I’ve been following Umair Haque’s blog for years. He could use a good copy editor, so pardon the punctuation. For a long time, though, his basic thesis is that America is collapsing into a fascist state (a phrase that we need to be using on a regular basis) and that the window of opportunity to realize a new, more equitable future is rapidly closing. The door is nearly shut now.
Reading this (or even the New York Times opinion page, for heaven’s sake), it’s jarring to place economic forecasts alongside the giddy social media posts about people returning to bars and restaurants this week “because we’re all ganna die anyway lol! Gatta live your life!” The short-term need to tell moderate liberal politicians to fuck off is outweighing the long-term health of what little remains of a shared democracy. There’s a chance to reorganize how we understand one another in society, how we live, and the coronavirus pandemic has given us a great reason to set aside the mundane perks of modern dining and really think about what a better world might look like. Again, the door is nearly shut, but we’ve been given a time-out at the 11th hour to reconsider what’s happened to date. A very grim, tragic time-out, but nonetheless we can make outsize moves in a different direction if we collectively decide to do so. Think of it like a social contract amendment that needs to be signed, like, before the end of the day.
Here, Haque illustrates the five transformations of an economic collapse. (The political collapse is well under way, as defined by any number of basic flow charts into fascist rule.) This is all very relatable stuff, very clear economic readout. “Why is it that the average American is the only person in the rich world by now who votes against their own healthcare, retirement, education, childcare, and so on?” he writes. “Because they can’t afford it.”
This is the baseline for what we had going *into* 2020, and this is the very economic/political mismatch that breeds anger, resentment, violence, dehumanization. This is the status quo right now, anxiety and antipathy on a sprawling scale. Look — that door’s closing fast!
“As a result of depression, an economy’s whole structure tends to change,” Haque writes. And this is the inverted curve we’re already seeing, all very obvious, where the middle class shrinks to a minority. It’s very plain to see in quality-of-life metrics comparing today’s young workers to someone graduating fairly debt-free from a four-year university in 1975. (Now, if I hear one fucking millennial joke…) “The gentle bell curve of a modern society — a broad middle — is so crucial because it underpins and anchors democracy. Democracy is a luxury. It takes time, money, effort. … America’s ruling class is now visibly made of predators, the kinds of men who put men in cages, or addict a whole society to painkillers, just to make more money they’ll never spend.”
It doesn’t happen all at once. Think of the Great Depression: It didn’t just zip by in a few weeks. The people who lived through that economic crisis surely realized that the entire vision and structure of society had changed around them, but perhaps only in retrospect. The day’s immediate needs do tend to outweigh the future’s vast consequence, but I don’t think it’s difficult, really, to try and look ahead to what’s coming. It’s not good. And whatever it is, it doesn’t give a fuck if you’re going to your favorite restaurant this week or not.