It Could Happen Here: America on the Brink
By Bruce Judson
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann
In some important ways, Judson’s book follows perfectly on a line of thought presented in three of my previous book reviews:
In “Reinventing Collapse,” Dmitry Orlov talked about his experience as a teenager in Russia when the USSR collapsed and how now, as an American resident, he sees the same dynamics at play here – only we’re less well prepared than was the former Soviet state.
In “The Great Crash of 1929,” John Kenneth Galbraith laid out how Republican/conservative economic policies played out through three successive Republican presidencies led directly to the Great Depression in 1929, and implicitly how thirty years of Reaganomics/Clintonomics is leading us in the same direction now.
And in “The Impact of Inequality” Richard Wilkinson shows how the more unequal a society is, the more sick and unstable it becomes – and documents how the United States is now the most unequal industrial society in the world.
In “It Could Happen Here,” Bruce Judson walks us right up to the edge of a total political collapse in the United States – a “revolution” is the word he uses – and points out that we’re a country that has often experienced both revolutions and violence in response to economic crises.
The United States “is not immune from history,” Judson says, and lays out the factors that he believes could well lead us to a collapse/revolution that would permanently alter the landscape of this nation. The most important of these factors, he suggests, is that revolutions are likely to happen not when people experience the most privation (which is what conventional wisdom suggests) but, instead, when people’s expectations for the quality of their lives are dashed quickly, unfairly, and without recourse.
The American Dream is, for most Americans, no longer viable, as Judson documents in frightening detail in this book. It’s been replaced by underwater home values, massive credit card debt, the most rigid economic/social order in the industrialized world (for the first time in two centuries, in America today the most reliable predictor of a child’s economic future is his parents’ economic status), and a growing certainty that the political game has been rigged by big wealthy interests at the expense of average working people.
The book opens with a series of real-world news clips about how nuclear material necessary to make dirty bombs has gone missing all over the world, and how economic rot and unrest are roiling the American heartland. Then Judson steps into the single chapter of fiction in the book, in which he speculates how an American Revolution may happen in the 21st century. It involves a revolutionary group that seems like a well intentioned but determined melding of SDS and Tea Partiers – and they have several dirty bombs. The first goes off – with enough warning that nobody is hurt – just off the coast of New Jersey.
News reports then begin to pour in: “Stocks tumbled by over 18 percent yesterday on news that a dirty bomb was exploded, most likely by terrorists, off the Atlantic coast of the United States. The Dow fell by 19 percent, the NASDAQ by 21 percent, and the S&P 500 Index by almost 20 percent in one of the largest single-day percentage declines in the history of the stock market.”
From there, the “Americans for Economic Equality” (the aforementioned “terrorist” group) make demands to return America to a more egalitarian society by taxing the rich and increasing benefits like health care for all to working people. The President and Congress “stand strong” against the “terrorists,” refusing to accede to their demands or negotiate with them. So a second dirty bomb goes off….and I’ll leave you to read the rest of this great bit of fictional speculation.
After this all-too-believable narrative – a sort of “people friendly” version of The Turner Diaries – Judson then launches into a detailed explanation of why revolutions have historically happened, and details why America may be next.
The bad news is that Judson’s scenario is so credible and his statistics are not only easily verified but felt in the gut of every American who lives from paycheck to paycheck (which, tragically – and unlike Western Europe and Japan – includes most of us).
The good news is that in his fictional narrative the outcome is positive, and in the end of the book he lays out a series of steps we can take to prevent the “terrorist” revolutionaries from emerging in the first place. (Most of his solutions could be summarized – my words not his – as “roll back the Reagan Revolution.”)
“The Turner Diaries” – a rightwing novel of modern American revolution where the “good, white, Christian” revolutionaries rise up to kill off or deport all the people of color and Jews in America – directly inspired large parts of the modern militia movement in America, provoking Tim McVeigh to follow that book’s fictional scenario in which the American Revolution begins when a good white Christian guy blows up a Midwestern Federal Building with a truck bomb.
While all readers of “It Could Happen Here” hope this book’s fictional revolutionary scenario isn’t played out, its nonfiction suggestions – if taken to heart by our politicians – could both prevent future McVeighs and future “Americans for Economic Equality” and their dirty bombs.
Ultimately, this book is a call for revolution – albeit peaceful – and it’s a revolution (or counterrevolution, in that it’s the reversal of thirty years of Reagan policies) that would be of great benefit to both America and the world.