"Beneath the financial crisis waits a nastier beast"

I just read an interesting opinion piece by a Politics lecturer at one of the Australian universities. Essentially he says that the current financial crisis could have some worrying societal consequences if mishandled (or exploited), drawing a parallel to the rise in racial tensions following the Great Depression. Some highlights:

This is what happens in times of great insecurity. As the foundations of our lives erode, we search for an anchor, and social politics very often provides it. When all else fails, we may still rally around old certainties: nation, culture, religion, race. We crave strong authority figures that can imbue us with certainty and articulate for us a sense of self. That often involves fabricating a scapegoat who becomes a mortal enemy.

The classic example, of course, being Jews in Nazi Germany, which he touches on in a little more detail.

Ours is an age of hostile identity politics. These are not all directly referable to economic crises (even if they clearly have a relationship with the anxieties of globalisation), but they suggest something deeply troubling: that the world is rich in the kinds of xenophobic resources so easily amplified by economic turmoil.

Should the financial crisis become a global recession, there is no telling precisely what forms of extreme social politics might be unleashed. An explosion of anti-Americanism across Asia and Europe? Possibly. But what about America itself? Here, the seeds of xenophobic resentment are being sown.

Writing in The National Review, Michelle Malkin blames the crisis on illegal immigrants and Hispanics who were "greedy" enough to seek subprime loans. Blogging for the same publication, Mark Krikorian wonders if Washington Mutual's demise was caused by its propensity for employing Latinos and gays. On Fox News, Neil Cavuto blames congressmen who were "pushing for more minority lending" without disclosing that "loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster".

The audacity is extraordinary. Suddenly, this crisis is something poor blacks and Hispanics have inflicted on rich white people. That is beginning to sound, well, Germanic.

A reaction is inevitable: one that sees in the crisis the exploitation of poor black people who will lose their homes, by white fat cats who skip away from the rubble with millions. The potential cycle of conflictual identity politics is terrifying. And that is to say nothing of developments we cannot predict.

At no point does he say that any of this is inevitable, but more something that needs to be guarded against. At any rate, it's an aspect of the situation that hadn't crossed my mind before.

I think these kinds of undertones are pretty much prevalent all the time. National Review and Fox News are a barometer for only a certain aspect of society, and I see no reason why the current crisis would significantly exacerbate these kinds of sentiments across society at large. Show me articles in USA Today or interviews on Good Morning America saying the same things and we've got a problem - until then, I feel like its just the same people saying the same things with a new excuse.

Michelle Malkin is a f*cking blight on the ass of humanity. She's a cynical Coulter-esque shrew that craps out words for the sole purpose of lining her pocketbooks and is so damned detached from the "average american" for whom she supposed to write for it's laughable. She's the reason a Rachel Ray Dunkin' Donuts ad was pulled (because Ray's paisley-pattern scarf was apparently horrifically suicide bomberesque).

Likewise, the people trying to pin this on Hispanics or underclass immigrants are the same f*cktards that would write copy for FoxNews like "GW Bush. BEST president?" or "Congressional Democrats: Satanists, or closeted homosexuals?". They're afraid their readers might actually question the powerstructures that allowed this mess to happen, so they're pinning the supercrisis on a subaltern group that everyone can feel good hating, and that can't muster a counter-argument. They're refocusing the narrative. It's not that people were overreaching their purchasing ability, it's not that they were making poor financial decisions, it's not even that bank fatcats were out to make money. No, instead we see a new take on "Dey turk 'err jobs!", only this time it's "Dey Turk mah homes!"

Meanwhile, there'll be a whole lot of middle-class folks walking away from their upside-down McMansions when they realize the 530,000 flipper they planned to make 120,000 on is now worth about 250,000, and that they'll never recover their purchase rate. What will we hear about then? UNCARING DEMOCRATS ALLOWING HUNDREDS OF HARD WORKING MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES TO GO HOMELESS: Would rather build Care Centers for undocumented immigrants!

Now, seething hatred aside, I do believe with his underlying assertion: People are going to be looking for something to blame. The logical course of action would be to start at home, to realize that we should be saving more and not blowing paychecks on cars, phat rimz, iPhones and HD Plasma screens, that such purchases are usually luxuries.

Most won't, though.

On the upside, we're looking at one of the consequences of Globalization that gets swept under the rug so many times: when things get lean, we all suffer.

Sonicator wrote:
This is what happens in times of great insecurity. As the foundations of our lives erode, we search for an anchor, and social politics very often provides it. When all else fails, we may still rally around old certainties: nation, culture, religion, race. We crave strong authority figures that can imbue us with certainty and articulate for us a sense of self. That often involves fabricating a scapegoat who becomes a mortal enemy.

Problem is, this is almost EXACTLY what Obama actually said during his infamous "clinging to guns and religion" speech. The people who are most susceptible to this pitfall are the least likely to understand or accept it.

Barack Obama wrote:
And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Personally, I'd love to see all this anger, hatred and rage redirected back to it's source, the far right fundamentalists.

It horrible to admit but I'd really enjoy watching an angry mob beat the sh*t out of Sean Hannity!

I find it symptomatic that ever since emerging as a Republican nominee, McCain said ZILCH on the topic he once championed -- the immigration reform.

Bear wrote:
Personally, I'd love to see all this anger, hatred and rage redirected back to it's source, the far right fundamentalists.

It horrible to admit but I'd really enjoy watching an angry mob beat the sh*t out of Sean Hannity!

I think that would make the problem worse. A backlash against the fundamentalists becomes a backlash against Christians as a whole. That gives the fundamentalists ammo and in some ways, legitimacy. I mean, one of their strongest rallying calls is the claim that Christians are persecuted in America.

Bear wrote:
Personally, I'd love to see all this anger, hatred and rage redirected back to it's source, the far right fundamentalists.

It horrible to admit but I'd really enjoy watching an angry mob beat the sh*t out of Sean Hannity!

Honestly, the right wing talking heads just tell people what they want to hear. They're scumbags of the highest order but it's not like they're hoodwinking people completely against their will. There's just a natural human tendency to blame somebody else anytime anything bad happens. It's not like we're forcing people to watch Fox News. Fox News just provides easy, simple answers.

We used to talk, on the BBSes in the 1990s, about how much America was coming to resemble Germany in the 1930s. We didn't have the simmering resentment from war reparations, but there were a lot of other parallels. I wish those old conversations hadn't vanished, it would be very interesting to go back and read them.... not least of which because I don't remember what the parallels were anymore, other than the rise of authoritarianism.

We now have controlled access to travel; we have controlled access at the borders; we have the ability to imprison anyone, anytime, for indefinite duration and without defense, simply through accusation. We have a huge economic crisis, one which will only deepen.

All we lack, ALL we lack, is a charismatic demagogue.

We need a Rye Mark.

Malor wrote:
We now have controlled access to travel; we have controlled access at the borders; we have the ability to imprison anyone, anytime, for indefinite duration and without defense, simply through accusation. We have a huge economic crisis, one which will only deepen.

All we lack, ALL we lack, is a charismatic demagogue.

I've been saying this for a few years now, that this is exactly the road we've been heading down. And I've been given sh*t for it over and over.

And now I'm bumping into more and more people who are starting to see the same signs I've been seeing for these past years.

Sadly, there's nothing I can do about it. I just want to know how to survive it and help as many people through the coming sh*tstorm as I can.

Malor wrote:
All we lack, ALL we lack, is a charismatic demagogue.

The Right would have us believe that's Obama.

Farscry, you survive it by keeping your head down, your mouth shut, your gas tank full and your bags packed. Getting a passport and converting a decent amount of your savings to cash or gold isn't a bad idea either.

Helping others through it is going to be a little bit harder.

Jerry Springer (yes, THAT Jerry Springer) once told a very moving story on his radio show. He said his father (either a Holocaust survivor or someone who escaped the Holocaust, I forget which) refused to sell his old car even though he had poor eyesight and couldn't drive well. He said the reason was, "you never know when you're going to need to get away."

We went through a great depression when the Nazi regime was running strong and yet somehow didn't turn to fascism. Following that period we had the 1950s red scares, which were followed by the 1960s and the Great Society and free-love. That was followed by the economically brutal 1970s which was in turn followed by happy-time Reagan. So why do people assume the Nazis are coming when we've spent the past 100 years or more going through political cycles?

Funkenpants wrote:
We went through a great depression when the Nazi regime was running strong and yet somehow didn't turn to fascism. Following that period we had the 1950s red scares, which were followed by the 1960s and the Great Society and free-love. That was followed by the economically brutal 1970s which was in turn followed by happy-time Reagan. So why do people assume the Nazis are coming when we've spent the past 100 years or more going through political cycles?

Largely because we narrowly avoided our own stint of fascism ourselves.

That conspiracy looks pretty lame and small. There were Nazis in the U.S. in the 1930s. We saw that with the Bund and its rallies, but it was a movement that never penetrated very far into the American mainstream. We had communists running around at the same time. The 1930s were a very turbulent time, and even then totalitarians just weren't capable of altering the political landscape. A mild form of socialism was about as far as the public was going to go.

All empires collapse, Funken. It's quite possible we may end up being a Christian fascism. Someone here has that Sinclair Lewis sig about fascism coming to America carrying a cross and wrapped in a flag, and that's very true.

The thing is, what's incredibly frustrating, is that some of the right is up in arms about what Obama might do -- when they were the ones who gave him the power to do it. (assuming he's elected, anyway.)

Look at the number of Red states in 2004, even after so much of Bush's malfeasance came to light. That's an enormous problem. Voting conservative isn't the problem -- but voting for a known liar and criminal because he tells you what you want to hear is.

I don't think we've ever had all the groundwork for totalitarianism laid before, Funken. The ground wasn't fertile, and the seeds wouldn't sprout. The last decade has resulted in a very great deal of fertilizer.

Malor wrote:

All we lack, ALL we lack, is a charismatic demagogue.

Palin is the modern version of Father Coughlin. Instead of a Catholic priest we get a hockey mom.

It's the same populism wrapped up in hatred, but instead of targeting Jews and communism this time it's furiners (i.e., terrists), fancy pants edumakated city folk, and Godless, baby killen heathens.

My fear is that the Republicans have helped organize such a power base for the Christian Fundamentals over the past three decades that there's much more of a structure Palin can tap into and exploit. That's something to be terrified of...a Christian version of the Taliban.

Malor wrote:
All empires collapse, Funken. It's quite possible we may end up being a Christian fascism.

Sure. And it's equally possible that we could end up with decades of slow economic decline like post-war Great Britain and no change in our political system. Or we could split up into several different nations. A totalitarian regime is not the necessary end state to a decline in American hegemony.

Malor wrote:
I don't think we've ever had all the groundwork for totalitarianism laid before, Funken. The ground wasn't fertile, and the seeds wouldn't sprout. The last decade has resulted in a very great deal of fertilizer.

This is the key. This, along with a mainstream population that's honestly grown ignorant, lazy, and even more rabidly isolationist than during the last depression. A population that's been stoke up to hate "them" due to the whole ridiculous "War on Terror" mess that's overthrown an amazing chunk of our nation's fundamental values. A population that is willing to tolerate (and even ask for) a startling rollback of citizens' rights and core principles of our justice system.

Malor wrote:
All empires collapse, Funken.

England's been around since 927 AD. There might be older, but I think they're a good barometer for the US. Oh yeah, they're still going strong.

Everyone wants to believe that the "signs of the apocolypse" are there and that these things will happen in their lifetime. I personally believe it makes them somehow feel signifigant (I would love to study the psychology on why). The reality is, it probably won't. Neither Palin nor Obama is the anti-christ or the Christian Osama Bin Laden. They're all people, and they will be good at somethings in the government and bad at others. I personally thing the Republicans will be better for National Security policy while the Democrats will be better for the Eocnomy. Whether or not you agree, if you're like me, whichever I decide is more important will affect which ballot I cast in November. Not which one is black, female, old, or verbose.

No one knows the big picture, and I mean no one. To say they do is to imply that someone has an indepth and accurate understanding of things like the economy, the minds of foreign leaders, and everything inbetween. That much knowledge couldn't be learnt in 10 lifetimes, and even experts in their respective fields are confused to flat out wrong on a regular basis. If we knew it all, well, we could just accurately predict the future and go home. At best we're lucky to be as accurate as a weather forcaster, and they only have to be right 30% of the time, and they never predict anything more specific than "Y chance for X region to have Z weather". I WISH I had that job...

At the end of the day to call even our "guesses" at what will happen next "educated" is simply "presumptous". (hope I spelled that right! It's 2008 and no spell checker built in? Seriously? Is this the econ bargain budget board or what?)

Farscry wrote:
This is the key. This, along with a mainstream population that's honestly grown ignorant, lazy, and even more rabidly isolationist than during the last depression. A population that's been stoke up to hate "them" due to the whole ridiculous "War on Terror" mess that's overthrown an amazing chunk of our nation's fundamental values. A population that is willing to tolerate (and even ask for) a startling rollback of citizens' rights and core principles of our justice system.

All of which have happened before. Reading this thread, one would think that the history of the United States was one long string of noble political decisions underwritten by liberal values from the Founding Fathers up to 2000. As though slavery, the destruction of the indians, the civil war, the spanish American war and the construction of an American colonial system, World War I, the labor movement, nativism, the internment of Japanese Americans, the red scare and a host of other events never happened under a democratic system. It's only now that things are bad enough for a coup.

Funkenpants wrote:
Farscry wrote:
This is the key. This, along with a mainstream population that's honestly grown ignorant, lazy, and even more rabidly isolationist than during the last depression. A population that's been stoke up to hate "them" due to the whole ridiculous "War on Terror" mess that's overthrown an amazing chunk of our nation's fundamental values. A population that is willing to tolerate (and even ask for) a startling rollback of citizens' rights and core principles of our justice system.

All of which have happened before. Reading this thread, one would think that the history of the United States was one long string of noble political decisions underwritten by liberal values from the Founding Fathers up to 2000. As though slavery, the destruction of the indians, the civil war, the spanish American war and the construction of an American colonial system, World War I, the labor movement, nativism, the internment of Japanese Americans, the red scare and a host of other events never happened under a democratic system. It's only now that things are bad enough for a coup.

Wow, well said Funken!

And it's equally possible that we could end up with decades of slow economic decline like post-war Great Britain and no change in our political system.

Absolutely. But I don't think that will happen, because if you think people are hungry for blood now, you wait until the crunch really starts. In times of crisis, those who would take advantage come out of the woodwork, promising easy solutions and revenge on perceived enemies. Look at Palin's crowd, and how she was able to stir them up so easily, in good times, with just a few sentences.

What are people going to be like, here, when they're actually broke and hungry, armed to the teeth, and being told by Palin that the Democratic leadership is a bunch of terrorists that are stealing their money to give to the blacks? America as a howling, blood-mad mob is entirely possible.

Funkenpants wrote:
Farscry wrote:
This is the key. This, along with a mainstream population that's honestly grown ignorant, lazy, and even more rabidly isolationist than during the last depression. A population that's been stoke up to hate "them" due to the whole ridiculous "War on Terror" mess that's overthrown an amazing chunk of our nation's fundamental values. A population that is willing to tolerate (and even ask for) a startling rollback of citizens' rights and core principles of our justice system.

All of which have happened before. Reading this thread, one would think that the history of the United States was one long string of noble political decisions underwritten by liberal values from the Founding Fathers up to 2000. As though slavery, the destruction of the indians, the civil war, the spanish American war and the construction of an American colonial system, World War I, the labor movement, nativism, the internment of Japanese Americans, the red scare and a host of other events never happened under a democratic system. It's only now that things are bad enough for a coup.

First, I don't understand where you're getting "noble political decisions underwritten by liberal values". This isn't a liberal beating up on conservatives thread. The reason this is all on the Republicans at the moment is that they're the ones going around getting people to should "Traitor!" and "Terrorist!" at a US Senator right now. It's not some partisan discussion where only the liberals have the right answers, it's simply that the Republicans have spent the past week courting the uglier, more violent side of their electorate. So it's up for discussion.

Second, I think what's being pointed out is that we've tried a coup before. It's not that "this is the only time we're weak enough for a coup" it's simply the reality that in any nation when times get really bad demagogues try to tap into that anger in order to overthrow the legitimate government. It always happens.

I do think that we are more ideologically corrupt than we have been in our past. That, combined with the shift to the right over the past 40 years, means fascism or theocracy is more probable than say, communism or full on socialism. However I think we can easily avoid this fate, we just have to pay attention. The Corporate Coup wasn't stopped by violence, MacGuire simply ratted them out and they went to jail. Stopping these things early is fairly easy, people just have to be willing to step forward.

Funkenpants wrote:
All of which have happened before. Reading this thread, one would think that the history of the United States was one long string of noble political decisions underwritten by liberal values from the Founding Fathers up to 2000. As though slavery, the destruction of the indians, the civil war, the spanish American war and the construction of an American colonial system, World War I, the labor movement, nativism, the internment of Japanese Americans, the red scare and a host of other events never happened under a democratic system. It's only now that things are bad enough for a coup.

Wow, I wish I'd taken some kind of history class about America, I had no clue any of that stuff ever happened.

The serious point I'm making isn't that we're about to have the Apocalypse(tm), Funken. My point is that we're ripe for another sad entry in our nation's history. Since this thread has already brought up the specter of Germany's infamous past, I'll use it as part of my point: it was honestly only a brief (though horrible) period in Germany's history, and the nation rebounded nicely later in the 20th and into the 21st century. Sure, it's not the power it was before, but it's still a reasonably strong nation.

You accuse me of hyperbole, but you fail to see that you're using it yourself in insisting upon taking my argument to an extreme that I'm not. A fascist regime taking over the US wouldn't be a permanent situation, but it sure would be a horrible one, and I'm just stating that, like Malor said, the groundwork has now been laid for that to happen. Doesn't mean it will, but it means it very well might.

Malor wrote:
America as a howling, blood-mad mob is entirely possible.

America is always a howling, blood mad mob waiting to happen. Once it a while, it does (like when any sport team wins or looses something even slightly important) What makes you think this decade is any different then the rest? Funken summed that fact up better than I could.

Malor wrote:

What are people going to be like, here, when they're actually broke and hungry, armed to the teeth, and being told by anyone that the Democratic leadership is a bunch of terrorists that are stealing their money to give to the blacks?

Many people I know in the midwest and south have ALWAYS said this about the government, specifically the Democrats. "Democrats support taking money from the taxpayers and given handouts to the blacks and immigrants who have 8 kids and sit at home on welfare all day." Wow, that's so... 1990? 1960? 1940? Where's the "news"? You also act like Americans today, and yesterday, and last decade, were never broke, hungry, and homeless. Oh, don't forget armed to the teeth, because guns are a new concept in America...

You're esposuing retoric that's older than my grandparents. I also don't understand why you think that in a global economy that a recession or inflation would be localized? If we go through a recession or even hyperinflation, so does the rest of the world. We have a GDP of 14 trillion where as Britian has a GDP of 2 trillion. The US will NEVER go anything alone, especially as the economy moves more and more global everyday. Riddle me this... What happens when everyone in the developed world goes through a massive inflationary or deflationary cycle together? All imports and exports would shift accordingly... would any wealth actually be gained or lost?

Also, let's not pretend like anyone would actually know the answer to my question, it's never happened, yet.

Farscry wrote:
A fascist regime taking over the US wouldn't be a permanent situation, but it sure would be a horrible one, and I'm just stating that, like Malor said, the groundwork has now been laid for that to happen.

And that's not hyperbole? We'll just have to disagree on that point.

PyromanFO wrote:
It's not some partisan discussion where only the liberals have the right answers, it's simply that the Republicans have spent the past week courting the uglier, more violent side of their electorate. So it's up for discussion.

I was using the term "liberal" in its wider sense, but the leap from a few guys shouting "terrorist" to totalitarianism isn't justified by history. As I keep repeating, it's been far worse and far more heated in past decades, and there was no coup. I don't know what to say beyond that. The businessman's plot of the 1930s was an amatuerish joke. If you want to think somehow the current period is somehow different from earlier periods, okay. I think that requires a misreading of history, but I'm not going to convince you otherwise. We'll just have to wait it out and see who turns out to have been correct.

One of the fundamental mistakes we make is projecting today both into the past and into the future. "Oh, it's always been like that" and "oh, it will always be like that" are very probably the ideas that are most wrong of any that humans commonly espouse.

The US has survived smaller versions of these same challenges before, but never with a population so abysmally educated, and never all at once. And taking a broader and longer view, it's quite common for democracies to fall to demagogues in hard economic times. Hell, it happens even when things are pretty good -- look at how close Venezuela came to making Chavez dictator-for-life. They came back from the brink, but if we'd asked the American people to make Bush president-for-life in 2002, would we?

Believing in American exceptionalism strikes me as a bad bet this time around. We're no longer a nation of ideals, just a nation of simple expedience. People are no longer willing to die to be free; they value their lives over their liberty.

People like that are easy to chain. Scare them a little, and they'll beg for the handcuffs. Rile them up a little, and they'll be organizing lynch mobs. We've fundamentally become a nation of cowards.

In other crises, we've had the education and sanity to work out good solutions, but that's no guarantee that we will this time around.

Malor wrote:
One of the fundamental mistakes we make is projecting today both into the past and into the future. "Oh, it's always been like that" and "oh, it will always be like that" are very probably the ideas that are most wrong of any that humans commonly espouse.

I'm not believing in American exceptionalism. I just don't agree with your assessment of the conditions here and see no evidence in the past that supports your conclusion.

Pulling the lens back to the big picture, I think there are solid arguments to be made for the "American Character" that will eventually counter-act nationalist or proto-fascist tendencies.

Remember, while there were many social problems in the depression, it did give us the new deal. Among the key cultural icons of the period were folks like Woodie Guthrie and John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is one of the great American novels that describes a reaction to economic despair and a changing way of life that offers hope rather than fear.

Of course, I'm sure that when the local Safeway stops getting deliveries there will be rioting and violence and many will turn to nationalist or authoritarian answers. However, I don't think we need to give into that fear and we can look to the past to see that hard times bring out the best as well as the worst in all people, including Americans.

Funkenpants wrote:
Farscry wrote:
A fascist regime taking over the US wouldn't be a permanent situation, but it sure would be a horrible one, and I'm just stating that, like Malor said, the groundwork has now been laid for that to happen.

And that's not hyperbole? We'll just have to disagree on that point.

It's hyperbole to point out the vulnerability of our government after the sweeping changes we've seen in the past eight years in particular? ...ok.

Or is it hyperbole to point out that we're not so special that a fascist regime couldn't come into power in the US in the relatively near future (potentially within the next ten years)?

This stuff has happened before in many nations, and it will happen again in many nations. We're not so special that it can't happen here.