A doomsday scenario in 2012

A leftist contemplates the unraveling of generations of political progress in next year's election. The Occupy movement may be just a foretaste of the resistance soon to come.

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An Occupy Seattle protester holds up her sign.

A leftist contemplates the unraveling of generations of political progress in next year's election. The Occupy movement may be just a foretaste of the resistance soon to come.

I have been a political radical most of the past 60 years. As a young professor at the UW, I refused to sign the state loyalty oath and was afraid I would have to leave for Canada. I traveled across the Deep South in the summer of 1963. Bad as things are today, it is hard for people now to grasp the degradation and horrors of racial discrimination and segregation and the absence of rights now considered to be normal and of long standing. Abortion? No way. Contraception? Difficult and often illegal. Gay rights? Inconceivable? Medical care for the elderly poor? Good luck.

The expansion of rights and improvements in economic security to individuals and groups has been vast in the 47 years since the first civil rights legislation (which came out of Sen. Warren Magnuson’s Commerce Committee, since southerners ruled Judiciary). A wide array of economic initiatives reduced poverty and expanded the middle classes, at least until the most recent decade.

I grew up in LA, and knew Peter Douglas, son of Melvyn and Helen Gahagan Douglas. I became an ardent Nixon hater as a result of his smear campaign against her election to the Senate. Yet ironically, it was 1975, just after Nixon's corrupt presidency, that the United States achieved the lowest degree of income inequality in our history, and relatively the best average status of the Black male.

We now take much of this for granted as part of the fabric of society. Yet most of the positive changes are at risk being destroyed, and much of the advances dating from the 1930s through 1950s are threatened as well — unions, minimum wages, unemployment insurance, even Social Security itself! Vast damage to American society has already occurred in the excesses of globalization and deindustrialization. The astounding increase in inequality has put us back to levels last known in 1913.

Although these policies were initiated and most ardently pursued in Republican presidencies, many elected Democrats acquiesced. They, too, abandoned the interests of the “working class” and even much of the middle class, in the embrace of globalization, acceptance of tax cuts for the wealthy, and a bail-out of the big banks but not of beleaguered home buyers. Instead they pursued such policies as smart growth and rail transit which are profoundly anti-family and anti-poor. No wonder much of the historic left no longer supports the Democratic party.

My doomsday scenario, which I put at 50-50, is that the far right in 2012 wins the presidency and both houses of Congress. I fear that the corporate and wealthy elite are willing to destroy the country in order to prevent a return to fair taxation and tighter regulation. The socially conservative half of the population, often less educated or inclined to rely more on emotion and belief than on reason, is willing to destroy the country in order to get rid of a Democratic president. The more racially prejudiced feel this way because Obama is Black and “not a US citizen”; others because they are afraid of social change and the “erosion of traditional moral standards”; still others because they are fearful for their economic future and blame the current administration.

If this political shift occurs in Congress and in the large majority of states, we may expect the rushed passage of constraints against unions, repeal of the recent health bill, further privatization of Medicare and Social Security, and new laws against abortion, gay rights, availability of contraception, and affirmative action. We may witness the promotion of a narrow form of Christian religion and creationism in the public schools and other institutions, repeal of much environmental regulation, and even a return to persecution of “too liberal” professionals.

Sure these efforts will be fought over in the courts, which will slow down the severity of actual change. We could also experience both labor and race riots, and plausibly, and hopefully, the marches of millions of women, veterans, minorities, gays, and others on Washington DC and state capitols, thereby filling the jails and overwhelming the courts. Occupy Wall Street may be a foretaste of what’s to come.

Meanwhile, since no one, across the spectrum from left to right, in the US or Europe, has a clue on how to restore the economy and reduce unemployment, we will head into a more severe recession. A counter-revolution could comes in 2014, slowing the erosion of social rights, but will no one still know what to do about the economy?

Readers, tell me that this is wrong! What can we do?


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Dick Morrill

Dick Morrill is emeritus professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert in urban demography.