I’ve seen popular revolt in this country discussed on both sides, from Trump voters reacting to an impeachment attempt to the 98% driven to desperation by starvation and wage oppression. And I can’t help thinking that I don’t see how that would work, given the size and diversity of this country. Even if everyone in Arkansas rose up against the Democrats or the residents of SF against the tech bros, I don’t see how this would translate to anything widespread enough that it wouldn’t be suppressed quickly by local forces. The outcome I most easily see is a country on edge, but lurching along zombie-like on a precarious status quo.
Am I missing something here? Could the United States face an Arab Spring or Libya style event not precipitated by the highest halls of power (as the Civil War kind of was)? If so, how? No, I don’t believe the country is immortal, but I just don’t see how a popular revolt could take place that would threaten the entrenched institutions at all. What exactly could destabilize a country the size and diversity of the United States that badly that didn’t derive as a direct result of some kind of government or military action?
I should add that I’m equally skeptical of any kind of revolution, not just ones that involve guns and guillotines. For one thing, I can’t really think of any examples of such (though I’m sure I’m forgetting one). Second, I think (to take the left perspective) the oligarchs have gotten smarter (and more connected to the pulse of the common man) since the French Revolution. Even if they are taking and taking right now at the expense of those poorer, I think they’re smart enough to not push things so far that there’s a widespread sense that there’s nothing left to lose by marching or striking or taking up arms.
It’s not too big for peaceful popular revolution, but I predict that only a shock event will be disruptive enough for a vast majority of people to be on the same page long enough to accept a recalibration of political power sufficient enough to restore the balance between public and private power. By shock event, I mean something like a massive financial collapse, which would cause the masses of people to lose confidence and trust in the hands of the capitalist economic/political elite.
China underwent a coup when their population was 550 million.
I think in the US our lifestyles are too good for a revolution. Most talk of revolution is about ideology, not actual physical suffering. People are pretty well fed, housed and sheltered. Lots of people even have medical care (not as good as europe, but public health and basic healthcare makes up 80% of health care anyway). Revolutions happen when people are miserable. When they’re starved and tortured. That doesn’t happen in the US.
The first 30 or so years of the 20th Century were somewhat similar to now in that industrialization - like computer technology now - led to massive wealth for a certain class of entrepreneurs and people who found employment within these fields. In turn, this caused disproportionate income and wealth, and it led to tensions between the classes, with the economic elite arguing that they were the producers and creators of wealth and were therefore entitled to the lion’s share of the fruits of production. The vast majority of the population probably mildly disagreed with this view on some level but without major economic crises didn’t feel strongly enough to revolt and demand change. When the banking system collapsed in the late 1920s and early 30s, it changed everything because capitalism was essentially failing. No longer could laborers be satisfied with riding the economic wave because they either had nothing or were living in perpetual fear of having nothing.
The New Deal era wasn’t a revolution of course, but I think that the depression did lead to a paradigm shift. Creeping socialism was much less of a concern to the average person - because economic fear and insecurity was a much greater concern. One of the great ironies of the 2008-2009 economic crisis is that the New Deal era protections which saved the financial system from collapse and prevented a recession from becoming a depression was that since we never experienced the level of economic anxiety that those of the Great Depression faced, we never experienced the paradigm shift. Instead we had people actually voting against progressive legislation in the 2010 mid-term elections, and again (mostly) in 2012 and 2014 and 2016. That is why I believe that it will ultimately require a massive financial collapse for the United States to go back to New Deal era thinking.
I suppose that the lesson to take away is that in an otherwise stable economic and political system, opportunities for major restructuring and significant paradigm shifts probably come along once every 50-100 years. Such change requires something momentous (cataclysmic?) enough to convince the masses that change is required.
However, understand that any change, any revolutionary moment can go in either direction. It’s important to remember that at the same time FDR was implementing the New Deal, there was a pretty healthy fascist movement to FDR’s right, and there was a corrupt socialist with authoritarian tendencies in Huey Long to his left. Had FDR failed, or had his campaign simply not been persuasive or his leadership so competent, the US could have tilted more toward the extreme in either direction. It’s important to remember that times of economic and political distress, which are often the result of years of poor policy decisions, can lead a desperate people to put their faith in people who are even much less competent and much more destructive than the idiots we’re trying to vote out of office.
I agree. Despite a lot of the political rhetoric, when you get right down to it, most people are middle class or better, and with that comes a certain level of material comfort and political power. Enough anyway, for people to have a vested interest in stability, peace and all the stuff that revolutions are the antithesis of.
Now if that graph was skewed very much to the left, and possibly to the far right, then we’d have something. But as it is, that’s mostly centered.
The mechanics of a popular revolt from below would be difficult with your diffuse political system.
But a high-level stand-off between those at the apex of the system (President and Congress) might not be so unprecedented, if there were sufficient support for one side or the other from below and/or from armed forces. Think of Russia in 1991 and 1993.
I disagree. There are no similarities between the early 1900’s and today. The population today overall is MUCH wealthier than it was in those times. You had a lot more people on the low end of the scale, many fewer in the middle, and even fewer at the top end compared to the distribution today. There is a reason why things were so tense in the early 1900’s between labor and corporations, and why revolution was a real possibility during that time. Many of the things we take for granted today came out of the conflicts in that time. They were fought and bled for by the people of that time. Today is nothing like that. In fact, today, the vast majority of Americans are actually on one of the middle class tiers, which certainly wasn’t the case in 1900. Click on Bump’s link there…the largest group wrt percent is actually the $50k-$79k household group, but the next highest group is the $100k-$149k. The distribution looks nothing like what it looked like in 1900…or, hell, even in 1950.
To answer the OP, I don’t think we are too big for a popular revolution. I think we are far, far to wealthy for one, despite the constant whining about inequitable wealth distribution. The trouble is, while it’s true that the rich have certainly gotten richer, just about everyone else has gotten richer too, especially when you look at purchasing power. Goods and services are cheaper, by far, in constant dollars. Food is a LOT cheaper in constant dollars. Entertainment is both cheaper and much, much more plentiful and accessible to more people in all the classes than…well, ever. Luxury goods are accessible to more than just the top tier classes…hell, even accessible to all but the lowest levels, by and large.
No, I think that unless something radical happens wrt lifestyle in the US there won’t be a revolution. There will simply be continued political deadlock and head butting, but I don’t see that going into any sort of revolution. Americans simply have it too good for that, unless things really change. Which could happen with things like global climate change starting to really ramp up. But today, right now? Nope.
Material comfort, yes. Political power, no. However that material comfort is more than sufficient to make the majority of us* care a lot less about our lack of voice or meaningful representation. Bread and circuses, folks. Bread and circuses.
Persons being actively persecuted by those in power excepted. Which is why it’s so incredibly stupid that in courting the Trumpsters the Republicans have basically leveled their guns at every minority in the country up to and including women. However even with that level of incitement I think we’re far too comfortable to risk ourselves in militant revolution.
Serious question. With respect to political power, how are people today less powerful than, oh, say folks at the beginning of the last century? How are minorities and women less well off today than during that same time period? Or, use examples of how the average man was more powerful politically or had more effect on our system earlier, or how minorities and women were better off earlier or later. Seems to me that, despite the flaws, minorities and women are better off than in the past (certainly better off than in my youth, and I count myself among the minorities), and from what I know of history this is true as far back as you want to go. Oh, I suppose when the franchise was only given to wealthy land owners that they had more potential political power, but then if we limited the franchise so much today you could get equivalent results.
I certainly don’t think that the average person has a lot of impact on our political system, but I think that Trump proved that a motivate group of folks can bring together a message and a voting block in lock-step to bring in even a bozo like him, which I don’t think could have happened at any time in our past. Obviously, it wasn’t in a good cause and we have an idiot for a president, but I think this shows that in actuality, the common people, if motivated, can buck political expectation and get even an idiot elected, if they really, really want too. Even a non-politician with almost zero buy in from the establishment and without the big political machines being in lock-step.
Regarding minorities and women, we haven’t backslid to back before they can vote, but we have backslid.
The reason we have little or no political voice comes down to lobbying. We can elect whichever nimrod we want, but above the state level (if even that high) nobody’s constituents speak as loudly regarding policy as corporations’ money does. Of course regarding things that corporations don’t care about some of the common peoples’ voices get through, which is why civil rights have been able to advance or recede with the winds of political change, but when it comes to things where corporate interests exist, corporate interests reign.
When do you say was the apex of rights for women and minorities that we have backslid from? Just curious what you think was a better time and if you could give some examples of us sliding back.
While I agree that lobbying is a huge force, again, I’ll point to Trump as someone who broke the trend. In a bad way, to be sure, but I think it shows that if you can get enough mis-guided, ignorant and uninformed people behind an idea, you can do a lot more than you could in the past when the political machines basically chose who you could even vote for, and they did it in secret, smokey back rooms without any transparency. Today, we can get even an orange haired idiot without real ties to the political establishment, in fact, one who has basically changed the establishment to conform to them, instead of the other way around. That’s certainly…terrifying…but I think it runs counter to what you are suggesting.
I’m not much for history, so tell you what - I’ll concede. Nobody ever had political power over anything corporations had an interest in. Never ever ever.
Feel free of course to dispute that and argue that that unions once existed of other sundry fictions of that sort, but if any of those sort of things were more present in the past than they are now that would be an argument that women and minorities (and everyone else) have indeed lost political power.
As I said, elections are the one place where americans have a voice in which nimrod they elect - though of course our options about who to choose are ridiculously limited, being cut down to just two choices most of the time. (This cutting down presumably still takes place in smokey back rooms, for tradition’s sake.)
And as for Trump, I see him as less a victory for the electorate than as a victory for Russia. Certainly the policy interests that his voters sought to have enacted by their vote for Trump have almost completely failed to materialize - except for those who just wanted Republican judges, who would have achieved their goal equally well if an establishment Republican had ascended to power.
Sorry for being subtle; I was mostly having a little fun. Regardless I’m less interested in debating the level of representation resulting from the primary system.
In fact, I’m going to shank this entire subtopic by pointing out that the original claim I was objecting to was that being middle class granted those middle-class people additional political power, in addition to the bread and circuses that we all agree they have greater access to. And while we can talk long about the ebb and flow of political power held by the electorate, one function of the way America works is that if you’re not wealthy enough to buy a lobbyist (or a politician), then your comfy lifestyle gives you no more voice than the poorest plebe that drags himself to a voting booth.
Consider that in 2007, the year the great recession began, that the top 0.1% of income earners took home more than 12% of all income in the United States – something that hadn’t happened since 1928. What happened that year?
Now here’s something else to chew on: after a brief dip down to about 8% of the nation’s wealth, the top 0.1% of earners are pretty much where they were in 2007. We’re just talking income here.
Now let’s talk about wealth. As Fortune reports, it’s not just income but wealth. The top 0.1% of this country - not the top 1% but the super elite, which is a very small club - control 20-25% of the wealth in this country. There are only two times since 1913 that this has been true: 1914-15, and 1925-28. And those numbers are from 2013, when we were still clawing our way out of a recession. That’s before the recent tax breaks for the uber wealthy, and before some of the record breaking corporate profits that have been reported since.
Consider these numbers as well: the top 1%, a bigger club, but still quite exclusive, owned 40% of the nation’s wealth as of 2012. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% - half of us - lost 2/3 of its net worth from 2007 to 2013 - just seven years.
We’re losing the democratization of wealth, and when we lose the democratization of wealth, the majority of people lose the ability to function as a truly autonomous society. How a society makes money is also how it the rules that we all follow. Countries with high income and wealth inequality become politically unstable and less democratic over time.
Good point - if we’re talking about an Arab Spring or show of force revolution in which people take to the streets, then that is usually intended as an usurpation of authority - and you’re right, that’s not usually a product of democracy, even if the ultimate aim is a more democratic government.
I don’t think even if we had a new great depression thered be a revolution simply because theres too many social programs that would alleviate any suffering something like that would cause and if not it wouldn’t be hard to make some …. and sure conservatives would grumble but I could see things like price controls on necessities rent freezes and the like things that FDR could of only dream of doing
in the red scare of the 50s and 80s my elderly history teacher thought it was stupid because she said that if the communist party had a chance in America it would of been from about 31 to 38 because of the depression and communism/socialism was seen as a viable political movement to be instuited by force if necessary (we didn’t hate the USSR either )
Of course there were just talk of a government take over and "hanging of the crooks " that started the depression … Apparently in the 30s the fad in some colleges was to join the local chapter of the American socialist party … she showed us her membership card … it had eugene v debs signature on it ….
After FDR stabilized the country and most people had something to eat and money to spend via the general relief program the discussions ended
Now if the Russian government was as well organized as it was today they could of pushed it in that direction rather easily because a lot the public was receptive
We discussed this in another recent thread. Conditions are nowhere near ripe in the U.S. for a poor-vs-powerful revolution.
There may be an escalation in civil strife. But it won’t be general common-people vs rich-and-powerful strife. We may see blacks vs cops, or fighting between two disadvantaged groups, e.g. “white trash” vs blacks or immigrants. And it is the right-wing — the deluded supporters of the rich and powerful — who are most prone to violence.
Yes, the U.S. is rapidly becoming less democratic. But, despite gerrymandering, voter suppression, corruption and electoral cheating, the political process is still perceived as working more-or-less. I can’t imagine a general armed revolt unless there is a major change in that perception.
Maybe I’m wrong. Can anyone summarize the “Yellow Shirt” movement in France and contrast its causes with U.S. conditions?