Revolution from the Right?
Loose talk about Revolution is all over the internet and Right Wing media these days. From Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to the coy secession talk of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the idea of armed resistance is being floated on a nearly daily basis ever since Barak Obama won the election. Militia groups, both “Patriot” groups and more sinister White Supremacist groups, are on the rise, and the Tea Party movement uses the symbolism of the revolutionary war in its banners and rhetoric. With all this apparent enthusiasm for killing one’s neighbors, one wonders what the chance of a revolution from the Right really is. In my opinion, it is zero.
By “revolution,” I mean an organized uprising by armed citizens against the Federal government, with the idea of fighting a protracted guerrilla war and defeating the government. I’m not referring to ethnic or religious conflicts, though those are elements of the mix here. In a country where arming yourself is as simple as going down to the corner store and plunking down a few hundred dollars for a 12 gauge shotgun or semi-automatic rifle, why do I doubt the possibility of Revolution from such an angry and seemingly motivated Right Wing?
Realize that there are strong disincentives to joining a revolution. Not only does one risk life and property, but the targets in a revolution tend not to be evil Wall Street bankers and crooked politicians. They tend to be policemen, soldiers, security guards and bystanders. Challenging an intact state with an elected government whose legitimacy is recognized by the vast majority of its citizens has very little possibility of gaining popular support.
That’s always the case, but there are other issues specific to the Right Wing.
The Right doesn’t do Revolution
History over the last hundred years doesn’t offer a single example of a Right wing revolution. The Right favors military coups and death squads. Hitler was voted into office and seized power in a coup. Mussolini seized power in a coup. Pinochet took control in a coup. Franco, arguably was part of a revolution, but this occurred after a failed Right-wing coup attempt and was against a government that was already deeply divided. While many of these groups had considerable popular support they were not popular insurrections. Even in Communist dictatorships, where the Right is out of power and would theoretically form the Resistance, organized opposition usually comes from the intelligentsia or from labor unions.
Of course, past performance is not an indicator of future results. But there are other ingredients missing from the revolutionary stew.
Hitler had a Vision
For a revolution to succeed, it has to have a vision that will make its followers risk life and limb for it. Hitler had a dynamic vision for his country, as did Mussolini. In present day America, after eight years of corruption and plunder, the Right’s leadership has no real vision of why they should be back in power. What can they offer? More profiteering? More war? More financial heists? More off-shoring of jobs? The Right had everything it wanted under the Bush Administration and they left disaster in their wake, and if you cruised the Right wing websites in 2007, you would have seen a deep uneasiness and anger with how the country was going, long before Obama came to power.
Obama the Fascist. Obama the Communist
As much as people enjoy throwing around bombastic terms and engaging in an overly dramatic sense of danger (especially on internet message boards), most sane Conservatives realize that Obama is a fairly middle-of-the-road politician. There are still plenty of people on the Right who know what Fascism and Communism really is. Franco was able to rally troops to fight against anti-Church Communists, but real Communists, Socialists and Anarchists existed in Spain, he didn’t have to make them up. Most Americans will not spill their own or their neighbors blood because Rush Limbaugh calls Barack Obama a Communist.
This is not to say that there won’t be violence from the Right. From unbalanced White Supremacists like James Von Brunn to the meth heads who plotted to assassinate Barak Obama, we are more susceptible these days to violence from fringe actors who see their lethal fantasies validated in Right Wing media. Likewise fanatics like Timothy McVeigh. But these are borderline personalities and groups, not mainstream, Americans who happen to be Right of center.
So what are the conditions necessary to a Revolution? Many books have been written on this subject, but here are some important factors that are relevant to our situation in the United States.
1) A middle-class intelligentsia that has been excluded from power or upward mobility.
Revolution nearly always comes from the Middle class, and stepping on them, the favorite sport of our elites since 1980, is stepping on a serpent. However, our middle class is still fabulously wealthy and still has access to education, employment, and political power.
While the Republican party may be out of power for the moment, the Right is not shut out of the civil service or the levers of government. Right Wing media and politicians are flourishing. It’s not in the interests of Republicans to destroy the system when they have the chance to get back in power. It’s more conceivable that elements of the Republican party might encourage or sponsor Right Wing violence to intimidate the center and Left, a more extreme version of how Dick Armey and other corporate elements worked behind the scenes to disrupt Town Hall discussions about health care this past summer. (Note: While these tactics were used by the Left in the 60’s and 70’s, they were not Corporate or Party sponsored.)
2) Lack of a genuine democratic process
While there are still problems posed by Bush-era electronic voting and continuing efforts to discourage voting by poor people, most mainstream citizens in the United States are confident in their ability to influence their government by voting if they so choose, at both the local and national level.
3) Crushed expectations for lower and middle class citizens.
It’s a truism that dashed hopes lead to political foment, and this is the most worrisome element. While a complete Weimar-like collapse has been averted, at least for now, the great architects of Wall Street and Free Trade may have created a large permanent lower and lower-middle class. People who lost their houses are not going to be buying new ones with their $14/hour service sector jobs, and off-shored manufacturing is not coming back in the near future under our present Free Trade policy. Those who have been kicked to a lower rung of the economic ladder won’t be climbing back up anytime soon. For the moment, Americans are still rich and still believe in their own upward mobility, but a complete collapse of the system could push Americans in a radical new direction. In that scenario, the 24 hour barrage of fantasy and hate speech emanating from the Limbaughs, Becks, Savages, Fox and elements of the Republican party may amp the alienation of the Right to widespread violence. If a Right Wing Corporate government is in power during a collapse, that scenario could also energize a violent Left, spawning a climate of terrorism, state repression and extra-legal death squads from Right and Left.
We’re Better Than That
I am still optimistic that none of these scenarios will come to pass. Americans of all persuasions are generally a fair-minded people that believe in the democratic process. We have a record of settling political differences relatively peacefully. Our rich political culture, once the envy of the world, is like money that we have banked over the last 230 years. It got us through the Red Scare, the Depression, McCarthyism and the Civil Rights struggle. Can it continue in a society where the Right is constantly being told to hate the Left, where contempt is regarded as Patriotism? Can Americans still pull together in an increasingly unequal economic order? I’m not entirely sure. Let’s hope we aren’t tested.