The second stage the transition to becoming an authoritarian state. All that’s left now is the third and final stage of collapse: the permanent transformation from failed to authoritarian state
What’s happening to America? It’s a question that Americans — and people around the world — are asking, horrified and bewildered.
The answer to that question goes like this. America was a failed state. And now it’s becoming an authoritarian one. America is now 60 days from the final stage of social collapse — the terminal stage, the point of no return, at which a society goes full-blown authoritarian, permanently — and it’s looking increasingly likely to us survivors and scholars of authoritarianism that that final, terminal stage is going to happen. America is dying.
And yet that’s a classical, textbook, predictable sequence. Which, if you really want to prevent, you should probably understand. Let me explain.
What do you imagine a failed state is? If you’re a “real” American, you probably think it’s some distant, war-torn land. And in a sense, you’re right. But it was also America, and is.
A failed state is a place where people can no longer really obtain the basics of life, in any fair or decent or sane way. There is not enough to go around. The result is that people live under the rule of a kind of violence, in a state of chaos, in perpetual despair and rage and panic. Where will tomorrow’s water, food, medicine, the money to pay for it all, come from?
The state’s most basic job is to organise society in such a way that people can obtain the basics of life. We all need shelter, food, water, and medicine to live. To live well, at even a minimal level, we need safety, education, income, savings. That doesn’t mean that the state has to give those things to people necessarily — but it does have to organise society in such a way that those things can be had.
And that is precisely where America failed. Americans — especially “real” ones — are used to growing up in an atmosphere of fevered propaganda, exceptionalism. But what really happened in America from 1980 to about 2015 was this.
America became a society where people couldn’t obtain the basics of life anymore. I mean that in both absolute and relative ways. Want to have a child? That’ll cost you $50,000. Want to educate one? That’ll cost you $250,000. Need a life-saving operation? Sorry, that’ll cost you $500,000. What the? Entire cities had infrastructures which simply failed, like Flint.
Society as a whole had no functioning social systems — healthcare, retirement, pensions. So Americans’ only choice was to pay the prices that their system demanded. Want a pension? Wall St will sell you a “401K” — and take a fat cut, while hedge funds raid whatever was left of your life savings. Want healthcare? Sure, that “premium” will cost you thousands a month, for a plan that provides little care or choice at all.
Americans were locked into broken, dysfunctional systems, which no longer provided them the basics of life, at prices they could afford.
The income of the average American was scarcely $50k. How were they to afford any of this? They couldn’t, quite obviously.
The result was that many Americans began to go without the basics of life. They chose between that life-saving operation, or keeping a roof over their kids’ heads. They ate cheap, industrially processed food, and grew obese and ill, because it had little nutritional value. They worked jobs that would never lead to careers or mobility desperately just to retain some access to the meagre “benefits” only jobs now provided. Young Americans found themselves crippled by educational debt, and unable to begin independent lives of their own.
See the point clearly. America could no longer provide the basics to people. It could not feed, shelter, educate, or employ its people. Not affordably, and certainly not well. The situation was so bad, for example, that Americans just gave up looking for work, in fact, reaching a point where just above half of the working age population were employed at all. That millennials became a lost generation stuck at home forever, working crap jobs. That strangers begged one another for money to pay for medicine online.
This was a Soviet society by any other name. The Soviet Union famously had breadlines, where you’d never get the bread. America had unobtainable basics, too, in even larger and more lethal ways.
What did Americans have to do to simply even attempt to afford the basics of life — medicine, education, food, water, housing? They had to go into massive debt. Today, the average American dies in debt, meaning his or her debts are unpayable. And that means that he never in net terms really owns, saves, or earns a penny.
Those are the economics of failed states. People end up broke. A society descends into mass poverty. Nobody much can afford the basics. Meanwhile, those who have monopolies over said basics become ultra, mega rich. Vast inequality sets in. An economy becomes a kind of caste society — a large pool of hopeless and powerless proles, and a tiny number of billionaires so rich and powerful they resemble feudal lords of old.
Worse, nobody much understands — because a society’s economic statistics don’t show it. In America, like in the Soviet Union, economic statistics failed to reflect any of the real pain or despair people were beginning to live in. The stock market boomed — forever. Profits rose and rose. The unemployment rate seemed suspiciously low. Things had never been better! Then why was the average American broke, dying in debt, working a go-nowhere job, descending into poverty? These two sets of facts did not comport. One had to be lying, and the other telling the truth. But America’s intellectuals and politicians were incurious, lazy. They did not seem to care that the story economics was telling didn’t seem to be telling any remotely accurate truth about people’s living standards anymore.
Now, the difference between America and classical failed states is that all this was a choice. There was no absolute shortage of medicine or healthcare in America — what was there, was artificial scarcity. Why? To prop up the profits of mega-corporations, bank, and hedge funds. The system had turned predatory.
The situation grew so bad that something truly ominous happened. The middle class became a minority in about 2010. That should never happen. It tells us that a society’s foundations have rotted — and the house of democracy is about to come crashing down.
Literally so. What happens when people can’t get the basics of life? Exactly what you might expect. Their life expectancy begins to fall — something we should never, ever see happening in any country, ever. America’s cratered, and still is. They die in debt — as we’ve discussed above, extorted by mafias, essentially, for artificial scarcities. Their rates of suicide and depression soar, as despair becomes endemic — which is exactly what happened in America. A sense of rage and powerlessness take hold.
What does living like that do? It loosens social bonds. Groups begin to treat other with suspicion and hostility. They blame each other for a society’s growing problems, the problem of being a failed state. The sense of easy coexistence which is there in successful societies — people treating each other with kindness, fairness, dignity — ceases to exist, because gentleness is a luxury. Life becomes a bitter, brutal battle for self-preservation, and norms of peacefulness and tolerance and acceptance give way to hostility, cruelty, rage, and aggression.
And soon enough, all of that becomes hate. All that’s needed is a demagogue who can ignite the spark of fury and produce the flames of hatred.
So a failed state is a place where despair, rage, and frustration are growing, surging, about to explode, often invisibly, like magma building beneath a caldera. And that was America, in the 2000s, as people’s lives fell apart with stunning swiftness, which loosened their social bonds to the point of a cruelty which shocked the world. People were so busy trying to obtain the basics that they began to treat one another like disposable subhumans. Sorry, I can’t care about your healthcare, sorry, I don’t care if your kids are shot at school. The world was shocked. What was happening to America?
It had become a failed state, which is a place without trust, comity, optimism, people believing in and accepting each other, as life simply fell apart, and the result of all that was predictable. A demagogue arose, who blamed the problems of the “real” American on hated minorities. Just like the Nazis did, just like the Islamic World’s dictators did, just like every demagogue in history has. “They are the cause of your woes!” Trump bellowed it at rally after rally. And the people once known as America’s white middle and working class — by now, they were broken, desperate, and hopeless enough to believe him.
Enough of them, anyways, to catapult Trump into power, in a victory that shocked America’s establishment — who still thought things had never been better. Had they ever heard of Scranton? Baltimore? Detroit? Huntington — the overdose capital? Things were good for America’s elites, sure — life in the bubbles DC and Manhattan and San Francisco was booming. But they were not the majority of America. They did not reflect America as a whole even remotely.
Trump did what anyone who’s survived or studied authoritarianism expects demagogues who rise to power in the despair and rage bred by failed states to do. He incited violence and preached hate, just like an Islamic preacher. He built camps, just like a Nazi, and threw kids in cages in them. His shock troops hunted and brutalised hated untouchables in towns and cities — just like Eastern European war criminals. Trump was the real thing, a vicious, brutal, hateful authoritarian-fascist.
But even now — through his first term — the “real” American didn’t quite understand or accept it. Many of them backed Trump, and those who didn’t seemed to often think these terrible abuses of power fell short of authoritarian-fascism. One can hardly blame them: their intellectuals and pundits were failing to educate them, and they’d never lived it. So how would they know that their society was now having a very real meltdown? Where it was leading? To the final death of democracy, freedom, hope, peace?
That brings us to now.
Trump is on the verge of making America a full-blown authoritarian state. He is one small, small step away from ending democracy in America. Over the last few days alone, he’s encouraged political violence, delegitimised free and fair voting, encouraged his followers to sabotage the election, and attacked the idea of an election itself.
Americans are slowly waking up to the fact that their democracy is about to die, at the hands of a demagogue and the fanatical minority who supports him.
What should be understood, though, is this. America isn’t about to collapse. It has been collapsing. It’s closer to the end now of collapse than the beginning. Collapse is a process, much like eruption. Tensions build up, and bang! One day, all that’s left is the wreckage and ashes that once used to be a free, prosperous, thriving society.
That process begins with a society being unable to provide the basics, proceeds through impoverishment, the despair, rage, and fury it causes, which are the loosening of social bonds — and only culminates in the explosive spectacle of a democracy being laid to rest.
America was a failed state. Now it’s about to become an authoritarian one. Its transition from failed state — a place where for the last two decades, people have not been able to access the basics of life — to an authoritarian one will be complete in about 60 days. That is the same cycle of ruin so many nations have followed before it, from Soviet Russia to Weimar Germany. America’s undoing was decades in the making.
I say that so that Americans understand what they are really up against. What “this is your last chance” means. That this is it: the culmination of decades of neglect, indifference, and ruin. Americans have only one chance — one chance — left to set America back on the path of freedom, modernity, and prosperity. Will they take it? Or will they continue to stew in the boiling water of silence? When the cycle of collapse is complete, societies don’t often or easily come back. Failed states which become authoritarian ones tend to stay that way, often for lifetimes.
Let me say it again, so that the warning is stronger.
America was a failed state. That’s the first stage of collapse. It already happened, through the 200s. The second stage the transition to becoming an authoritarian state. That happened over the last four years. All that’s left now is the third and final stage of collapse: the permanent transformation from failed to authoritarian state.
A demagogue seizes power for life, captures the state’s institutions, and uses them to both enrich himself and his cronies, reward his followers, and brutalise a society with real and extreme violence. He builds Gestapos, who beat people in the streets, SS’s, which hunt down the hated, dissent is criminalized, opposition is made treason, critics and dissidents are locked up, shock troops roam the streets, thought and expression are monitored, any kind of deviation swiftly punished, an iron curtain of entrapment falls. Freedom and fairness and equality and justice all come to a certain, swift end. Society is remade in the image of the authoritarian figurehead himself: a thing pulsing with rage, trembling with hate, ever-ready to lash out in brutality.
And that third stage is looking increasingly likely to us survivors and scholars of authoritarianism.
That is what the next 60 days will decide. Does America survive? Or does it become the new Soviet Union? The new Nazi Germany? Another Iran, North Korea, Saddam’s Iraq? The latest nation that went from failed to authoritarian state?
Do not take the warning lightly. We survivors and scholars have one message for you:
It’s much worse than you believe, and it’s much later than you think.
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