We’ve Been Here Before

There are many signs that if the lawfully constituted leadership does not soon substitute action for words, a new leadership, perhaps unlawfully constituted, will arise and act.

Those words were spoken at a Senate committee, early in 1933. It was the last months of Hoover’s presidency and the economic problems were getting worse. There was a real threat of fascism, communism, or plain populist revolt. Open resistance to authorities and even violence had already broken out.

Speaking of the year before, William Manchester wrote (from The Glory and the Dream):

“In the desperate summer of 1932, Washington, D.C., resembled the besieged capital of an obscure European state.”

That was when veterans marched on Washington, DC. They demanded the money they were owed. That is how they got their name, the Bonus Army. They camped out around the White House, until they were violently evicted. The later Business Plot, an alleged attempt at fascist takeover, sought the support of a popular leader in the military. The Bonus Army and the Business Plot were unrelated, but they were part of a looming threat. To the president and politicians in the country’s capitol, it would have felt like they were besieged.

This is forever the risk of failed governance, even more so when combined with the betrayal of democratic ideals. If the government can’t govern, the people will take it upon themselves to do what government won’t.

One in four American men were out of work back then. Unemployment data is a bit different today, but the comparable number of real unemployment is one in ten. That is about 30 million Americans right now without a job, about a quarter of the population that existed at the time of the Great Depression. As a total number, there are as many Americans unemployed now as then.

Also, consider this. Those unemployment numbers don’t include the massive prison population, one of the ways we now store our unemployed population (by the way, that equates to more blacks in prison today than were in slavery at its height before the Civil War). And that doesn’t include those who are underemployed or don’t make a living wage, many of which rely on welfare to make ends meet.

Stop and think about that. The Great Depression came close to tearing our country apart, with fears of authoritarianism and revolution. Yet here we are with the same number of unemployed that existed back then. The difference partly is that we have a welfare system that keeps large numbers of people just above the level of absolute desperation. If that welfare system gets overwhelmed or some politician is so stupid as to eliminate it, you will see those old fears return over night.

This is what Trump was tapping into. If you are among the few who have never personally experienced poverty or lived in a poor community, never known unemployment or homelessness, never been on the wrong side of a cruel legal system, consider yourself fortunate. But realize you are living in a bubble disconnected from the reality of so many of your fellow citizens.

So, how much worse does it have to get? What might be the tipping point?

Don’t just fear a demagogue like Trump and the swamp creatures he brings with him. Fear the economic conditions and the political system that made someone like him inevitable. We’ve been warned about this for a century now. Yet so many have acted as if it could never happen here. In fact, the slow creep of dysfunction and failure, of division and frustration has been happening for a long time, even if the public has been slow to respond or else the corporate media reluctant to report.

But it might be some small comfort to note, as did Jon Meacham, that “we have been here before.”

63 thoughts on “We’ve Been Here Before

  1. It’s not only all the millions of Americans living in poverty and hopelessness, it’s all the many millions more who FEAR such a fate. They may be doing okay for now, but with economic inequality getting ever worse they fear for their own security.
    Trump’s campaign was classic populism, an American political undercurrent going back to the prairie populists of the 1890s and Huey Long of the 1930s; see also George Wallace in the 1960s. But never before had it resulted in an actual populist President. Now that we have one, it’s anybody’s guess as to how it will turn out.

    • That is a good point. I like to remind people that Trump’s initial support did not come from the poor working class.

      Before any other demographic, he had won the lower middle class. Those are people who aren’t poor but fear becoming poor. Many of them grew up working class or else the generation before them. The poor who have always been poor are used to it, but those who’ve grown somewhat comfortable fear poverty more than anyone.

      What I also like to remind people is that, before Trump finally gained the support of the poor, those poor people were initially supporting Sanders. Trump isn’t the candidate they preferred.

      Besides, most poor people don’t vote at all. Political disenfranchisement and demoralization go hand in hand with economic desperation. This is compounded by the fact that Republicans have purposely closed down polling stations in poor areas, making it even harder for the poor to vote.

      That is a dangerous situation. When a large part of the public no longer believes they have a stake in the political system, the problems go far beyond who wins and loses elections. Republicans have been playing with fire with their anti-democratic tactics, not that Democrats have been much better. Clinton’s campaign showed that Democrats are fully capable of anti-democratic tactics as well.

      It turns out that anti-democratic tactics don’t necessarily even benefit the political establishment. Even many GOP insiders are probably feeling wary about this ‘victory’.

      As for populists, there are other presidents who could be labeled as such. There is, of course, Andrew Jackson. And Abraham Lincoln ran on a populist campaign of a third party. Jackson probably was a bit of a demagogue as well. Not many these days would call Lincoln a demagogue, although I’m sure some saw him that way at the time.

      Still, Trump is a unique example. And, as populist eras go, there is much about the situation right now that is unique. Past populist eras weren’t dealing the same global scale of problems as we now face.

    • That is what has caught my attention as of late. Old narratives are being resurrected for purposes that aren’t clear. But there are disagreements about narrative among politicians. It’s strange to hear Trump, a GOP president, advocating a conciliatory attitude Russia which is an old enemy and scapegoat.

    • Violence is better to be avoided. But it is understandable why this man is so hated. He led a group of supporters in Washington DC with a Nazi-like salute. And everyone knows he is a white nationalist, despite his lame denials. We Americans don’t tend to be friendly toward those using authoritarian symbolism. Anyone who isn’t completely stupid or looking for trouble knows better.

      He probably was trying to elicit a violent response, as that is an old tactic of authoritarians. Keep provoking those who will be harmed most by your gaining power in order to draw them out and turn them into scapegoats. That said, protesters should be smart enough to not be drawn into such an obvious game. There is nothing authoritarians want more than violence.

    • The problem is authoritarians wouldn’t get away with most of what they do if not for the weakness and complicity of what goes for liberalism. The most obvious recent example is that of the Democratic establishment attacking a genuine progressive reform candidate in their own party in order to promote a populist demagogue candidate in the other party. And then that leads to the other party winning with a bunch of right-wing authoritarians being put into power. Will those supposed ‘liberals’ take responsibility, admit that they are complete moral failures, and get the fuck out of the way of those who actually want to make the world a better place? Of course not.

    • I’ve been seeing people praise Obama. It makes me sick. It is the failure of Democrats, Obama most of all, that has led to this situation. After all that, the partisans are endlessly willing not just to forgive but to praise those failures based on some demented notion of moderation, even as that moderation constantly makes the world a worst place and inevitably brings the worst elements into power. All I can say about Obama is good riddance.

    • The authoritarians love violence, either committed by themselves or provoked in others. With violence threatening, it is easier for them to manipulate the fearful public and enforce their authoritarian measures. Authoritarians find violence exciting because it gives their lives meaning. It’s an old predictable game.

  2. From reddit:

    as cheesy as it was I’m glad I got out and voted
    There is almost never a good reason not to vote. I hope your generation learns that. One of the problems with our democracy is that young people don’t vote. Which is shitty for them, since they are the ones who will be dealing with the fallout from policy for the longest. Or, in the case of Trump’s election, actual nuclear fallout from China and or North Korea, not to mention the meters of sea level rise between now and their death.
    I don’t know that Vegas is giving odds, those are from British bookies. Still insanely high.
    As far as relative size, I mean, if there’s 500k in DC, 500k in LA (per another redditor), 250k in Chicago, 100K in Boston and St Louis, plus hundreds of other gatherings with tens of thousands of people and thousands of others with hundreds (one dude was saying they marched in his subdivision!) then yeah, we are getting up there with the Vietnam and Iraq War protests if not surpassing them.
    From a historical perspective, the timing of this is really what makes it newsworthy. Even in 2000, when a President was put in place not by vote or the electoral college but by the Supreme Court, we did not see protests. The protests of this President dwarfed the inauguration party. We have not seen a President this unpopular since Nixon was impeached. And this is Day 2.
    Much like Nixon, this man is obsessed with domestic “enemies”, will do anything to keep power, and is completely out of touch with public opinion. Unlike Nixon, however, there is a robust right wing propaganda machine that refuses to acknowledge any thing that doesn’t empower them and has the uncritical support of maybe 30% of the country’s population. Plus Congress is much more polarized and does not accurately represent the will of the people due to gerrymandering. With Congress in Republican control it seems unlikely that they will do anything other than take their seat at the trough. Which means we have a large national majority on the left who are going to be getting increasingly angry and are already coming out to protest in numbers we’ve rarely if ever seen. And the new government hasn’t even done anything yet.

    If Russia ever gets smart and turns their propaganda techniques (many of whom you will see making conservative comments on this thread and throughout reddit’s defaults) toward radicalizing and agonizing the left the way they do the right, we could be seeing the beginnings of the end for the American experiment as the “acceptable” violence towards white supremacists like Spencer spreads toward all Trump supporters as their hopes for legislative relief become dashed.

    For my part, I hope we can just peacefully go our separate ways. Our government was not designed to represent 350 million people (the design spec for House of Representatives was 30k citizens -> 1 representive, for instance). And really, I liken it to a divorce of two people that just can’t stop arguing even though they used to love each other. Just get your divorce amicably and move on.

    • For many years. I’ve been arguing that our government is simply too large and the population too vast. You can either have a country or an empire. Right now, we have an empire. The problem with empires is that they tend to not last long, before they break apart back into smaller national units.

      The Anti-Federalists were right about their warnings, which became obvious within the first decades after the founding. The first constitution should never have been unconstitutionally replaced by those seeking greater power through imperialism.

      We should’ve split long ago as a country, such as letting the South go its separate way instead of fighting the Civil War. But of course the Confederates were stupid assholes who had to attack the federal government rather than peacefully go their own way.

      • Look at China and India, giant populations with diversity. Even within the “Han Chinese” ethnicity. They manage to stay together though one is authoritarian.

        • Both those examples demonstrate conflict. China had the Maoist revolution and then the cultural revolution, both involving much violence and death. India divided from Pakistan following much internal fighting. Both countries maintain anti-democratic traditions and authoritarian tendencies.

          Neither is certain to maintain stability in the long term. Almost any empire can stay together for a few generations. Many can stay together for a few centuries. But however long they last, when they finally end it tends to be an unhappy ending.

          The most peaceful stable countries have been those that have remained smaller nation-states for centuries, although occasionally having to fight to maintain their independence.

          • Alt-righters make the arguemnt it’s all diversity’s fault and if a huge country was all homogeneous it would be all good

            Then again it’s hard to be homogeneous across such a large geographic and population area like the US/India/China.

  3. So I didn’t march yesterday but I almost regret it. I turned down many chances to go to D.C. Because I didn’t like Hillary and wondered if that was what it would be, a pro-Clinton march, but now I would’ve gone not because I like clintkn but as an anti-alt-right reason. Like all he alt righters ranting about repealing the 19th was pissing me off

    • I’m not fond of traveling for any reason. One of my closest friends has lived out on the West Coast for almost two decades. I’ve only visited her once in that time, but that is because she regularly comes back to Iowa once or twice a year. If traveling were easier, not to mention cheaper, I might gladly go to more protests and such. I occasionally go to protests here in town. It always feels a bit demoralizing. No one pays attention to a protest in a small college town.

  4. If the DNC hadn’t been so adamant on HRC (she was already the 2016 nominee as soon as Obama won 2008, frankly) we wouldn’t be here right now

    • I’ve been not only making that argument but warning about this outcome since the beginning of the campaign season. I couldn’t see how all these games of power, manipulation, and propaganda were going to end well. They were being so blatant and heavy-handed that it seemed to demonstrate a combination of arrogance and desperation.

    • Sadly for him, most white Americans don’t give a flying fuck about white nationalism. Such bullshit ideologies don’t pay the bills or do anything else of practical value. The average American is too concerned with just making ends meet to worry about the racial politics of the right-wing elite. It’s not that racial politics don’t matter, but not in any overtly political sense. There is a reason Trump is so unpopular. I’m fairly sure that Trump isn’t going to lead anyone toward creating a white supremacist utopia.

      • Read the article , he says trump isn’t white nationalist.

        Also “like the rust belt, greater New England from Oregon to Maine will fall soon”

        The rust belt will turn on trump if he fails to bring back jobs.

        • I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist. But he does seem to be a common garden variety of general bigot. He is an old school rich white guy. But there are some of his supporters who, whether they admit it or not, hoping that he is a white nationalist or will somehow benefit/promote white nationalism.

          There is plenty of economic frustration that sometimes takes racial form, but ultimately it is about economics. I have no doubt that more poor whites despise Trump than look to him with hope. There is nothing poor whites want more than a rich white guy to hate or at least to ridicule. Trump will gain little sympathy from poor whites as his administration goes down in flames.

          Many Americans are simply concerned about economic issues. If Obama had lived up to his promises and been a real progressive, poor whites across the country would fondly remember him for the rest of their lives. Even with Obama’s pathetic ‘achievements’, he still is immensely more popular than Trump.

          • That’s my view of Trump. He’s an old-school bigoted dude but pretty far from NR territory. And I doubt he cares enough about other people to adopt any x-nationalist views.

            For example I think he’s probably has chauvinist attitudes towards women as he’s expressed, but I doubt he frequent the manosphere or thinks women shouldn’t vote. If he’s aware of the manosphere I’m almost positive his view would be along the lines of the “400 pounder in basement” comment he’s made before.

          • In his post, it’s interesting that he describes even people in Oregon support not giving Illegals drivers liscenses and this being signs of white nationalism. 50% of Trump voters support giving illegals already here pathways to citizenship, LOL

            Also, on republicans increasingly attracting whites… both parties are losing people. Independents are the fastest growing demographi and already a plurality.

          • I just reread this: http://www.vdare.com/articles/brimelow-at-npi-trumps-america-the-next-shoe-will-drop-in-2020

            And is it just me or does it come across as somewhat unhinged and grasping at straws and mental gymnastics?

            “Trump got the same percentage of the white vote as Romney. And a lot of third party votes blah blah Reagan blah blah democrats. Less white Californians voted Trump than Romney. White Texans voted for Trump since white Texans vote Republican in general. But here’s why he’s a great white awakening!”

          • Yep. What you say is the kind of thing I’ve been saying. Much of this isn’t that complicated. In many ways, I suspect Trump is being fairly straightforward in who he is.

            I see no reason to assume he has a covert agenda to create white nationalist state, evict all immigrants, put all minorities into concentration camps, and take the vote from women. Trump simply doesn’t give a fuck. It’s all just a game to him, not much different than other games he has played his whole life, just on a larger scale. He is a showman and an attention whore. We don’t need to look for hidden depths of what is motivating him.

            He has no empathy for poor white people and he has even less empathy for those who seek to define their self-worth by the color of their skin. Trump sees himself as an alpha male. He has glad to have all those losers sucking up to him as the great leader, but beyond that he couldn’t care less about them or their infantile dreams of superiority.

            Trump is having the time of his life. He loves toying with his followers, playing with their minds. But as far as Trump is personally concerned, he loves immigrants so that they can be cheap labor for the construction crews who work on his buildings and such. If anything, he’ll likely end up pushing some policy that will lead to even more immigrants. And it would amuse him to see right-wing Republicans get their panties in a wad over it.

            If Trump has a covert agenda, it is simply to fuck with right-wingers and take down the GOP. That is the one thing I’ve always wondered about. Maybe he is pushing everything to an extreme just to watch it all crash and burn. Just because he can. The ultimate testimony to his narcissistic ego.

      • Why is he so scared to admit he’s a white nationalist? Look at the mental gymnastics in the article. Sheesh even his friend who cries at getting punched owns it.

        • It’s common. Many people seem to be afraid to admit what they are, what they actually support and believe in. Humans are weird like that. Could you imagine what society would be like if everyone honestly admitted what they are. It would certainly make politics much simpler.

          • I think it’s possible he might actually beleive is isn’t white nationalist, as in, he’s put enough internal mental walls inside himself. Basically he won’t admit he’s that label even to himself?

          • I think Trump’s just a self-cenetered guy who’s willing to use anyone to get ahead. Yeah he dosen’t “care” about social justice things (Omg trump why aren’t you denouncing KKK??!!!) but he dosen’t care about a lot besides himself. So, while he isn’t a white nationalist or NR or whatever he’d be willing to use them to get ahead and gain votes, hence retweeting the alt-right pepe people.

          • I understand that. If you repeat almost anything enough times, you can convince yourself of it. That is what people don’t get about political correctness. It isn’t just language. The language we use determines not just our social identities but our personal realities.

            Plus, never doubt the power of dissociation. People are fully capable of believing multiple things as true simultaneously. They do it all the time. We all do, if we are honest with ourselves. Humans have divided psyches. But some people are more extremely unconscious about it than others.

    • So, Russia doesn’t have spies and infiltrators in the US because white nationalist solidarity. And the US doesn’t have spies and infiltrators in Russia and numerous other European countries because the US white majority government has respect for other white majority governments. Really? Could anyone be that stupid to believe that? Or is it just empty rhetoric used to hide racial bigotry for reasons of political correctness?

  5. I guarantee you that if we sucked up to Trump enough, he’ll give us a cabinet position. Same with anyone else. That’s literally how Trump rolls. People whine about how he’s appointing alt-righters or incompetent people because of some evil agenda, but really, he’s appointing whoever sucks up to him

  6. Trump’s admin might cause bad things, but it’s not because Trump is trying to create an alt-right agenda, but simply because he gives no fucks about anyone but himself.

  7. You gotta appreciate the irony. The GOP didn’t want Trump either but they ultimately let the their voters decide. Meanwhile the DNC was gonna have Hillary at-all-costs. And the one that was allowed to win the primary more naturally, ended up winning the general.

    And yes yes yes, I know she won the popular vote.

    • That was part of the dynamic. Trump took advantage of unusual conditions, such as a party divided by so many candidates. Even so, he did so ‘honestly’. He used a particular strategy and used it with great skill. He won fair and square. He didn’t have to cheat like Clinton and that ended making a big difference. When someone like Trump ends up seeming like the honest candidate, that is a damning criticism of the other party’s nominee.

  8. Speaking of Trump “because white nationalism yay!”

    I bet a lot of Trump voters weren’t beayuse they loved him though. Polls show that. A good portion are probably republicans who vote R anytime, as well as anti-Hillary votes.

    Also, I’m sure many Hillary votes were just “not-Trump” votes

    • White nationalists and white supremacists are a small minority even among Republicans and Trump supporters. Many people have racial prejudices. But such biases are typically just background noise and not decisive factors by themselves. People are racist only in the sense that they are raised in a society that is obsessed with race. We all carry these kinds of racial prejudices within us, albeit normally on an unconscious level.

      Humans are full of biases. In the end, racial issues only matter when they are tied to other issues, which is to say they don’t tend to matter in any direct way. I’m with you in not seeing that as what this election was about. Plenty of whites voted for Obama and plenty of poor whites supported Clinton in the past. It’s the same reason that many Protestants who were prejudiced against Catholics ended up voting for the Catholic JFK.

      Most prejudices are rather superficial, not all that key to how people actually make their decisions. Prejudices often are more markers of identity than motivations of behavior, not to dismiss that there are real consequences in behavior, although typically in more subtle ways that wouldn’t show up in election results.

    • Here is something that amuses me, as Thomas Sowell pointed out.

      In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the Irish moved into a neighborhood not only did other whites including other ethnics move out but so did the blacks. There was a black flight from the Irish. The Irish were the lowest of the low. Sowell also mentions that throughout American history, until the early 1900s, most blacks lived in neighborhoods that were majority white. Even before the Civil War, most blacks in the North lived near whites. Majority black communities existed, but were extremely rare.

      Racial segregation only became an issue with WWI when many blacks joined the military and all of a sudden had a new sense of pride and empowerment. Those blacks came back to the US well armed and trained, ready to fight anyone who would challenge them. It was the beginning of the race wars which literally were miniature civil wars with blacks and whites fighting in the streets, no different than they had fought in Europe during WWI. Thousands of both races died in those early race wars.

      Even so, in most parts of the country, there were no race wars. Blacks only ever fought back when they were attacked. Most blacks initially moved to the rural North and West, largely to own land and become small family farmers. In these communities, whites and blacks lived as neighbors and their kids typically went to integrated schools. The majority of blacks remained rural residents until the 1970s. It was a slow process of sundown towns forcing blacks to flee from one place to another, until eventually most of them ended up in the inner cities.

      There were other reasons for increasing racial segregation. Industrialization and the mass exodus from the rural South, of both blacks and whites, led to greater economic and social pressures. This was exacerbated by mass immigration of ethnic immigrants, such as the maligned Irish. Whites never left neighborhoods because blacks moved in. There were well known laws, redlining, that kept blacks from moving into white neighborhoods. Blacks were only allowed to move into neighborhoods after the whites were already leaving for other reasons.

      Redlining was a slow process. WASPs moved out as relatively respectable/acceptable ethnic whites moved in. Then those ethnic whites moved out as the less respectable/acceptable ethnic whites moved in. Only long after a neighborhood had been in decline were blacks allowed to buy houses there. Blacks moving in was a result, not a cause of the decline. It’s natural for poor people to move into neighborhoods that become impoverished. And the laws and practices kept blacks poor.

    • How does that explain that multicultural Western social democracies have stronger, more well funded welfare systems than most of the homogeneous countries in the world?

      Only by cherry-picking examples and data (along with not controlling for confounding factors) can you make an argument that multicultural Western social democracies are failures, relative to most other sociopolitical systems. There are plenty of severely dysfunctional and oppressive societies out there with governments that don’t take care of their citizens, no matter how homogeneous the population.

      “[C]orrelations across countries and American states between trust and all sorts of measures of diversity were about as close to zero as one can imagine… [L]iving among people who are different from yourself didn’t make you less trusting in people who are different from yourself. But that left me with a quandary: Does the composition of where you live not matter at all for trust in people unlike yourself? I had no ready answer, but going through the cross-national data set I had constructed, I found a variable that seemed remotely relevant: a crude ordinal measure (from the Minorities at Risk Project at my own university, indeed just one floor below my office) of whether minorities lived apart from the majority population. I found a moderately strong correlation with trust across nations – a relationship that held even controlling for other factors in the trust models I had estimated in my 2002 book. It wasn’t diversity but segregation that led to less trust.”
      ~Eric Uslaner, Segregation and Mistrust, Kindle Locations 65-73

    • (begin rant)

      Let me explain something for those a bit slow in the head, cold in the heart, and limited in imagination. It isn’t diversity that harms a society. It is division.

      This typically is caused by segregation, no matter what form it takes: race, ethnicity, religion, nativism, class, regionalism, etc. In American society, racism and classism have been inseparable. But even without racism, international studies have shown that high economic inequality leads to vast social problems and political dysfunction.

      When a society separates itself into social groups and communities that don’t interact with each other, the natural human impulse of empathy shrivels up and conflict inevitably follows. When people see their fellow citizens and humans as enemies, the results are never pretty. Division and divisiveness go hand in hand.

      Wake the eff up, people! This isn’t rocket science. It’s Human Nature 101.

      (end rant)

Please read Comment Policy before commenting.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s