untenable situation where—to blunt their losses from having made a “sure” bet that those stocks would decline—the funds have to suddenly counterbet that the stocks will keep rising, or, even more painfully, buy the stocks themselves at climbing prices. 

In (ahem) short, this is the digital age’s first populist assertion of financial power over the true oligarchic elite, and it is happening now in this way because we have entered the digital age. The same basic dynamic afflicting the content world—elites and machines both want ONE standard of moderation—afflicts technology and finance as a whole: namely, machines and the elites who control them want ONE standard of interoperability and interchange. One ring to rule them all. Big Trump energy challenged that logic at the political level, just by existing in the White House and across the country. The reappearance of big Trump energy now in the financial sector underscores what Trump’s limitations and failures proved out already: that the oligarchy’s grip on power and on our lives can only be challenged technologically, and only by an application of power in its inner sanctum, the realm of finance.

James Poulos (@jamespoulos) is Executive Editor of The American Mind. He is the author of The Art of Being Free (St. Martin's Press, 2017), contributing editor of American Affairs, and a fellow at the Center for the Study of Digital Life.