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Are Americans ‘close to revolt’?

Interesting couple of posts by Jim Fallows at The Atlantic, in which he posts lengthy passages from reader e-mails. This one [1], in which Fallows quotes a Midwestern librarian, kicked it off. The librarian wrote, in part:

Food prices are soaring, gas prices are making it hard for people to get to low paying jobs, and the amount of suffering because of lack of access to medical care is dire.

I sent a staff person home today (without pay since she’s part-time) with a draining ear infection and a high fever.  She also has a mass in her abdomen.  She has no insurance and she’s divorced with children and her ex also has no money.  She is paying her bills with what I would call scam student loans that will eventually ruin her.  These people are getting closer and closer to the point where we will have fundamental break-down of law and order.

How far does Congress think they can push before they get pushed back?

Fallows’ initial post brought in more reader e-mails, which he posted today [2]. Here’s a bit from an American expat (all the emphases in the e-mails I quote are Fallows’s):

I’m young, highly educated, and can live anywhere – I found Berlin to be an easy place to adjust to, and while Germany certainly has its serious problems, it is nevertheless free of America’s caustic, suffocating atmosphere. Last month, some friends from the US came to visit me. To a man, they all said the same thing, that I was right to have left the country, and that they’re very seriously thinking of doing the same. I don’t think it was idle chatter.

As the US feels more and more like a failing state, I think this phenomenon – an exodus of the most educated and employable – will rise and become difficult to ignore.

A reader in Ohio wrote to Fallows about folks in his town who are massively fed up:

They’re people I work with in church and Scouts and neighborhood activities who own and run businesses of three to thirty some fulltime employees, and they talk about how hard it has become to have fulltime employees, to manage their businesses, and to navigate local, state, and federal regulation.  Any entrepreneur over 25 talks constantly about the upsweep of the curve, and in my opinion, especially the three or four I know most personally, how challenged they are by the whole health insurance situation along with all that.

My sense is that they WANT to do right by their employees, and they want to be above, but not ridiculously above, the average wage rate for our area, but the gamesmanship of finding a plan for their twelve or twenty employees is sucking huge amounts of their time, and only to end up paying dramatically more for what they then have to tell their employees is less coverage, both in their contributions and co-pays, and in what gets covered.

This sentiment comes from a Brit moving to the US with his American wife:

But perhaps the letters from your Midwestern reader is a sign that people have had enough of being creatively destroyed and are starting to get angry, really angry. In a country with such a widespread availability of firearms, this could get very ugly indeed!  But if a riot or some sort of revolt is really brewing, let us at least hope that the people in Washington will come to their senses and act to improve the lives of ordinary people before it actually breaks out.

Let me ask you, my readers: does any of this resonate with you? What are you seeing where you live? Where do you think this could go? Where do you think it will go? Please be as detailed as you can.

65 Comments (Open | Close)

65 Comments To "Are Americans ‘close to revolt’?"

#1 Comment By Kirt Higdon On September 11, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

Stephanie, when I referred to the need for a lot of restless youth for a revolution, I was thinking mainly of the need for mobs in the street, not necessarily the leadership. But I did take your advice and checked out some of the leaders of the French Revolution. Marat was 50 when he was assassinated, so I guess that qualifies as middle aged. Danton was only 34 at his death and Robespierre 36. Napoleon rose to power and was leading French revolutionary armies in Italy in his 20s and executed the coup which made him First Consul of France at age 30. So even at the leadership level, the French Revolution doesn’t seem like the revolt of the geezers.

#2 Comment By Libertarian Jerry On September 11, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

JohnF,………Your worldview of people not being responsible for their own fates but instead are controlled out of “Corporate Boardrooms” is based on the collectivist assumption that people are just “cogs in a machine” and have no free will or discipline to plan and run their own lives. The problem with the Welfare State,in America, is that the “New Deal” and the “Great Society” has ,to a large extent, created a Society where undisciplined bad life decisions are rewarded and disciplined decisions are penalized. If I work I am taxed. The harder I work the more I am taxed.If I choose not to work I am rewarded with tax money.If I save and am frugal I am taxed and rewarded with low interest rates. If I am a women who waits to get pregnant and marries the father of my children I am considered by many “old fashion.” Yet, if I make the decision to have a brood of bastard babies with no responsible father,but a sperm donor “fiance” who hangs around I am rewarded with Welfare,ADC,Food Stamps,assisted housing,free education for my offspring,free Medical Care with Medicaid,etc.,etc. and on top of everything else labeled a “victim.” In the end,the problems of the Constituency of Non Producers lies not with Washington or Boardrooms but with those who choose serfdom over liberty. Again, “our fate is not with the stars,but with ourselves.”

#3 Comment By Geoff G. On September 11, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

Libertarian Jerry, I really doubt you have any experience whatsoever of what it means to be “rewarded with tax money.”

I have another friend who came down through encephalitis several years ago. Please note, this was not brought on by “undisciplined bad life decisions” but simple bad luck. As a result of a misdiagnosis, he ended up losing his sight. Because he didn’t have a cushy middle-class job, he didn’t have the wide range of private benefits to make up the difference. And frankly, I know of very few jobs open to people with just a high-school education that do.

Social Security is pretty much all he has. It does keep a roof over his head and gives him a very small amount of money to spend on all of his expenses, on the order of about $350 every two weeks. He relies on food banks and private charity and the support of friends and neighbors to get by.

That’s not a “reward.” And frankly, one of the minor reasons I’m glad to know him is that it tells me just how out of touch and clueless libertarians and conservatives who rail against “welfare queens” are. Not to mention just how long they’ve made it a practice of conducting class warfare against the very poorest and worst off.


I came back to point out that oligarchies can often persist even in the midst of very great despair for quite a long time. And, of course, many cultural policies can be employed to maintain the status quo, particularly that our national American religion, the peculiar fusion of Protestantism (particularly its symbols and scapegoats, if not its actual meaning) and Jingoism. Of course, there’s always recourse to that great motivator of patriotic feeling, war (and I do despair that a major war will loom on the horizon if we don’t lift out of this depression soon).

But, taking a leaf out of the Arab Spring’s book, it took many decades of repression and despair before Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in Tunisia and so changed the world. We’ve already had [3] here in the US, but of course, no-one here really seems to care yet.

#4 Comment By JonF On September 12, 2011 @ 6:38 am


My view of human nature, and of a just society, ultimately derives from my Christianity– and I will make no excuses for that.
Are there people who are lazy bums, milking the system for all it’s worth– yes, that’s part of human nature too. But I maintain they are the exception not the rule. Like Geoff, I also knew a “welfare case”– an actual “welfare queen” in fact. Her husband vanished and left her with two small children to care for. She had been rasied to be at traditional wife and mother (meaning no job), and she went on welfare– AFDC, Food Stamps, Medicaid, the whole nine yards. But that’s not how the story ends. When her children grew old enough not to need a mother around 24/7 she went back to school, and got a useful degree and eventually a good job. She now makes nearly as muich as I do, and has been a taxpayer for many years. In other words, a welfare success story– they do exist
By the way, I make decent money and I pay taxes also. I really do not get this whining resentment I hear on this subject. Taxes are the price we pay for civilization–and civilization does not come cheap. I also do not get the weird envy of the poor that some people express when this subject comes up. Envy is a sin in all instances, but it is at least understandable when one envies the rich. To envy the poor is, to say the least, bizarre.
Finally, I utterly reject liberatrianism (even as I do commumism, its obverse) because it ignores something fundamental about human beings– it denies community. But we are BOTH individuals AND social animals. Those who resent the second part of that and wish to shirk the resulting duties that are as muich a part of our birthright as our natural rights ought appeal to thair creator to be reborn as cats, who have no society, and no duty to any but their own indivdual selves. Such is the nature of felines– but not of humans.

#5 Comment By Rod Dreher On September 12, 2011 @ 6:42 am

I agree with you, JonF. It’s why I’m not a libertarian, but a conservative. No man is an island. Some of us (like me) have more difficulty than others maintaining bridges, but none of us are an island. I’m reading Robert Nisbet’s 1953 conservative classic “The Quest for Community,” in which he talks about how historically late and psychologically costly the extreme individualism of the West is. Libertarianism is a fine philosophy until your own ox is in the ditch, and you don’t have the resources to get it out on your own.

#6 Comment By Libertarian Jerry On September 12, 2011 @ 9:24 am

JonF,Geoff G, Rod Dreher……….Throughout the history of mankind Welfare States have always collapsed of their own weight and have been replaced with a police state.I don’t think I want to live in a police state. Before the institution of the Welfare State in America we had private charities,organizations ,clubs,religious organizations and especially the family to take care of our needy and helpless. The old saying that “taxes are what we pay for a civilized society” ,uttered by Oliver Wendell Holmes is now substituted by the saying of John Marshall who once said “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” Your world views are not my world view and the majority do not have the right to vote away the property rights of the minority. In essence the fruits of my labor are mine and do not belong to the the so called “community.” This is why the authors of our Constitution wrote in the original Constitution that there should be no direct taxation. As an aside,if you look at the Income Taxes we pay,not one penny goes to “Welfare Queens” or any other government functions,but instead goes back to the Federal Reserve in the guise of interest on our National Debt. In summary your “quest for community” is nothing but a quest for Feudalism. And I,for one,don’t want to live in a feudal society.

#7 Comment By Liam On September 12, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

This is a *deeply* feigned, ersatz, revolutionary sensibility compared to the late 1960s. But it gives the commentariat something to Look Serious about and fills its sense of self-importance and gravitas. We live in small, petty times, not big times.

#8 Comment By Jane On September 12, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

The dysfunctional feature of our society that I’m faced with every day is health insurance. True, we didn’t have it in the ’30’s either; but back then, we were not inundated with advertising that told us how wonderful modern medicine is and how it can extend and improve our lives, the way we are now (but oh wait, you can only have this wonderful health care if you get it through your employer or are wealthy to start with or very poor and have children).

#9 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On September 12, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

Some random thoughts on collapse-rebellion.

1. As someone said, hunger is the great motive power to both of the above. Few of us have family connections to farms anymore. We have no place to fall back on for sustenance and shelter. Will we see a mass movement back to the countryside? Could it possibly be orderly?

2. Not only family farms are scarce, but families. It’s difficulty to spread the risk in hard times with not much family.

3. This lack of connectedness will cause people to start informal alliances much like small tribes. For instance, I can fish in the nearby Delaware to get some protein. But who will watch my dwelling while I’m doing it? Clearly, my neighbors and I will have to start sharing and watching each others backs.

4. Areas of the country rich in corn and other cultivations will become very valuable territory indeed. Farmers will not be able to police their property with their own manpower. Whatever stands as government may attempt to confiscate local resources to feed restive communities. It’s possible that locals will resist this. Here might be the spark that could lead to local resistance movements.

5. Right now, local, County and State police authorities are committed to enforcing laws on the books and existing authority. Under the hunger/bankruptcy scenario above, this solidarity would probably break down, at least on the local and county level. The local cops in most jurisdictions get paid good money to write tickets and break up family fights. They will not be keen on shooting it out with their neighbors, especially if they are not getting paid or could be let go by local governments. Remember, local and County police are already outgunned by the general populous. The cops have wives who don’t want them dead for enforcing some government edict.

6. If a spirit of non-compliance with Federal authority takes hold, the effort to completely suppress it will be more than the Federal Government can sustain. The troops required still have to be paid and fed, etc. It’s like the local authorities just not helping against the moonshiners. When we all become moonshiners, who will pay the revenuers?

#10 Comment By JonF On September 12, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

The only alternative to the welfare state is the ill-fare state– to coin a generic term that is oddly lacking despite the fact that history abounds in examples. We constitute government, and cede to it fearsome powers, that it may safeguard and enhance our well-being, otherwise there would be no point to it at all. And a state that does not serve the welfare of its citizens is either incompetent (and needs to be replaced), or else it is tyrannical, serving the welfare of some privileged class– in which case it is morally illigitimate and should be overthrown– peacefully if possible, violently if no other choice is left.
Moreover your example of welfare states leading to feudalism and serfdom is historically absord– there is not a single case of that happening in all history. Rather feudalistic societies (wherein the strong have full license to oppress the many) have always arisen from an initial excess of liberty from government suasion– liberty flying off well past the golden mean and going into the deep end of anarchy where “every man for himself” yields a few men lording it over all others like Mafia dons on steroids. Consider the best known case: western Europe in the Middle Ages. Rome’s order had fallen, a series of natural disasters had left the world depopulated, and the infrastructure of civilization in those lands had all but collapsed. It was not a “welfare state” but the virtual lack of any state that enabled the birth of the medieval order that you decry.

#11 Comment By Libertarian Jerry On September 12, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

JonF…..Not to belabor the point,but your talking gibberish. America is bankrupt and is headed for a police state,just like the ancient Greeks,Carthage,The Roman Empire, The Persian Empire,The Spanish Empire and many other civilizations who citizens forgot how to work and produce and instead became wards of the state. A rule of history is that all Welfare states collapse and degenerate into police states. That is exactly where America is headed. A Feudal society with an elite running everything. We are definitely on the road to serfdom.

#12 Comment By Bar Bill On September 12, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

The Amish Rebellion begins in western Kentucky. Nine Amish men end up in jail for not putting safety triangles on their horse-drawn carriages.


#13 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2011 @ 6:00 am

To keep this polite, you are talking historical nonsense, akin to something found in farmyards. With the very partial exception of Rome (mainly after Christianity became official) not a one of the ancient states you mention was ever anything like a modern “welfare state”. What all of them were rather were slave states, places where the rich and powerful bought and sold human beings, and treated them as livestock. That is as far from a welfare state as you can get without walking through the gates of Auschwitz.
If the US becomes a police state it will not be the fault of our poor and powerless. It be because of own rich and powerful, aleady living like gods on a holiday, will wish to fleece the rest of us down to our skins so they may even live even more extravagantly, and knowing that even the most docile folk have their boiling point they make an end to the illusions of democracy and set one of thair own up as lord and master of us all.

#14 Comment By Turmarion On September 14, 2011 @ 7:55 am

JonF, I’m in complete agreement with you, but my experience in debating libertarians is that it’s marginally more effective than debating my computer table. I would recommend the excellent [5] website, which pretty much answers and debunks most libertarian talking points. For those who are libertarian, it might, just might make them think; for those who are not, it provides a good and clear analysis of the issues.

#15 Comment By Eddie Carlile On September 20, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

Well I live in a rural area of the Florida panhandle. Most all the people in this area are flat broke due to high gas and food prices and zero jobs available! I seen countless yardsales last year and this year with women ages 50 to 90 years old trying to sell things, even used panties and bras! People are madder than hell at both the dems and reps, and nobody is buying the parties lines about they going to create jobs here in America, citing if they were concerned about jobs they would not be joining together to pass another sorry trade bill with Panama, Columbia and Korea which will result in a couple more hundred thousand people getting laid off ! Its all about CORPORATE FACISM running this country with the politicians their paid whores, all for the rich to get richer! All its going to take now for a FULL SCALE SHOOTING REVOLT is for the crooks in D.C. to end the Social Security pension program or turn it over to their criminal friends on Wall Street to steal! ITS class warfare regardless of what party or what you think is going on, the 5% percent rich against the rest of us Americans and before its over with the politicians in DC along with the Wall Street CEOS and Fed Reserve gangsters are going to wind up hanging from lightposts when the 95% of Americans find themselves with no hope or options left to survive on!