Home/Rod Dreher/If It Can Happen In Kenosha…

If It Can Happen In Kenosha…

Postcard from Kenosha, Wisconsin (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

I don’t know about you, but “Kenosha, Wisconsin” has always been for me one of those place names — like “Duluth, Minnesota,” “Peoria, Illinois” — that convey a certain Midwestern solidity and decency. Nothing happens in Kenosha, and that’s how it should be.

Well. Last night in Kenosha was — how to put this? — full of happenings.

Here’s a taste:

A reader sends a link to a Twitter thread about the deadly overnight violence there among rival gangs — political militias, seems like — armed locals, and the police. The reader comments:

I never would have imagined we’d be cos-playing Syria here in America, to paraphrase someone on twitter. I’m not a big government guy, but I do believe one of THE major functions is law and order. Where is it? Why should I support any government that can’t provide it? Do we even HAVE a government now?

Notice that all this is happening under Donald Trump’s government. Mind you, policing this is a state and local affair; you can’t blame Trump for this. Finally — finally — the cops fight back in Portland like they should have been doing all along, if the city weren’t ruled by progressive civilian leadership:

But look, does anybody think this wouldn’t be happening under President Biden? Dream on. These people who are out destroying Kenosha aren’t normie Republicans or normie Democrats. The point is that the “At least Trump will keep us safe” meme is not working for the people of Kenosha. And how do you know it’s going to work for you in your city, should things kick off there?

If the meme in which you draw solace is, “If we get Trump out, things will go back to normal,” well my sweet summer child, read that Twitter thread. What’s going on in this country now is deeper than you think, and is not particularly responsive to who’s in and who’s out in Washington. And there are foreign state actors busy on the Internet goosing this stuff.

I’m not telling you to not vote for Trump, or to not vote for Biden. I’m telling you that we are in for a long and messy struggle ahead. There will be blood and fire. If it can happen in Kenosha, it can probably happen where you live.

I’ve had this working theory, for as long as I’ve been thinking seriously about the arrival of soft totalitarianism — basically, since just before I started writing my forthcoming book Live Not By Lies — and trying to figure out how it is likely to arrive in full force here. As you will be able to see in my book (it comes out September 29; pre-order it at that link), the progressive left has been moving steadily to conquer American institutions, especially cultural institutions. This is not something that politics can really stop. But it has been happening for some time, and it has accelerated this year.

If Trump wins, I’m not sure how this will play out. If Biden wins, he will face a lot of pressure to restore calm and order. Because he will already have the buy-in of institutional elites, who are not only progressive, but who also are so grateful to him for not being Trump, Biden will move aggressively to implement the rudiments of what James Poulos calls “the Pink Police State,” and I call soft totalitarianism. Put simply, the state will begin to use technological means to manage discontent via something like China’s social credit system. Major corporations and financial institutions will cooperate with the state to marginalize and ban right-of-center groups and individuals — and the usual civil libertarian groups, having gone totally woke, will not object.

Michael Brendan Dougherty has a depressing analysis in National Review today. Excerpt:

All of the culturally formative institutions of American life — public education, academia, the entertainment industry, and, increasingly, the rest of corporate America — are controlled by progressives, and as such are a gravitational force dragging the country leftward.

Don’t believe me? Neil Gorsuch ruled earlier this year that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects transgender rights, even though it was passed years before academics invented the concept of transgenderism. The Big Tech companies are run by progressives. The sports leagues are bending the knee too. Major international corporations, while willing to meet with Republican politicians and occasionally throw a max-dollar contribution to a GOP congressmen to keep the regulators off their backs, will turn around and give a seven-figure donation to a progressive NGO or activist group.

The last four years should have proved that Republican officeholders — and Trump in particular — cannot achieve conservative aims in this environment. They can’t keep the Little Sisters of the Poor out of federal court. They can’t stop public schools from adopting the 1619 Project as the basis of their history curriculums. They can’t stop the government from funding “social science” that is designed to portray allegiance to family, place, and faith as fascistic, dangerous, and oppressive. And they can’t stop the riots. Trump can’t end the interminable foreign wars other Republicans started, and he can’t get the intelligence community or the military to stop leaking embarrassing information to the press. He can’t even get a cabinet confirmed.

In short, there is almost nothing the modern GOP can do. There is no principle this party, particularly as led by Trump, is capable of defending. The one thing it can do, beyond passing tax cuts, is deprive progressives of unified control of government and civil society. Given how unpopular some GOP policy goals are, I suspect that this may be the only reason Republicans continue to win office.

Read it all. 

I suspect that this is why so many on the left and on the right don’t see what’s happening. For the left, it’s like, “What soft totalitarianism? Donald Trump is in the White House, and the Republicans control the Senate!” Many on the right suffer from the same delusion. The truth is, political power is not the only form of power; it’s not even the most important form of power. 

From Live Not By Lies:

In our populist era, politicians and talk-radio polemicists can rile up a crowd by denouncing elites. Nevertheless, in most societies, intellectual and cultural elites determine its long-term direction. “[T]he key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks,” writes sociologist James Davison Hunter.Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses, says Hunter, “it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” working through their “well-developed networks and powerful institutions.”

You can say to yourself, “Who cares what The New York Times thinks?” Well, the people who administer the elite networks do. Later today I’m going to post something a reader sent in from her local public school system, about how the educational elites in her county are openly conspiring to prevent parents from knowing that their children in the system are presenting themselves as the opposite gender. The people running school systems are plugged in to the cultural ecosystem of which The New York Times — a vital pro-trans propaganda source — is a part. The people who run the large corporation you work for are part of this network too, and are influenced by it. The capture of the ruling class by the progressive left is decisive. As MBD assesses, this is why we have Republican Party government, yet the culture keeps moving steadily leftward.

More from Live Not By Lies:

Silvester Krčméry, one of Father Kolaković’s disciples, put it:

We live, contented and safe, with the idea that in a civilized country, in the mostly cultured and
democratic environment of our times, such a coercive regime is impossible. We forget that in unstable countries, a certain political structure can lead to indoctrination and terror, where individual elements and stages of brainwashing are already implemented. This, at first, is quite inconspicuous. However, often in a very short time, it can develop into a full undemocratic totalitarian system.

It only takes a catalyst like war, economic depression, plague, or some other severe and prolonged crisis that brings the legitimacy of the liberal democratic system into question. As Arendt warned more than half a century ago:

There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible by means of liberal
rationalizations. In each one of us, there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense. The road to totalitarian domination leads through many intermediate stages for which we can find numerous analogues and precedents. . . . What common sense and “normal people” refuse to believe is that everything is possible.

We are an increasingly unstable country. The state cannot live with that forever, and won’t. Unlike the late 1960s and early 1970s, the last time we faced such unrest, the state has far more technological resources at its disposal to manage dissent, and it also has a population that is less committed to traditional norms of liberal democracy. A Trump re-election might slow the soft-totalitarian process down, but it won’t stop it. A Biden election will accelerate it, because that process will have total buy-in by the ruling class within institutions and networks, especially the media.

Prepare. Everything is possible — and in a very short time.

UPDATE: A reader sends in this. It’s a big graphic, so be warned:

The reader adds:

I don’t know whose side this guy was on, and it does not really matter. Violence begets violence and if the police do not impose order, more of this will come.

Democrats cannot concede the streets to Left wing mobs. That is to relinquish legitimate power and leave the power up for grabs. Nature abhors a vacuum. If the police will not control the streets, someone will take the power that the police formerly had. The Left wing mob will use that power to target people and hurt them. Someone will rise up and contest the power of the Left wing mobs. When Right wing militias contest Left wing for power over the streets, we have civil war.

This is what happened toward the end of Weimar Germany: left-wing mobs and right-wing mobs fighting in the streets. It will not go on forever.

UPDATE: Reader Arnot comments:

For those of us in cities that are not the Portlands of the world (like Kenosha and Peoria), do you really think we are saying to ourselves “Trump is in charge and yet this is happening! Why isn’t he saving us?? Surely, Biden would!!” No. When Trump even threatens to send in the National Guard, our own elected Democratic Party leaders refuse the help and support the mob. We’re not thinking “even Trump can’t stop this, maybe Biden can.” We are thinking this is what happens when you put Democrats in power. This is what they believe and who they support. I sure wish I lived in one of those few Republican-run cities right now. Lesson learned the hard way.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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