Yves here. I don’t mean to seem as if I am criticizing the author of this Common Dreams piece, but rather his source, Thomas Homer-Dixon. As the saying goes, a reporter is only as good as his sources.
But pieces like this drive me crazy. First, if Trump was such a danger to democracy, why did Biden promise “Nothing fundamental will change,” and very much stick to that pledge? Second, as we have long said, the very successful neoliberal campaign of making people see themselves as individuals and weakening of community ties has resulted in social disfunction being channeled into self-harm (drug addiction, suicides) and random acts of rage and not into large scale protests. For instance, despite the press trying to pump air into the deflated Trump balloon, his 2020 Tulsa “comeback” rally and his December 2021 rallies in Florida had mainly empty seats.
Third and most important, the article does mention income inequality as a key cause, but misses that this was an engineered effect of the neoliberal counter-revolution against New Deal reforms. Homer-Dixon further misses, as Mark Blyth has pointed out, that the US went further in a reactionary direction in the wake of the financial crisis, when that was not at all an inevitable outcome, and in fact concessions to the working classes were the far more likely reaction…if nothing else, for elite long-term self-perservation. But no one does long term any more.
And as for the hand-wringing about propaganda, Homer-Dixon needs to read Alex Carey’s classic Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Carey explains how America was the early leader in propaganda, dating to at least the National Association of Manufacturers messaging against labor at the start of the 20th century. And Goebbels developed his techniques by studying the American propagandist and father of public relations, Eddie Bernays.
That’s not to say that the US is not at the real risk of becoming a failed state…and that outcome seems more likely than a strongman taking over. But a key reason is (as Lambert has put it) the late Romanov-era-level of incompetence of our elites, and the resulting failure of the government to handle crises and even operate as anything other than a vehicle for looting. Just look at the inexcusable cost of insulin for starters. So scapegoating yet to emerge evil right wing authoritarians is so much more convenient than calling out the pervasive derelictions of duty on the watch of the professional-managerial class.
By Jake Johnson. Originally published at Common Dreams
In a matter of years, the United States’ deeply flawed and increasingly fragile democratic system could collapse under the weight of a long-running reactionary onslaught and be replaced by a right-wing dictatorship—one for which former President Donald Trump was “just a warm-up act.”
“Willingness to publicly endorse the Big Lie has become a litmus test of Republican loyalty to Mr. Trump.”
Such was the stark warning that Thomas Homer-Dixon, executive director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University and a scholar of violent conflict, delivered in an exhaustive op-ed published in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.
Homer-Dixon, the former head of a center on peace and conflict studies at the University of Toronto, warned that the “political and social landscape” of the U.S.—a profoundly unequal and ideologically polarized nation that also happens to be “armed to the teeth”—is “flashing with warning signals.”
“By 2025,” he wrote. “American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.”
Arguing that prominent reactionary figures such as the late right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh and Trump—who awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020—”are as much symptoms” of U.S. political dysfunction as its causes, Homer-Dixon contended that the nation’s present crises have their roots in myriad historical phenomena:
“But successful polities around the world,” he continued, “have overcome flaws just as fundamental.”
So why is U.S. democracy particularly vulnerable to full-scale collapse in the near future?
Homer-Dixon argued that “what seems to have pushed the United States to the brink of losing its democracy today is a multiplication effect between its underlying flaws and recent shifts in the society’s ‘material’ characteristics.”
“These shifts include stagnating middle-class incomes, chronic economic insecurity, and rising inequality as the country’s economy—transformed by technological change and globalization—has transitioned from muscle power, heavy industry, and manufacturing as the main sources of its wealth to idea power, information technology, symbolic production, and finance,” he wrote. “America’s economic, racial and social gaps have helped cause ideological polarization between the political right and left, and the worsening polarization has paralyzed government while aggravating the gaps.”
Eager and well-positioned to exploit such divisions are Trump and his Republican loyalists, many of whom have endorsed the so-called “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 presidential election but had it stolen from him by the Democratic Party.
That falsehood—which helped fuel the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection and, according to one new survey, is embraced by two-thirds of GOP voters—is “potent anti-democratic poison,” Homer-Dixon wrote.
“Willingness to publicly endorse the Big Lie has become a litmus test of Republican loyalty to Mr. Trump,” he observed. “This isn’t just an ideological move to promote Republican solidarity against Democrats. It puts its adherents one step away from the psychological dynamic of extreme dehumanization that has led to some of the worst violence in human history. And it has refashioned—into a moral crusade against evil—Republican efforts to gerrymander Congressional districts into pretzel-like shapes, to restrict voting rights, and to take control of state-level electoral apparatuses.”
As The Guardian reported Sunday, “Allies of Donald Trump and others who have spread baseless conspiracy theories about the election have launched campaigns” for key positions—from governor to secretary of state—that have significant influence over the post-election certification process.
“Republicans who have embraced lies about the election are also running for secretary of state offices in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada,” the outlet noted. “Overlooked for years, there is now a broader awareness of the enormous power these secretaries of state wield over how elections are run and ballots are counted. That power was on unprecedented display in 2020, when secretaries of state made decisions about things like how to establish ballot drop boxes and whether to automatically send out mail-in ballot applications to voters.”
“Secretaries of state wield enormous unilateral power and, if they were elected, election deniers could do extensive damage in future elections,” The Guardian added.