COMMENTARY

The crypto crash isn't just tulip-trading — it's a result of the toxic entitlement that led to Trump

Vaccine refusal, tech bro libertarianism and Trump: It's all the same white guy refusal to play nice with others

By Amanda Marcotte

Published January 26, 2022 1:10PM (EST)

Man wearing animal mask and blue business suit getting in car (Getty Images/Westend61)
Man wearing animal mask and blue business suit getting in car (Getty Images/Westend61)

It was an outcome that anyone familiar with the terms "tulip trading" or "Beanie Babies" could see coming: Cryptocurrency is crashing. Prices for cryptocurrencies "have cratered since reaching all-time highs in early November, wiping out an astonishing $1.35 trillion in value globally, nearly half of the total market," the Washington Post reports.

The whole thing had an air of a pyramid scheme to it. Media hype and ads featuring Matt Damon lured a bunch of ordinary people into the market, inflating the value of the already questionable currencies. Then, predictably, more professional investors got out, running off with their very real money while the rest of the market collapsed. 

But the story of cryptocurrency is about more than just a bunch of gullible people losing their shirts gambling with Monopoly money. Cryptocurrency mania is part of a the same social forces that created libertarianism, rising fascism, and Donald Trump. (Unsurprisingly, the Trumps are trying to cash in, unsuccessfully so far, on crypto.)

RELATED: Meet the Republican congressman cashing in on cryptocurrency

It's all rooted in the overblown sense of entitlement held by a lot of Americans — especially white Americans, and especially male Americans. It leads them to believe they are above having to live with the same social contract that binds the rest of us. Millions of Americans have decided that they not only can, but should, cheat the system — even to the extent of having separate currency systems. The result is that social structures we all rely on are starting to get shaky and, in some cases, are already on the verge of collapse.  


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Two bizarre-but-funny stories went viral in recent weeks, which illustrate the absurd levels of entitlement we're dealing with. Last week, an anonymous crypto investment group called Spice DAO spent $3 million on a rare book of concept art for a never-produced version of "Dune" by surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, apparently believing they could use it to produce and sell an animated series. But all they had bought was a physical book, not the actual copyright. Despite widespread mockery for failing to understand how intellectual property rights work, the crypto bros are still at it, insisting their white elephant of an art book will translate into movie-making power.

Last week, Vice also reported that after Tesla head Elon Musk let loose a dumb tweet about "population collapse," the "obligatory Battle Of Ideas thus commenced" on Twitter, with very rich, influential tech figures speculating about how to generate more of this supposedly scare resource of human babies. (There are approximately 370,000 babies born a day worldwide.) Soon, multiple tech titans with hundreds of thousands — sometimes millions — of followers started hyping the idea of "synthetic wombs" as the solution, ignoring the fact that half the human race grows real wombs in their bodies for absolutely free. 

These two dumb stories illustrate the same very real problem: A whole bunch of dudes, some of whom are very rich and powerful, think there's a cheat code to every system.

Want to make a "Dune" movie, but don't want to ask Frank Herbert's son for permission? Want to have a baby, but turned off by the idea of having to persuade a person with a womb into having one with you? Surely, there's got to be a workaround! Having to do things the standard way, which requires playing nice with others, is for the little people.

RELATED: Cheater in chief: Donald Trump thinks playing by the rules is for losers

Despite the tech utopian spin, this mentality is not about "innovation." It stems from a larger rejection of the social contract that is reaching pandemic levels in American society. This is quite literally illustrated by the actual COVID-19 pandemic, which has spiraled in recent weeks due to so many ordinary conservatives refusing to get vaccinated. This started because GOP leaders and pundits believed it would weaken Joe Biden's presidency to convince their followers to reject vaccines. But the kindling that fueled the fire was the same sense of entitlement that is also fueling the cryptocurrency craze. Millions of people, especially white men and especially Republicans, are ready to hear that they're special snowflakes who don't need to participate in the same boring systems as everyone else — even though systems like vaccination require everyone's participation to work. 

It's the Aaron Rodgers/Joe Rogan/Tucker Carlson vortex of vaccine rejection. The three have varying degrees of right-wing ideology, but ultimately, all three tie their anti-vaccine rhetoric to this sense of white guy entitlement and a belief that people like them aren't constrained by the same biology and social obligations as everyone else. It's the same attitude fueling the demand for ivermectin and other "alternative" COVID-19 treatments. These snake oil treatments are the cryptocurrency of health care. It doesn't matter that they're useless. Their appeal lies in flattering the egos of those drawn to them, letting them believe they've found a way to cheat the system and avoid the same boring health care (vaccines) used by the hoi polloi.  


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The most destructive result of this entitlement is both the election of Trump and his attempted coup, which continues to have widespread support among the Republican Party.

From the very beginning, Trump's appeal to his voters was a promise that he knew how to cheat the system. This was an alluring promise because his base — conservative white voters — is rapidly shrinking in size and cannot hang onto power in a multiracial democracy. Rather than learn to compromise with others and share power fairly, they instead backed a man who claimed he could rig the system in their favor. Now, instead of graciously admitting they lost the election, most Republicans are backing Trump's false claims that the election was stolen. Only 21% of Republicans will now admit that Biden won the 2020 election.

Could it really be that so many millions of Americans are that delusional? It's unlikely. Instead, the conspiracy theory is instrumental. It creates the justification they intend to rely on for the ongoing efforts to steal the next election. Like cryptocurrency or ivermectin, the Big Lie is viewed as a kind of cheat code, a way for Republicans to get their way without having to play by the same rules that constrain everyone else. The insurrection was a violent manifestation of this entitlement, which is why the people who stormed the Capitol seemed genuinely shocked that there were legal consequences for doing so. 

Criticizing and tweaking systems so they work better for everyone is a good thing. But that is not what is going on with modern horrors like cryptocurrency, vaccine refusal, and Trumpism. None of those are genuine attempts to fix existing systems. It's about "alternatives" for people who think they are above honoring the basic social contract. Systems don't work, however, unless everyone plays by the rules. As the cryptocurrency crash demonstrates, if you inject too many wannabe cheaters into a system, the whole thing will eventually fall apart. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary Crypto Crash Cryptocurrency Donald Trump Vaccine Refusal