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IT CAN HAPPEN HERE


I am intrigued that throughout history characters like the fictional Benzelius “Buzz” Windrip and the very real Adolph Hitler arise to disrupt and distract.

My post today is an excerpt from Richard Rorty”s book Achieving Our Country; Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America

In 1998 Richard Rorty, American philosopher and academic wrote of the emerging political and social divisions in America and predicted the emergence of a “strongman” in American politics. Whether readers agree or disagree with Rorty’s writings the fact that he wrote so directly about this phenomenon almost 20 years ago is intriguing and merits reflection.

“Sometime in the 70’s American middle class idealism went into a stall, under Presidents Carter and Clinton, the Democratic Party has survived by distancing itself from the unions and from any mention of redistribution and moving into a sterile vacuum called the ‘center’. The party no longer has a visible noisy left wing–a wing with which the intellectuals can identify and on which the unions can rely for support.

” Union members in the United States have watched factory after factory close, only to reopen in Slovenia, Thailand, or Mexico. It is no wonder that they see the result of international free trade as prosperity for managers and stockholders, a better standard of living for workers in developing countries and a very much worse standard of living for American workers. To make things worse, we often seem more interested in the workers of the developing world than in the fate of our fellow citizens.

“Social scientist Edward Luttwak, suggested that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers, themselves desperately afraid of being downsized–are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for–someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernistic professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel ‘It Can’t Happen Here” may then be played out. For once such a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen.

“One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

“After my imagined strongman takes charge, he will quickly betray the expectations of his supporters, make his peace with the international super-rich. People will wonder why there was so little resistance to his evitable rise. Where, they will ask, was the American Left? Why was it only rightists like Pat Buchanan who spoke to the workers about the consequences of globalization? Why would not the Left channel the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed?”

Why is History committed to repeating itself?

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5 comments on “IT CAN HAPPEN HERE

  1. A good summation by this writer and very apt of the times the US is finding itself in. Kayti.

    In Australia we too find ourselves to be dragged along similar lines. Only yesterday our Prime Minister decided to form some giant single portfolio in combining Border Force, Asio, and Immigration.

    He made the public announcement on TV, flanked by awesome show of war machinery, large guns at the ready pointing at the TV audience now cowering behind their settees or hiding under beds. There were gun toting soldiers whose faces were covered by black scarfs.

    It was all to make us frightened. But then our PM rose up in full magnificence to assure us, all would be safe after the creation of this giant portfolio.

    Of course the risk of getting killed by terrorist is less than getting eaten by a crocodile while taking a Badadas bath, but that is besides the point.

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    • It seems to be universal theory to first frighten the daylights out of the People, and then rise up majestically to assure them that all is well—as long as they tow the line. Old men always plan the wars in which young men get killed.

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  2. Another person who came to mind as I read your post was Huey Long, whose rise to prominence in Louisiana certainly followed the same track.

    Quite apart from policy disagreements, the fragmentation of society into increasingly smaller groups, and so on, I’m convinced that our loss of a sense of history, a demand for immediate gratification, and an increasing willingness to be a spectator rather than a participant is exacerbating the problems in our country. It’s a strange time we live in — sometimes I think we’ve become addicted to some very strange things, and like many addicts, we may need to hit bottom before there’s change.

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    • Huey popped into my mind as well thinking of your area.
      Technology in many ways has done us no favor. Looking back at the changes in society in my own time, I find it very sad. We have been a divided country so many times, but somehow the pendulum always swings back to the middle. There will always be divisiveness don’t you think? We DO live in strange times.

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  3. Kayti, this is timely, necessary reading. Thank you for opening the topic and my mind today. I’m going to share your post with my husband who grapples with the same issues you raise; and then, I’m quite sure, we’ll find and read Rorty’s book.

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