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American Authoritarian Apocalypse Now More Probable Than Not
Emerging Analysis Reveals Dramatic Republican Power Gains
We now forecast, based on our most recent intelligence analyses and modeling, that the apocalyptic socio-political scenario for the future of the United States – in which we experience a rapid authoritarian takeover and the end of democracy, is substantially more probable than either of the two major alternative futures combined. The major alternatives are: 1. Continued slow descent into managed democracy; 2. Renaissance of American democracy including the reduction of troubling inequalities, establishment of participative democracy as the dominant mode of political decision making, and the relatively permanent vanquishing of authoritarian power bases capable of challenging democratic norms.
Our analyses have been steadily trending in this direction since we began conducting them three years ago, and we are confident enough in them now to share this disturbing news.
What’s changed in our analysis? As we’ve published previously, the right has momentum and is on the offensive. It is thus incumbent on the left to counterpunch to keep from losing ground. It has notably failed to do so in the four most critical leverage areas: the imperative to pursue and achieve swift justice against the January 6 coup plotters; the necessity for the Democratic Party to deploy a new strategy including focused and powerful countermeasures; the need to address the erosion in voting rights head on; and the requirement for progressive organizations to unite in a common movement to protect democracy. Admittedly, Covid and Ukraine would have challenged the best possible administration. But we predicted such distractions some time ago, and prescribed tactics to reduce the distractions in favor of fighting the decisive battles -- a set of tactics which have not found widespread adoption.
There are some additional factors that impact our analyses with less force but are worth mentioning: the ignoble failure to address police violence against Black and Brown people, the inexcusable failure to address racism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ hate and legal measures; and the utter failure to address improper and sometimes illegal conduct of House and Senate members. In essence, Democrats are not holding themselves or others accountable to the rule of law or even common decency. And the majority of progressive Americans are failing to do anything more than express outrage and send more checks to Democratic candidates to assuage our guilt and perpetuate false hope. These failures are all important, because they add to an air of lawlessness, hopelessness, and to erosion of the polity, making future transgressions of the right more likely to occur and less likely to be resisted.
To put the forecasted apocalypse in some context, I recently watched “Naples ’44” on Netflix. It’s a rather grim capture of the city’s troubles in the aftermath of German occupation, the fierce battle to liberate it, and subsequent Allied occupation. Water and food were largely unavailable, buildings were almost all reduced to rubble, 1/3 of adult women sold their bodies to keep their families alive, 65% of the total economy was represented by the black market, and 1/3 of allied supplies siphoned into the black market. The U.S. allowed these conditions to occur and persist during the occupation, tarnishing our reputation and, for the first time in our history, corrupting our armed forces. Unlike Germany and Japan, whose remarkable recoveries were largely enabled by beneficent U.S. support, Italy never fully recovered from the war, economically, politically, or sociologically.
Many valid viewpoints can be, and have been, brought to bear on the post-war Italian situation: humanistic pity; their plight was self-inflicted -- “they had it coming for being fascists;” academic/sociological – “isn’t it interesting to observe what happens to good people in bad circumstances?”
I take the longer-term lens of what happened to Italy and its society leading up to that point as instructive – both for Italians and the U.S. now.
Their first mistake led to all the others -- letting fear and propaganda dominate thought and discourse, and longing for a romantic Italy of the past which, even more than America’s, never actually existed -- drive them into the arms of the fascists. Because at that point they ceded their rights as citizens of a democracy and no longer had a say in their own futures.
It was then just one small step for Mussolini to align with Hitler and cede the entire nation’s fate to a more kinetic, purposeful authoritarian state.
Surely the average Italian no more imagined that which would come about in a few short years than the average American does that something similar is only one election away from happening here. What looks inevitable through the hindsight of history appears improbable to those living it.
Surely the two situations – Italy in the 1930s and America in the 21st century are so different as to make our comparison seem fantastic and contrived? Au contraire! The similarities are instructive and substantial, and the differences relatively non-material. Both societies were marked by strong nationalist movements – Italian nationalism and white Christian nationalism respectively. Both longed to restore former glory and forestall national “decay.” And the authoritarian movements in both nations – the National Fascist Party in Italy and the Republican Party in the U.S.—were notably antithetic to minorities and specific demographic groups. Importantly, both societies were fractious socially, politically, and culturally, opening space for the fear of chaos and thus the “need” for a strong ruler.
If authoritarians seize power here, and we posit that this occurs in a scenario when the Republicans next win the White House and control both houses of Congress – an event that can occur as early as January 2025 – our analyses and models indicate that American democracy will cease to function at that point. Subsequent elections will be, at best, Republican Party-controlled affairs with only a veneer of free choice.
We forecast that the American government will then rapidly: formally align with Russia and other authoritarian states, withdraw from NATO and other international defense pacts, nationalize the banks, restrict emigration and citizen monetary outflows, and worse. * Prominent democrats and progressives will be charged with crimes against the state, retroactively, then convicted and jailed.
* Our analysis and research indicate that it is primarily the power and reach of the United States as “leader of the free world” that currently reigns in the worst impulses of authoritarians globally. With that constraint out of the way in the scenario we play out here, we would expect a spate of ethnic cleansing, outright genocide, forced labor or “labor slavery,” and large-scale and long-term imprisonment of social deviants. We also posit an accelerated degradation of the environment, water and food shortages, rapid growth of urban slums, the elimination of rights for women, the shuttering of schools except for the children of elites, and rising health and wealth inequalities. The remaining European democracies will be forced to make accommodations to the new world order and will themselves be slowly yet inexorably subverted to authoritarianism.
But that’s just the “1984”-type apocalypse, as bad as that is. Because authoritarians are immature, restless, relentless enemy seekers, hateful, nihilistic, and ultimately self-hating, American authoritarians will ultimately provoke a war that we will ultimately lose, and something much like the “Naples ’44” scenario will occur here.
The excuses Americans are offering now for their inaction – “what about my 401k,” “we’ll annoy the right and provoke them if we respond in kind, “I’ll lose my job/social standing,” things aren’t that bad and our institutions are holding -- are all weak, lame, inane – and indefensible. Because in the apocalyptic scenario, you’ll likely lose your 401k and social security and all of your basic freedoms and civil rights in the bargain. And have your neighbors reporting on you to the secret police. Again, this probably strikes you as worst case. History tells us, and our models show us, that this is actually what is known in forecasting as the “expected case.” As Jason Isbell recently said, “Be afraid, be very afraid.” Just be afraid for the right reasons and use your fear to prevent this scenario from occurring, because we have the leverage of the majority now -- we’ll have zero should the scenario described here come to pass.
OK. If our appeal to your baser instincts was insulting, let’s come up to a higher conceptual plane. We aver, as do most political scientists and historians, that citizens of democracies have what is known as an “Affirmative Obligation” to assert their rights of citizenship and protect their form of government from usurpation. This right is noted in the Declaration of Independence:
We aver that the Selective Service and Conscription Acts affirm this obligation and establish historical and legal precedent. They were passed in extraordinary times to preserve democracy abroad and thus protect American democracy from encroachment -- we argue that we face these same threats now from the Republican Party and its global authoritarian partners.
We further conclude and aver that it is the failure of democratic citizens to live up to this obligation that has doomed all historical democracies, and most imperils the American one. The primary specific precipitating cause, in our analysis and models, of the failure of American democracy will be the unwillingness to secure justice against the January 6 coup perpetrators and to hold Republican officials accountable. But the ‘reason behind the reason’ will be that we simply failed to step up when it was our turn.
Will the worst definitely happen? Not necessarily. As grim as it looks, none of our models indicates that we are condemned to doomsday, only that such an outcome is now probable. It’s more like “A Christmas Carol” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” – a glimpse of a future that will occur without purposeful human intervention.
Whether or not the apocalyptic scenario comes to pass does not depend substantially on the tectonic plates of historical forces, or dark conspiracies, or runaway technologies. We have addressed all these at length – and they surely do threaten democracy. But all systems have adversaries. The ability to prevent the apocalyptic outcome -- to prevail to use more precise language -- rests with the people – individually with their courage and collectively with their will – and both must be stronger than that which is arrayed against us.
It has always been thus. We must overcome our fear, fatigue, indifference and anomie, and honor the sacrifices of those who’ve come before us in this same fight, because the United States is still, despite its myriad flaws, the last best hope of earth.
That said, we are not big believers in small movements. A movement whose sole purpose is simply to push back against authoritarians must inevitably be reactive, somewhat defensive, and dissipative. Why don’t we vow instead to become the first democracy not to succumb to hedonism, anomie, fear, and entertaining distraction -- and lead the world away from apocalypse and dystopia and towards miracle and utopia? Why must we set our sights so low, to simply hope to avoid disaster? To accept this anemic objective is to have already lost.