Doubling Down on Dystopia

Jerri-Lynn here: One quibble: I take issue with the author’s notion that those who fail to treat the sputterings of CNN or the NYT with the reverence accorded to the two stone tablets on which the ten commandments were inscribed are somehow delusional. Since I currently spend much time out of the US with easy access to a plethora of news sources, CNN’s never the first international broadcast I tune into– usually I go to the BBC first, and then Al Jazeera– followed by local news sources.  Only then do I decide whether I can stomach CNN (and that only in the interest of completeness, rather than out of respect for its reporting). Likewise, the NYT is never my first newspaper read of the day. At least a pot of darjeeling tea is necessary before I can face it (or if no good tea’s available, a couple of cups of coffee will do).  In fact, I’d go as far to say as those who consume CNN and the NYT without a healthy pinch of salt– especially if they are their primary news sources– are far more likely to be completely oblivious to today’s reality.

Yet with that caveat, this is nonetheless well worth a read.

By John Feffer, author of the new dystopian novel, Splinterlands (a Dispatch Books original with Haymarket Books), which Publishers Weekly hails as “a chilling, thoughtful, and intuitive warning.” He is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and a TomDispatch regular. Originally published at TomDispatch

Dystopias have recently achieved full-spectrum dominance. Kids are drawn to such stories — The Giver, Hunger Games — like Goths to piercings. TV shows about zombie apocalypses, pandemics, and technology run amok inspire binge watching. We’ve seen the world-gone-truly-bad a thousand times over on the big screen.

This apocalyptic outpouring has been so intense that talk of “peak dystopia” started to circulate several years ago. Yet the stock of the doomsday cartel has shown no signs of falling, even as production continues at full blast. (A confession: with my recent novel Splinterlands I’ve contributed my own bit to flooding the dystopia market.) As novelist Junot Diaz argued last October, dystopia has become “the default narrative of the generation.”

Shortly after Diaz made that comment, dystopia became the default narrative for American politics as well when Donald Trump stepped off the set of The Celebrity Apprentice and into the Oval Office. With the election of an uber-narcissist incapable of distinguishing between fact and fantasy, all the dystopian nightmares that had gathered like storm clouds on the horizon — nuclear war, climate change, a clash of civilizations — suddenly moved overhead. Cue the rumble of thunder and the flash of lightning.

The response among those horrified by the results of the recent presidential election has been four-fold.

First came denial — from the existential dread that hammered the solar plexus as the election returns trickled in that Tuesday night to the more prosaic reluctance to get out of bed the morning after. Then came the fantasies of flight, as tens of thousands of Americans checked to see if their passports were still valid and if the ark bound for New Zealand had any berths free. The third stage has been resistance: millions poured into the streets to protest, mobilized at airports to welcome temporarily banned immigrants, and flocked to congressional meet-and-greets to air their grievances with Republicans and Democrats alike.

The fourth step, concurrent with all the others, has been to delve into the dystopias of the past as if they contained some Da Vinci code for deciphering our present predicament. Classics like Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, George Orwell’s 1984, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale quickly climbed back onto bestseller lists.

It might seem counterintuitive — or a perverse form of escapism — to turn from the dystopia of reality to that of fiction. Keep in mind, though, that those novels became bestsellers in their own time precisely because they offered refuge and narratives of resistance for those who feared (in order of publication) the rise of Nazism, the spread of Stalinism, or the resurgence of state-backed misogyny in the Reagan years.

These days, with journalists scrambling to cover the latest outrage from the White House, perhaps it was only natural for readers to seek refuge in the works of writers who took the longer view. After all, it’s an understandable impulse to want to turn the page and find out what happens next. And dystopian narratives are there, in part, to help us brace for the worst, while identifying possible ways out of the downward spiral toward hell.

The dystopian classics, however, are not necessarily well suited to our current moment. They generally depict totalitarian states under a Big Brother figure and a panoptical authority that controls everything from the center, a scenario that’s fascist or communist or just plain North Korean. Certainly, Donald Trump wants his face everywhere, his name on everything, his little fingers in every pot. But the dangers of the current dystopian moment don’t lie in the centralizing of control. Not yet, anyway.

The Trump era so far is all about the center not holding, a time when, in the words of the poet Yeats, things fall apart. Forget about Hannah Arendt and The Origins of Totalitarianism — also a hot seller on Amazon — and focus more on chaos theory. Unpredictability, incompetence, and demolition are the dystopian watchwords of the current moment, as the world threatens to fragment before our very eyes.

Don’t be fooled by Trump’s talk of a trillion-dollar infrastructure boom. His team has a very different project in mind, and you can read it on the signpost up ahead. Next Stop: The Deconstruction Zone.

The Zombie Election

In February 2016, when Donald Trump won his first primary in New Hampshire, the New York Daily News headlined it “Dawn of the Brain Dead” and likened Trump’s GOP supporters to “mindless zombies.” Not to be outdone, that conspiracy-minded purveyor of fake news, Alex Jones, routinely described Hillary Clinton supporters as “zombies” on his Trump-positive website Infowars.

The references to zombies spoke to the apocalyptic mindset of both sides. Donald Trump deliberately tapped into the end-of-days impulses of Christian evangelicals, anti-globalists, and white power enthusiasts, who view anyone who hasn’t drunk their Kool-Aid as a dead soul. Meanwhile, those fearful that the billionaire blowhard might win the election began spreading the “Trumpocalypse” meme as they warned of the coming of ever more severe climate change, the collapse of the global economy, and the outbreak of race wars. There was virtually no middle ground between the groups, aside from those who decided to steer clear of the election altogether. The mutual disgust with which each side viewed the other encouraged just the kind of dehumanization implied by that zombie label.

Zombies have become a political metaphor for another reason as well. What’s frightening about the flesh eating undead in their current incarnations is that they are not a formal army. There are no zombie leaders, no zombie battle plans. They shamble along in herds in search of prey. “Our fascination with zombies is partly a transposed fear of immigration,” I wrote in 2013, “of China displacing the United States as the world’s top economy, of bots taking over our computers, of financial markets that can melt down in a single morning.”

Zombies, in other words, reflect anxiety over a loss of control associated with globalization. In this context, the “rise of the rest” conjures up images of a mass of undifferentiated resource consumers — hungry others who are little more than mouths on legs — storming the citadels of the West.

During the election campaign, the Trump team appealed to those very fears by running ads during the popular TV series The Walking Dead that deliberately played on anti-immigration concerns. Once in office, Trump has put into motion his campaign pledges to wall off the United States from Mexico, keep out Muslims, and retreat into Fortress America. He has put special effort into reinforcing the notion that the outside world is a deeply scary place — even Paris, even Sweden! — as if The Walking Dead were a documentary and the zombie threat quite real.

The concentration of power in the executive branch, and Trump’s evident willingness to wield it, certainly echoes dystopian fears of 1984-style totalitarianism. So have the extraordinary lies, the broadsides against the media (“enemies of the people”), and the targeting of internal and external adversaries of every sort. But this is no totalitarian moment.  Trump is not interested in constructing a superstate like Oceania or even a provincial dictatorship like Airstrip One, both of which Orwell described so convincingly in his novel.

Instead, coming out of the gate, the new administration has focused on what Trump’s chief strategist and white nationalist Stephen Bannon promised to do several years ago: “bring everything crashing down.”

The Bannon Dystopia

Dystopians on the right have their own version of 1984. They’ve long been warning that liberals want to establish an all-powerful state that restricts gun ownership, bans the sale of super-sized sodas, and forces mythic “death panels” on the unwary. These right-wing Cassandras are worried not so much about Big Brother as about Big Nanny, though the more extreme among them also claim that liberals are covert fascists, closet communists, or even agents of the caliphate.

Strangely enough, however, these same right-wing dystopians — former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on the (non-existent) death panels, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) on gun control, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter on soda bans and other trivial pursuits — have never complained about the massive build-up of government power in far more significant areas: namely, the military and the intelligence agencies. Indeed, now that they are back on top, the new Trumpianized “conservatives” are perfectly happy to expand state power by throwing even more money at the Pentagon and potentially giving greater scope to the CIA in its future interrogations of terror suspects. Despite falling rates of violent crime — a tiny uptick in 2015 obscures the fact that these remain at a historic low — Trump also wants to beef up the police to deal with American “carnage.”

So far, so 1984. But the radically new element on the Trump administration’s agenda has nothing to do with the construction of a more powerful state. At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon spoke instead of what was truly crucial to him (and assumedly the president): the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Here, Bannon was speaking specifically of unleashing Wall Street, polluting industries, gun sellers, while freeing a wide range of economic actors from regulation of just about any sort. But Trump’s cabinet appointments and the first indications of what a Trumpian budget might look like suggest a far broader agenda aimed at kneecapping the non-military part of the state by sidelining entire agencies and gutting regulatory enforcement. Bye-bye, EPA. Nighty-night, Department of Education. Nice knowing you, HUD. We sure will miss you, Big Bird and foreign aid.

Even the State Department hasn’t proved safe from demolition. With professional diplomats out of the loop, Pennsylvania Avenue, not Foggy Bottom, will be the locus of control for international relations. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is being reduced to little more than an ornament as the new triumvirate of Trump, Bannon, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner take over foreign policy (though Vice President Pence hovers in the background like a chaperone at the prom). Meanwhile, with a proposed $54 billion future hike in its budget, Trump’s Pentagon will remain untouched by the wrecking ball, as the new president presides over a devastating shrinkage of the government he dislikes and a metastasis of what he loves. (Think: giant, shiny aircraft carriers!)

Thus far, the Trump administration has acted with highly publicized incompetence: administration figures contradicting each other, executive orders short-circuiting the government machinery, tweets wildly caroming around the Internet universe, and basic functions like press conferences handled with all the aplomb of a non-human primate. Trump’s appointees, including Bannon, have looked like anything but skilled demolition experts. This is certainly no Gorbachev-style perestroika, which eventually led to the unraveling of the Soviet Union. It’s nothing like the “shock therapy” programs that first knocked down and then remade the states of Eastern Europe after 1989.

However, since deconstruction is so much easier than construction and Bannon prides himself on his honey-badger-like persistence, the administration’s project, messy as it seems so far, is likely to prove quite capable of doing real damage. In fact, if you want a more disturbing interpretation of Donald Trump’s first months in office, consider this: What if all the chaos is not an unintended consequence of a greenhorn administration but an actual strategy?

All that dust in the air comes, after all, from the chaotic first steps in a projected massive demolition process and may already be obscuring the fact that Trump is attempting to push through a fundamentally anti-American and potentially supremely unpopular program. He aims to destroy the status quo, as Bannon promised, and replace it with a new world order defined by three Cs: Conservative, Christian, and Caucasian. Let the media cover what they please; let the critics laugh all they like about executive branch antics. In the meantime, all the president’s men are trying to impose their will on a recalcitrant country and world.

Triumph of the Will

I took a course in college on the rise of Nazism in Germany. At one point, the professor showed us Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s famous 1935 documentary that covered the Nazi Party Congress of the previous year and featured extensive footage of Adolf Hitler addressing the faithful. Triumph of the Will was a blockbuster film, our professor assured us. It spread the name of Hitler worldwide and established Riefenstahl’s reputation as a filmmaker. It was so popular inside Germany that it ran for months on end at movie theaters, and people returned again and again to watch it. Our teacher promised us that we would find it fascinating.

Triumph of the Will was not fascinating. Even for students engrossed in the details of the Nazi surge to power, the nearly two-hour documentary was a tremendous bore. After it was over, we bombarded the teacher with questions and complaints. How could he have imagined that we would find it fascinating?

He smiled. That’s the fascinating part, he said. Here was this extraordinarily popular film, and it’s now nearly impossible for Americans to sit through the whole thing. He wanted us to understand that people in Nazi Germany had an entirely different mindset, that they were participating in a kind of mass frenzy. They didn’t find Nazism abhorrent. They didn’t think they were living in a dystopia. They were true believers.

Many Americans are now having their Triumph of the Will moment. They watch Donald Trump repeatedly without getting bored or disgusted. They believe that history has anointed a new leader to revive the country and restore it to its rightful place in the world. They’ve been convinced that the last eight years were a liberal dystopia and what is happening now is, if not utopian, then the first steps in that direction.

A hard core of those enthralled by Trump cannot be convinced otherwise. They hold liberal elites in contempt. They don’t believe CNN or The New York Times. Many subscribe to outlandish theories about Islam and immigrants and the continuing covert machinations of that most famous “Islamic immigrant” of them all, Barack Obama. For this hard core of Trump supporters, the United States could begin to break down, the economy take a nosedive, the international community hold the leadership in Washington in contempt, and they will continue to believe in Trump and Trumpism. The president could even gun down a few people and his most fervent supporters would say nothing except, “Good shot, Mr. President!” Remember: even after Nazi Germany went down in fiery defeat in 1945, significant numbers of Germans remained in thrall to National Socialism. In 1947, more than half of those surveyed still believed that Nazism was a good idea carried out badly.

But plenty of Trump supporters — whether they’re disaffected Democrats, Hillary-hating independents, or rock-ribbed Republican conservatives — don’t fit such a definition. Some have already become deeply disillusioned by the antics of Donald J. and the demolition derby that his advisers are planning to unleash inside the U.S. government, which may, in the end, batter their lives badly.  They can be brought over. This is potentially the biggest of big-tent moments for launching the broadest possible resistance under the banner of a patriotism that portrays Trump and Bannon as guilty of un-American activities.

And it’s here in particular that so many dystopian novels provide the wrong kind of guidance. Trump’s end will not come at the hands of a Katniss Everdeen. A belief in an individual savior who successfully challenges a “totalitarian” system got us into this crisis in the first place when Donald Trump sold himself as the crusading outsider against a “deep state” controlled by devious liberals, craven conservatives, and a complicit mainstream media. Nor will it help for Americans to dream about leading their states out of the Union (are you listening, California?) or for individuals to retreat into political purism. Given that the administration’s dystopian vision is based on chaos and fragmentation, the oppositional response should be to unite everyone opposed, or even potentially opposed, to what Washington is now doing.

As readers, we are free to interpret dystopian fiction the way we please. As citizens, we can do something far more subversive. We can rewrite our own dystopian reality. We can change that bleak future ourselves. To do so, however, we would need to put together a better plot, introduce some more interesting and colorful characters, and, before it’s too late, write a much better ending that doesn’t just leave us with explosions, screams, and fade to black.

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  1. IDontKnow

    BBC isn’t what it use to be. search ofr Glen Greenwald and various BBC talking heads go at it on Youtube to get an idea about how far the neo-liberal rot has spread.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      No, it’s not– but I have to start somewhere. I usually read more than I watch anyway– although I realize as written my short intro implies otherwise.

      1. Ivy

        You may also find a short-wave radio, or streaming equivalent, to be useful when searching for news. There are many broadcasts in English (BBC World Service, etc) from around the globe, and many more in other languages with some in English (Deutsche Welle, Radio Television Luxembourg, Radio South Africa, etc).

  2. Disturbed Voter

    I tell people I read the BBC website to sound sophisticated, but I catch Youtube channels for popular editorial opinion. And I read Naked Capitalist carefully for real insight ;-)

    Doom porn, it is what dystopians like. I say … don’t worry, be happy.

  3. visitor

    It is interesting to see the dystopian works that the author does not refer to. The evergreeen 1984 has always been trotted out when talking about a bleak, totalitarian future, but theses other ones are my personal favourites.

    1) Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1931.

    A highly stratified society, whose genetically engineered members are encouraged to indulge in getting promiscuous and stoned with State-approved drugs, systematically sifts and quarantines refractory elements.

    2) The Machine Stops, E.M. Forster, 1909.

    In a society completely reliant upon a maze of automation for sustenance, transportation, housing and communication, people live in apartments teeming with technological “smartness”. They keep interacting with each other with a kind of Internet, publish “user-generated content”, and exchanges “likes”. They rarely meet in person and dread leaving their artificial surroundings. When the complex technical infrastructure starts failing, the society collapses.

    3) The Iron Heel, Jack London, 1908.

    A ruthless oligarchy takes power. The middle classes and smaller and mid-range businessmen, who sided with that 1% to control the working class, are wiped out to ensure the monopolistic all-power of the oligarchy. The working class ultimately launches a massive insurrection, which is mercilessly crushed by the military under the the orders of the oligarchy.

    4) The War in the Air, H.G. Wells, 1907.

    In the midst of a world arms race, Germany launches a sudden attack on France and the UK, relying upon its new air power to lay waste to the armies, marines, and cities of its opponents. Germany then takes on the USA — reducing its cities to rubble through massive air bombardment. Soon, the conflict degenerates into a world war as Japan also enters the fray, and all countries start battling each other with massive fleets of aircrafts of various kinds of newfangled technology. Civilization collapses.

    All works written before WWII, and addressing very modern issues: oligarchical tyranny, technocracy, genetic engineering, Internet society, world war. A sad comment on current dystopian analyses that they seem to have been completely forgotten.

    1. jefemt

      Other missing titles and must-reads for the self flagellating:

      The Dog Stars

      , by Peter Heller , and

      The Postman

      by David Brin. Fade to Black indeed…

      1. moving left

        I loved The Dog Stars. I’ll check out The Postman.

        I prefer post-climate change and post-pandemic dystopia rather than the zombies or space aliens type. I recommend The Water Knife by Bacigalupi, and his earlier book, The Wind-up Girl iirc.

        Recently read Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. There you have societal breakdown as a consequence of extreme wealth disparity.

    2. paul

      The BBC did a pretty good version of ‘The Machine Stops’ back in 1966, Nigel Kneale’s ‘The year of the sex olympics’ was another prescient one from about that time.

      As Huxley wrote to his former pupil:

      Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

      Watching BBC worldwide when I am abroad is even more depressing than the national version. It seems to comprise mainly of breathless,context free coverage of ‘the markets’ and their players.

      1. visitor

        Never saw “The year of the sex olympics”, but from the plot summary it looks prescient indeed. In the same category, the later “Death watch” by Bertrand Tavernier is also an unsettling take about TV-reality dystopia.

      2. JustAnObserver

        Just to remind: Nigel Kneale was also responsible for the first TV adaptation of 1984 in 1954, the Quatermass television series, and (my favourite) the truly, hide behind the sofa level, scary “The Stone Tape”.

      3. Lord Koos

        My favorite dystopian film of recent times is “Children of Men”, which posits a future where humans have lost the ability to reproduce. I urge NC readers to check it out.

        1. moving left

          That is a really good movie. Low fertility was an element of Handmaid’s Tale as well (good book, not a good movie).

          As for movies, there’s always the Mad Max films!

    3. Sam Adams

      More prescient as the novels predate 1914,, the fall of the old governing guard and ww1.
      They were written in the last glow of Edwardian summer.

    4. ambrit

      Also, a lot of the works of Phillip K. Dick. For instance, “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” and “Martian Timeslip,” etc. etc.

  4. GlassHammer

    “They’ve been convinced that the last eight years were a liberal dystopia”
    -It was a dystopia if you lived inside one of the economic sacrifice zones. These zones are so numerous that I can drive two-three hours in any cardinal direction and reach one.

    1. Deadl E Cheese

      Jerri-Lynn is being way too kind here.

      While I will be the first one to say that the reactionary diagnosis of our problems and their plan to get rid of them ranges from ridiculous to cruel, I will also be the first one to state that the liberal elite bear almost as much responsibility as the right-wing. I use the phrase ‘liberal-conservative consensus’ as a snarl word for a reason.

      An article that goes ‘what’s the matter with Kansas/conservatism’ that insinuates that one symptom of Trumpist insanity is that they don’t but should trust CNN and New York Times — two major players in non-0.1% immiseration — is a waste of my time. But that describes modern and almost certainly historical liberalism in a nutshell; they think that they should not only get loyal support for their and their house organs being only modestly morally better than a herrenvolk death cult, but that people should be awed and grateful.

    2. Temporarily Sane

      It was a dystopia if you lived inside one of the economic sacrifice zones. These zones are so numerous that I can drive two-three hours in any cardinal direction and reach one.

      People generally have a hard time with empathy (putting themselves in another person’s shoes) and the economically fortunate often don’t realize just how deprived of life’s essential ingredients many parts of America have become under the Clinton/Obama neoliberal cabal (and I don’t just mean money although that is obviously the most important one).

    3. b1daly

      The author is identifying a detachment from reality of particularly virulent kind, amongst hard-core Trump supporters.

      I don’t believe the economic reality of living in the “economic sacrifice” zones is what drives this particular delusion. This explanation does not make sense, because it is transparently obvious that Trump will in all likelihood intensify the economic, and cultural decline of these areas.

      There are many disenfranchised groups that have endured far worse economic oppression in the US, and they did not succumb to collective denial of reality. On the contrary, it was only a cold focus on reality that allowed the social progress we have made, as a society.

      Sometimes, I think John Stewarts description of the part of your brain that wants to vote for Trump as being the part of your brain that thinks taking a shit in someone’s mailbox at three in the morning is a good idea, is most apt.

  5. Ignacio

    From time to time I ask to myself: what would I do if I was the President (in my little country) and I always come to the same disturbing idea: no matter how would I try to constructively and reasonably pursue objectives that I believe are in the interest of my fellow citizens, I would face fierce opposition everywhere. I would be zombified, harassed, vilified… even by those “reasonable” NYT-like media.

    I feel that almost nobody in his rigth mind would ever want to be candidate. So we have mostly zombie candidates.

  6. chuck roast

    I finished Alice Through the Looking Glass last week. Not bad. Wonderful illustrations.
    The girl abides.

  7. schultzzz

    There’s a nonfiction book called ‘In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin’ which describes the lead-up to Naziism.
    ITs focus is on how the “good germans” began to gradually bully the “regular germans” into accepting fascism, and how that process ratcheted up and up.

    Moreso than battles between brownshirts and commie fringe groups; this is more about the mainstream of society trying to make up its mind, and how ordinary citizens intimidate each other into supporting it.

    1. Michael

      Found the German Resistance Memorial Center shortly after it opened in Berlin. Chronicles the citizens and families who tried to hold back the tide. Lots of ledgers full of those disappeared. Photos from the times. Very chilling yet I couldn’t stop staring…highly recommend.

    2. LT

      Good read. The American family at the center of the book is William Dodd, American Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, with his wife and two adult children.
      The book also exposes the international appeasement and sympathizers for the Nazi cause. So many liberals believed Hitler could be moderated. (The tyranny of moderation?). It was only as the terror spread to more and more people like themselves that the lights clicked on.
      It also made me acutely aware that the Western governments really had nothing against fascism, and never really have. It’s only the fascists who they can’t control (meaning turning on friends of the establishment) that causes grievance.
      And current circumstances are no surprise…

    3. Lord Koos

      I plan on reading that book. It was written by the American ambassador to Germany during the 1930s.

      1. ambrit

        Actually, it’s about Dodd and his family. The author, Erik Larson, does very good history books. “Thunderstruck” is one. “The Devil in the White City” is another.

  8. David

    OK, I have a theory about this, although you have to allow for my Yurpean perspective.
    Most liberals lead boring uneventful lives, which is not surprising when you consider what liberalism is fundamentally all about. Their secret dreams of glory and heroism don’t amount to much more, in practice, than signing petitions for their students or interns to use whichever toilets they want. Moreover, they’ve just had eight years when they have had to grit their teeth and pretend that a government that spies on its citizens, works for Wall Street, assassinates its enemies with drones and starts wars all over the world is wonderful, and that a continuation of it under another name would be even better.
    The mental strain must have been appalling. So now is the chance to rewrite the “plot” – interesting choice of words – presenting liberals as precisely the heroic rebel, “resistance” figures from Star Wars they always wanted to be, without actually having to mess around with ugly reality or take actual risks. The real struggle, in fact, is not to change anything, but rather to re-establish the NYT/BBC discourse about the world as authoritative and dominant. After all, politicians have only changed the world in various ways: the point, however, is to control how it’s described.

    1. Jesper

      Yep. Add to it the ease of seeing who is the evil one – even the most dedicated do-gooder will not have a problem with putting down zombies.
      Dystopian fiction might trigger some (suppressed?) emotional response and some baser reactions can be released from the human animal without complicated moral and ethical dilemmas.

    2. RenoDino

      There is a reason the top grossing American movies are Super Hero Action flicks. This who we imagine ourselves to be and anyone who suggests otherwise (Trump) even for a moment that we are not born to rule the world is going to be the subject of total damnation. For his crime, he’s being compared to a sociopathic manic who wants to destroy the world order. Like that’s a bad thing.

  9. SoCal Rhino

    Given the comments about retreats to purism, big tents, and the need for unity, I do wonder if this isn’t about the DNC restoration really.

    1. loblolly


      Articles like this just embarrass the author, every tenuous metaphor they make is equally applicable to side they champion. Quavering with righteousness they raise an accusatory finger and conveniently forget that there are three fingers pointing back at them.

      I get it. We are supposed to go running in mortal terror back into the arms of the TPP loving Democrat branded branch of the Party for the Perpetuation of the Plutocracy. The Republicans are just as bad mind you, and they hate Trump just as much as our quaking and indignant author.

      I will not support the two teams that I know to have worked against my interests in an unbroken chain. I will take the spoiler and I will support the spoiler and I will revel in the pain he causes the establishment that abandoned average Americans.

      1. b1daly

        Are you going revel in the additional pain the establishment will wreak on average Americans, as Trump and crew destroy the fabric of civil society, and take the rule by klepotcraric oligarchs to levels never seen before?

        When push comes to shobe, and TSHTF, do you really think the “one percent, are going to be the ones to take the hit?

        Are you aware of any revolutionary movement that really ended the excess power of the elite, without killing and maiming millions of innocent people.

        Why do you think that, by some miracle, if the current system is dimantled there will be a new one to replace it? And if, by another miracle, a functional society is reconstituted, it will be any better than the one we have now?

        While I try to avoid the psychological trap of “Chicken Little-ism” in general, in the case of Trump, I think some hysteria is warranted.

        So far, he is being checked to degree by other branches of government. But the plans he has in store are ominous. Just the way everyone has accepted that it’s OK for the President to lie, in blatant, obvious ways, that no other mainstream politician has ever approached, is shocking. That’s it’s OK to ignore the modest ethical standards that have been expected of President. Whatever.

        Trump’s lies are classic Dictator moves. They demonstrate, to all the weaklings that prostrate before him, that he is free to act with impunity.

        As far as I can see, these people are not messing around.

        As he solidifies control of the Executive Office infrastructure, it will be harder and harder to stop him from simply doing whatever the hell he wants.

        I’m tired of people talking tough on the Internet about wanting to see the “shit come down.”

        1. jrs

          what are you talking about? Trump is checked by other branches of government? The other branches are as bad as if not worse than him. Witness their healthcare plan.

          There is no solution in “wanting the shit to come down”, it’s a fantasy alright, but there is also no solution in voting for lesser evils that get more evil every single time around. So probably the most sensible people are those who don’t even bother to vote (top of the ticket, state referenda are often a good idea to vote on). Voting only leads to bad things – take the last several presidencies. If they wanted us to vote they would have given us candidates.

    2. Cat Burglar

      Have I missed something? Is Trump so much worse that everyone is running out and buying Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World? The only reason I’d need to buy them now is to replace the worn copies I bought in high school during the Nixon administration, when I began to figure out what we’re stuck in.

      So the centrists are shocked, shocked that gambling has been going on? Don’t they remember the Bush II speeches to the nation about the challenge of defeating foreign fighters in Iraq — while it was under occupation by the US? Where was mainstream literary taste for the idea of double think then? Candidate Hope and Change’s Senate vote in favor of FISAA to immunize Bush and the gang from prosecution for their thousands of felony violations of FISA? Trump represents a new disposition of forces and threats, but it looks same old, same old to me. Like the Russia-hack shock campaign, the totalitarian shock smacks of being a public relations initiative.

      I think you’re going in the right direction to suspect the article is a crypto-DNC piece.

      But even if is just designed to settle the yoke onto the necks of the dystopia story reading public, there is some truth in it.Living in conservative rural areas, I know a lot of family, friends and co-workers who voted for Trump.
      Unlike in Cold War 1.0 days, they are totally ready to pull back from US global military hegemony to a policy national defense — here is a huge opening for the peace movement. They widely acknowledge that the health care system is a swindle and are ready to consider single payer, if not already in favor. Same with Social Security expansion. Again, a huge opening here for the left, but not the DNC. People I know who voted for Trump, like a lot of Dems who I know voted for the centrist loser candidate, with a feeling of resignation.

      There is a chance for a Big Tent response to Trump, just not the kind that the DNC wants. It looks like they are ginning themselves up to put the large-donor loser policies in populist shrink wrap (see The Guardian’s recent editorial that lauded Sanders as a voice but didn’t mention any of the policies he ran on) and hoping the goop doesn’t leak through too fast. The Dems devotion to large-donor centrism surely seems like purism of a sort, though I guess the writer didn’t mean that. After the election loss, it may be the centrists are afraid they may have “no place to go” without left-wing voters.

      1. b1daly

        Jesus, yes, he is so much worse. He’s turning out to be worse than anybody thought possible. So far the policies he’s pursuing are designed to assist the rulers of the Military Industrial Complex. And NO ONE ELSE.

        Can you point to one promising action by Trump, one initiative, that is intended to help the proverbial “Average American?”

        If your Trump voting neighbors are really on the verge of becoming progressive minded citizens, they sure picked an interesting man as their standard bearer.

        Must be some kind of clever, reverse psychology method of political activism.

        You know, they could have actually voted for Bernie when it counted.

        1. jrs

          Not necessarily. It depends on where they live, in places where their are open primaries or you can register Dem at the last minute yes assuming they were not disenfranchised. In other places, no they could not have if they were not already registered Dem voters up to as much as a year before the primary!

        2. Cat Burglar

          Well, OK. You mind giving me some examples for comparison? I put it as a question because I wanted a response.

          Is he so much worse than Nixon? Remember Vietnam? The Kent State massacre? Remember him saying you had to convey that the problem is the blacks, but without saying so? Chile?

          Reagan’s military buildup? The wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador? The massacre of the nuns? Archbishop Romero? The contra drug dealing?

          Desert Storm? NAFTA? NATO expansion? The rigged 1996 Russian elections and the destruction of the Russian economy? Afghanistan, Iraq? The financial crisis and letting the bankers walk?

          Even Secretary Clinton — Libya?, the US-Saudi Syria overthrow attempt still ongoing?

          Trump certainly has the potential to be that bad; he’s only just started…but I was hoping you might give me some specifics (I agree with you about the military industrial complex service). We need what a mountaineer would call “hazard evaluation” — specific and clear analysis of an amoral and elementally powerful danger, not panic.

          And he still has plenty of room to get much, much worse, horrifically worse, as my examples suggest.

  10. a different chris

    >Nor will it help for Americans to dream about leading their states out of the Union (are you listening, California?)

    Agree it wouldn’t help to “dream” about it, pretty sure a separate CA would be sub-optimal for everybody, but to threaten it makes sense. Does this guy think Obama’s starting at a “reasonable” position ever, ever worked?

    The most salient thing about the right over the past couple decades, I’ve realized, is the volume of noise. It wasn’t consistent, coherent, logical in any way, but like a colicky child it captured all the attention. People who aren’t of the right need to get just as loud.

    1. Marina Bart

      I think your analysis is inaccurate and therefore misguided. California threatening to secede when all the relevant power players know it can’t accomplishes nothing. In fact, the people who instigated the chatter about California seceding were Silicon Valley billionaires. What do you think their goal in doing so might have been?

      To treat the reactionary messaging from the right as being like a colicky child is likewise both inaccurate and unhelpful. It’s never a good idea to underestimate your enemy. In fact, messaging from the right has been consistent, coherent on its own terms, and logical in its goals and usage. That’s part of why we have reactionary governing hegemony in this country now.

      The reason Obama’s 2009 strategy was so awful (if you set aside the reality that he did what he did to achieve the result he actually got) is that he could have credibly threatened to nationalize the banks in addition to creating a universal health care entitlement. If he had, we’d have gotten universal health care at a bare minimum. Making demands from a position of weakness simply doesn’t work. If anything, it weakens you in the negotiation by exposing that you don’t know what you’re doing or have no better leverage. I present the glorious results Syriza got in Greece when it made all sorts of demands with no leverage at all. Result: it got a worse outcome than if it had entered the negotiation with a realistic understanding of its weakness, or if it had figured out a way to create a viable threat. It didn’t or couldn’t so the Troika just rolled over them. Making noise, in and of itself, accomplished nothing except maybe provoking their captors to hurt them even more.

  11. RainyJane

    I have never commented here before, but today I feel compelled to say something about this issue.

    My humble suggestion would be to read something completely different from the group at this moment. Over the past week I have been re-reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. These books are the furthest things from dystopia with very concrete descriptions of situations involving hunger, bad weather, faith, and grit.

    Reading books like these helps to break the link in our collective minds that we are hurling toward some inevitable end, & helps to remind us that its been bad before, and as the reader we are looking back on it, still here.

    1. clarky90

      Here is a beautiful article about survival, featuring the All Time, Undisputed Champs, The Australian Aboriginal People!

      Australia was colonized by a single group 50,000 years ago

      “Many Aboriginal Australian communities may actually have been founded shortly after humans arrived in Australia 50,000 years ago.

      That connection to the land may also have been the key to survival for these groups during terrifying and dramatic climate events, including the Last Glacial Maximum (AKA the Ice Age) about 21,000 years ago, a tropical warming event in the early Holocene between 9,000 and 6,000 years ago, and a period of extreme weather fluctuations from an intensification of El Niño between 4,000 and 2,000 years ago. These communities lived through centuries of drought and floods, as well as temperature changes, and the researchers believe that they did it without ever moving very far from their homes.

      There aren’t any traces of genetic bottlenecks that would mean the population crashed during rough times and expanded again when the climate was more favorable. Instead, suggest the researchers, Aboriginal groups may have settled in temperate areas that archaeologists have yet to discover.

      Indeed, some climate changes appear to have been beneficial. There was a population expansion around 7,000 years ago in southern Australia, with people from the O haplogroup spreading outward and into the continent’s interior. Not surprisingly, this also marked the mid-Holocene warm period, when the entire planet experienced about 2,000 years of relatively tropical weather. At that point, the Australian interior would have become wetter and more livable.”

    2. b1daly

      You know, I largely agree with you. Usually I try to remind myself of all the good in the world, when the bad starts to feel overwhelming.

      It should by psychologically possible to keep a realistic perspective on reality, not succumb to hysteria, and at the same time pay attention to the very troubling start of the Trump administration.

  12. Renodino

    The current dystopian nightmare is based on the assumption that Trump has a substantial core of ardent supporters who share his deconstructive dream. This is a false narrative that lends support to the idea that we are on the verge of some sort of crisis. Trump’s support may be a mile wide, but it’s an inch deep, and Trump himself is not a driven ideologue with some earth shattering plan to transform the world unless by that you mean he’s suggested fair trade as an alternative to globalism. It’s only been 50 days and he’s already caving on all of his core ideas that got him elected and the people around, like Bannon, are showing themselves incapable of governing. Everybody can go back to sleep or resume watching the Housewives because Goldman Sachs is back in charge.

    I’m currently playing the dystopian video game Fallout: New Vegas. The year is 2275 and the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. New Vegas is back in business, but different factions fight for turf including Caesars Legions, the New California Republic and the Great Khans. There are also plenty of ghouls, fiends and mutants gumming up the works. The surviving advertising artwork and music are classic camp from the 50s evoking eternal optimism. If you like open world games, this is one of the top ten.

    1. Lord Koos

      I see this point of view expressed fairly often in these pages of late. You might not feel that way if you were a person who depends on certain government programs for their health and well-being. The Republicans are not “caving” on their agenda of destroying some of our more beneficial programs and institutions.

      1. Marina Bart

        The problem with that analysis is that the Democrats were trying to do and intending to do much of the same damage, because the same owners are in charge.

        Remember that the Democrats and the New York Times would have us believe that Trump is an existential threat so terrible the CIA overthrowing him in a coup would be morally justified.

        If the Democrats actually did at least protect the legacy New Deal programs when they’re in power, it would be something. But they no longer do. Social Security was effectively saved by the Freedom Caucus’s intransigence. But Obama still worked cooperatively with the Republican leadership in Congress to nibble away at it. Yes, slashing Medicaid expansion funding would be bad, and actively worse than the death spiral the ACA has entered all by its little corrupt, poorly designed self. But with enough citizen protest, we may stop it. Whereas Hillary’s plans to gut and privatize Medicare and Social Security might have gone through with little protest, as the entire media reassured us that what she was doing was nothing like what those bad, mean Republicans wanted to do, or that she was being forced into doing those things because of those mean, bad Republicans, and not at all because her donors had paid her to do it all along, and said so publicly during the campaign.

  13. briesener

    Very interesting article in today’s environment. I only take issue with the references to Nazi Germany and common misconceptions. Don’t believe Riefenstahl produced documentary – it was a propaganda film if you have to label it. More importantly these Nazi Germany comparisons are always lame and facile…Germany’s situation was quite unique: sole blame for WW1 by Treaty of Versailles? Read Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August…then heavy reparations to the victors, runaway inflation which destroyed society as it existed, elections where the Nazi Party never came close to a majority, but used the Reichstag fire as an excuse to seize sole power in 1933 etc etc
    Reichstag fire and result is especially worrisome for US, if ever there is an American version, will Congress be manipulated to react in some dictatorial way….
    Just questions, but we can learn from history, not just from Orwell’s 1984 valuable as it is

    1. Skip Intro

      The inability of students to be fascinated by The Triumph of The Will while good Germans were enthralled by it reminds me of the reactions of Clinton supporters to seeing the male actor repeating her debate performance against a female Trump…

      Also, many would say that the US Reichstag fire hapened on 9/11 and the analog to the ‘Enabling Act’ is the Patriot Act.

      1. Art Eclectic

        Right? If there had never been a 9/11 would there be a Trump administration today? I’m not so sure…

  14. FluffytheObeseCat

    I know a lot of people who are reflexive Republican voters; they would never, ever have voted for Hillary Clinton. However, they were quite unhappy voting for Trump. I’d love to know where the writer’s hordes of ‘hard core’ Trump partisans are. Maybe in the upper Midwest or left-behind rural stretches of the MidAtlantic region. West of the 100th meridian, the traditional Republican voting blocs seem to be pretty damned lukewarm about The Donald.

    It makes me wonder if these loci of ‘hard core’ Trump partisans are real, or just fictional plot devices, designed to create a worthy opponent for dispirited liberal fantasists to hate on from the security of their dull, defined-benefit laden lives.

    1. Vatch

      The 14 million people who voted for Trump in the primaries might include many hard core supporters. The 7.8 million who voted for Cruz, the 3.5 million who voted for Rubio, the 4.2 million who voted for Kasich, and the roughly 1 million who voted for Carson, JEB!, and the other candidates probably aren’t hard core supporters.

  15. nonsense factory

    It’s far better to use Google News as a point of entry to the corporate mass media than to follow NYT, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, etc. It’s also worth looking outside the neoliberal-corporate media circle to the Russian, South American and Chinese press outlets (such as RT, Telesur, Xinhua). Consider them all to be equally unreliable, full of distortions and omissions, and you have some hope of not being propagandized and brainwashed.

    For example, if you want to read the NYT, enter via Google News by using the search term, and search by date (past 24 hours, say). Focus on items you’re interested in; since I follow fossil and renewable energy news, here’s a NYT example:

    In Sign of Thaw With Russia, E.U. Accepts Gazprom Concessions on Gas Sales
    By Jame Kanter March 13 2017

    But, and this is key, then go back to Google News and use an open search for the relevant terms to see what else comes up, such as [ Eu Gazprom ] in the search box, also sorted by date. [Clear your browser frequently, this avoids Google preference biases]

    This turns up dozens of articles far more comprehensive on the issue than anything in the NYT, it also shows the NYT was lagging behind Reuters on the story. This is pretty typical for the NYT. In addition, you can find rather obscure but far more revealing stories about the background. In this example, all kinds of information pops up – Germany’s role in promoting a Russia-to-EU pipeline, Ukraine acting as a proxy for American interests in attemping to block this pipeline (Nordstrom 2), the role of Iran as a potential LNG (liquified natural gas) supplier to Europe, and the extent of oil & gas industry fears over the threat from renewable energy and electric vehicles. All topics ignored by the NY Times.

    The question is, “Given a plutocrat-owned media system that specializes in propaganda and distraction, how can American citizens extract reliable and useful information from it?”

    The above approach is one way to go about it; but the absolute worst possible approach is to sit there and blandly accept that if you’ve swallowed everything the NYT, BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera have to say, that you have an objective view of reality. That would be like a Soviet citizen of the 1970s Brezhnev era believing everything Tass and Pravda had to say about world events.

    1. c1ue

      Sadly, I would note that tech-fueled news gathering cannot be relied on any more than MSM.
      For one thing, the political views and class nature of both organizations are closely aligned.
      The only alternative is to look at the full spectrum of news providers – mainstream and alternative – and determine which individuals within them are credible.
      Only then can any semblence of objectivity be attained.
      That’s why I read articles here: the sad fact is that the core audience of Naked Capitalism are the liberals who have not succeeded in the present system, but still share the same core values.
      Or in other words, the ones who aren’t successful professors, banksters, techies, bureaucrats or paid activists.
      Nonetheless, there are truths to be gleaned from Naked Capitalism much as can be gleaned – to a greater or lesser degree – from other channels.

      1. nonsense factory

        Another, perhaps overly cynical viewpoint, is that there are no entirely reliable objective sources of information; one must therefore collect a variety of viewpoints and compare and contrast them if one wants to really understand an issue – while also keeping in mind that aspects of the story might be entirely hidden from view.

        For example, the media’s gone silent on Rex Tillerson and the U.S. State Department – but if you read Steve Coll’s “The Private Empire of ExxonMobil” it’s pretty clear that Tillerson will be working above all for Exxon.

        And the many denials of this fact in the press? They just point to it being the real truth of the matter, for example:

        We have a fundamentally dishonest media; that much is clear. But sometimes they trip each other up, expose each other’s lies – it’s like listening to the testimony of competing con artists, sometimes you can learn something from it.

        1. c1ue

          I’d suggest that the two viewpoints share a number of strengths:
          The choice of a credible source for me is a source which recognizes its biases and makes an attempt – successful or not – to prevent said biases from affecting the story being told.
          Your suggestion to use competing viewpoints – the attacks used by one upon the other – as a way to ferret out strengths and weaknesses of each side – is also a way to leverage other’s analysis.
          I would point out, however, that the truth doesn’t always lie in the middle between 2 extremes.

  16. JEHR

    For reading, I would suggest finishing Margaret Atwood’s dystopian series “MaddAddam,” “Oryx and Crake”, “The Year of the Flood,” and “The Heart Goes Last.” For auditory ideas about the future, you could download podcasts from iTunes called Escape Pod which has all kinds of ideas about the future told in many different science fiction stories.

  17. akaPaul LaFargue

    They [disillusioned Cheeto Grande supporters] can be brought over. This is potentially the biggest of big-tent moments for launching the broadest possible resistance under the banner of a patriotism that portrays Trump and Bannon as guilty of un-American activities.

    So this is the author’s strategic plan? It proves he is a fiction – writer. And I hope a better one than this reveals.

  18. susan the other

    Dystopia? This assumes utopia. Or at least topia. I don’t think any of it exists. Somebody should do “2084”, the movie. And parody the crap out of this whole idea. Mr. Bean comes to mind. Because we are basically sensible. Somewhat fleetingly maybe. But being sensible is as dull and boring as long, drawn out Nazi propaganda. Even the likes of Steve Bannon are sufficiently sensible when they get back on their meds. And deconstructing the state of our government isn’t a totally bad idea. It all depends on how you do it – just don’t bore us to death, ok?

  19. PKMKII

    The other key factor with zombies in popular culture is that they are, much like Nazis, a group of people that can be killed without moral reservation. You don’t need to consider the zombie viewpoint, no zombie relativism, there is no checking of non-zombie privileges. They’re zombies, they’ve lost their humanity, feel free to shotgun blast as many as you’d like. So if you paint your opponents as zombies, you’re painting their lives as forfeit.

    As far as the general idea here: maybe we’d be better off comparing the Trump administration to dystopic fiction with corporate/libertarian/anarcho-capitalist future hellscapes rather that totalitarian ones.

  20. Joel Caris

    I actually read Splinterlands recently after borrowing it from my ex-roommate. It was a somewhat fun, pretty quick read, and there were elements he did quite well. It also was recent and prescient enough to have Trump mentioned in there, though him actually winning the election wasn’t yet known (the reference works even with him having won). It also brought in flying cars, which I think is just one of those nonsense sci-fi dreams that will never come to any real fruition, and some interesting tourism-via-internet action that may be technically feasible at some future point, but that I doubt will ever happen due to economic turmoil. I didn’t regret reading it, but I wouldn’t say run out and get it.

    That said, the perspective here does seem to betray the ideology. It’s fun seeing someone write about these crazy Trump voters who wouldn’t be against him even if America should take a nose dive under him. Gosh, because everything is clearly fantastic in America’s interior right now! God forbid the economy tank in small rural towns or Main Street turns into a row of deserted store fronts! What if people lose their well-paying jobs and their excellent health care and retirement plans??

    It’s amazing. So long as people don’t understand why Trump was elected–regardless of the fact that all appearance is that he isn’t going to do much of anything he claimed, other than the worst things–we’re just guaranteed more Trumps and more liberal failure.

    Lastly, I hope no one minds if I put in a plug for my own faux-dystopian project: Into the Ruins. It’s a quarterly journal of deindustrial and post-industrial science fiction stories–science fiction for the real world, as I like to call it. The requirement for all stories is that they’re set in realistic futures dealing with climate change, deindustrialization, imperial decline, energy and resource contraction, political and economic upheaval . . . basically, the real world, not the techno-fetish fantasy futures of Silicon Valley execs, and not set in space or featuring interstellar travel. Time for some new stories that deal with the future we’re actually going to get, not the failed fantasies of perpetual progress, guaranteed no matter how dumb we are, supposedly.

    1. Plenue

      Haven’t read the book, but I did read the The Deconstruction of America, 2016-2050 thing at Tomdispatch. It was cringe inducing. Trump turns out to be the WORST. PRESIDENT. EVER. The whole nation learns its lesson of the dangers of not voting for the Democrats, so much so that when a super-storm hits the East Coast in 2022 they name it Donald.

      “We underestimated the legitimate anger and despair of large sections of the country — as well as the other darker motivations much discussed in the years since.”


      “The four-year term of Donald Trump proved such a disaster that a chastened nation, instead of christening public buildings after the disgraced president, bestowed his name on the devastating, climate-change-energized hurricane that struck the country’s East Coast in 2022. Like its namesake, Hurricane Donald began as a squall, only later to develop into the destructive force that ruined the national capital and caused billions of dollars of damage.”


      “Certainly, economics did drive enough voters in the Rust Belt to abandon their traditional allegiance to the Democratic Party to lift him to victory in the electoral college.

      As his administration got down to work, it became clear that economics only went so far in explaining his victory. Rather, it was again the old issue of whether the federal government had the mandate to implement policies for the entire nation. Those who supported Trump thought not. They didn’t want comprehensive national health care. They were not happy with the way the federal government permitted abortion and same-sex marriage and yet outlawed prayer in school and kept creationism out of the textbooks. They didn’t like the way the government taxed them, regulated them, and kept their cattle off public lands. They didn’t want the government resettling immigrants in their communities. They cared little for affirmative action, feminism, or transgender activism. And they were leery of any restrictions on their access to guns.

      Trump supporters were not against elites, at least not all elites. After all, they’d just elected a celebrity billionaire who promptly filled his administration with his equally wealthy friends and colleagues. No, they were against the elites they associated with the imposition of federal authority.

      America B didn’t want to secede territorially from the United States. Rather, it wanted to deconstruct federal power. As a result, the United States pushed the rewind button and, in some sense, went all the way back to 1781. The Trump administration began to undo the ties that bound the country together, and we very quickly became less than the sum of our parts. The so-called red states, unshackled from federal requirements, went their own way. Liberal East Coast and West Coast states, appalled by the hijacking of federal authority for the ultimate purpose of undermining federal authority, tried to hold onto constitutional values as they understood them. It didn’t take long — in fact, the pundits regularly commented on the blinding speed of the process — for the failure of the larger project of integration to become self-evident. By 2022, the United States existed in name only (and an increasingly ironic one at that).”

      Liberals trying to hold onto constitutional values? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on!

  21. Sound of the Suburbs

    We stepped back onto an old path that still leads to the same place.

    1920s/2000s – high inequality, high banker pay, low regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, robber barons (CEOs), reckless bankers, globalisation phase

    1929/2008 – Wall Street crash

    1930s/2010s – Global recession, currency wars, rising nationalism and extremism

    1940s – Global war.

    If you want the 1930s, re-create the 1920s.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      The great European and globalisation experiments came at the wrong time, they came in the era of neo-liberalism and not the Keynesian era.

      Those at the top learn their lessons for a limited period and that enlightenment soon fades.

      After the First World War, Europe was drowning in debt, the US insisted the Allies pay their debts and the Allies, in turn, had to insist Germany paid its debts. The burden of debt led to harsh austerity and the rise of extreme alternatives (just like now, the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece was to be expected, this is what happens).

      After the Second World War there was a period of enlightenment, for a while.

      After the Second World War the US was the global creditor nation and Europe was ruined. The US surplus was recycled to Europe to build up Europe and allow trade to continue. Europe was ruined, but if the money they spent on US goods was recycled back to Europe the system could work.

      It worked well and Europe built itself up again and trade flourished even though it started from a point where Europe was flat broke and unable to do anything, both sides benefited as this arrangement was good for US export businesses too.

      High progressive personal taxation ushered in the consumer society as the surplus was re-cycled with free and subsidised services; ensuring consumers had more money to spend. The US could easily demonstrate how Capitalism provided a better standard of living for the typical worker than Communism; the Russians looked on in amazement.

      The ideas of recycling the surplus faded into the past and new (old) ideas of debt based consumption came back into play. The same ideas that had led the US into the debt deflation of the Great Depression have done the same to Greece today. Debt based consumption until debt maxes out and then the collapse of debt deflation.

      All debt must be paid, a philosophy that led to the Second World War, but it’s too long ago to remember now.

      How can we saturate the world in debt to get the full 1930’s experience?
      Let bankers maximise profit with their debt products.

      Bingo, we’re there.

      1. Marina Bart

        My only counter to this is that you have described the process back to this point as a function of inevitable human frailty due to weak memory, and not a very conscious decision by those who had been reined in to get that ship turned around and headed back in the direction that personally benefited them.

        After all, the Bushes helped the Nazis, and then got TWO of their family members elected US president. I have never done an exhaustive list, but I am under the impression lots and lots of robber barons did just fine in the turmoil of the ’30s and ’40s. For the most part, they got to keep their captured wealth — or at least enough of it to both keep their descendants from having to sell their labor AND to facilitate the family being able to not just ride out that brief period when the poors got to live in comfort but get in on the forces driving things back in their preferred direction, to again directly benefit their class and personal interests.

        If they paid no price the first time, of course they’ll do it again. Why shouldn’t they? They don’t care about us, or the country. This is a rational choice for them. The only way this was arguably unavoidable is that we didn’t get rid of capitalism in the United States, so its destructive, destabilizing, economically unjust forces fueled the greed of those that already had wealth.

        It wasn’t a case of societal dementia. The people driving neoliberalism remembered the past well, and wanted to return to it.

  22. steelhead23

    Currently, the unifying theory behind the establishment’s Dump Trump campaign is that the dastardly Russians stole the election, that Trump is in bed with the U.S.’s most dangerous enemy (oh my). This wheat has been sown far and wide. Hardly a day passes that the Putin’s (our new Hitler) preference for Trump isn’t paraded in one jacket or another. Yet, when Gerrymandering created “sure” seats for the GOP and CrossCheck eliminated hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, hardly a peep comes from mainstream media. I have little doubt that Bannon and Trump are going to damage, or destroy, a number of government institutions we will sorely miss, but by and large the citizenry has already accepted (or is blissfully unaware of) gaping holes in the U.S.S. Democracy.

    Perhaps it would be wise to stop demonizing Trump and focus on restoring democracy.

  23. azrielle

    I agree with your caveat, Yves, and not a whole lot else. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. So far, ALL the epithets and accusations regarding Trump are nothing but HOT AIR! Give his administration a year–then see how racist or fascist or apocalyptic he is.

  24. glmmph

    Way too late to comment on this post,, but never the less will do. Been reading a heap of trash sci-fi space operas lately, which are, I think, by definition dystopian, and two things stand out.

    The first is that US writers are obsessed by hierarchy, particularly military, but also civilian. Read current practice of calling people by their last highest office. An aristocracy by another name.

    The second is a complete lack of understanding of economics. Dysfunctional utopias all lack the magic ingredient, ‘money’, with which they could address their ‘whatever’. Sure, maybe not instrumental in the plot line, just background disinformation, or lack of imagination, unless the society is ‘post scarcity’, in which case they have normally arrived at some ‘market nirvana’ through a tech oligarch.

    On the other hand, the excellent Australian green-fi novel, ‘The Sea and Summer’, by George Turner falls into neither of these traps.

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