The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

America’s Future: Sheriff Joe Arpaio

As you may be aware, Sheriff Joe, he of the infamous tent cities and constant violation of civil rights, is considering running for Arizona governor.  And there’s reason to believe  that if he does he’ll probably win.

My guess is that Joe Arpaio is the future of America.  There is a swelling tide of right wing populism, now that Democrats have refused to allow left-wing populism any purchase.  The anger is building as people on the ground see that banks and insurance companies and other fat cats are being taken care of, while ordinary people lose their jobs, their houses, and the very hope they were promised by Barack Obama.

The health care bill being passed is only going to intensify this.  Most of the benefits don’t kick in till 2014, but the taxes kick in before then.  The talking point of being forced to buy bad insurance is going to be used, over and over again.

When I was a kid, I grew up in large part in Vancouver.  Vancouver at the time had a lot of Chinese and a huge influx of Sikhs, yet there was very little racism.  I commented on that to my Dad once, a man who had grown up in the Great Depression and who had lived and worked all over the world, including in the southern US in the 50s, and his response is one I’ve always remembered.

“Things are fine now, because there are enough jobs.  As soon as things get bad, you just watch how racism and hatred flare up.”

When people are down, they can either come together in shared hope and work for a better future, or they can fragment into identity groups, looking for scapegoats for what’s wrong with their world.  Sherrif Joe offers the boot: the sense of a strong man enforcing the laws and making bad people pay—bad people who aren’t like you.

He offers simple solutions to hard problems.  His solutions won’t work, but they offer certainty and a sense of direction when people have none.

So do other right wing populist canards like tort reform (everyone hates lawyers) and a flat tax (who likes trying to figure out their tax form) and fighting terrorists.  They don’t work.  They won’t work.  But no one is offering the sort of left wing populism that will work, and the only other thing on offer right now is a Democratic party which seems to bail out every corporation in the land, while ignoring citizens.

So America’s going to get a right wing populist backlash.  The Tea Parties, which left-wingers were laughing at 6 months ago, are now as popular or more popular than either of the major political parties.

Populist rage is one of those forces you either harness or get flattened by.  Looks like “flattened by” is what Democrats have chosen.  Unfortunate for them, and even more unfortunate for America, because the Tea Party’s solutions not only won’t work, they’ll make things worse.

But, as Churchill once said, “Americans always do the right thing, after doing all the wrong things first”.

I guess we’ve got another cycle of wrong things to go.  I wonder if, after that, America will be strong enough for any of the right things to work.

Note: edited to reflect that Sherrif Joe isn’t running yet, just considering it, though polls show that if he runs he will probably win.  Mea culpa.


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  1. Lex


    I always knew that i shouldn’t have come back. Perhaps it’s time to start making serious plans to get out again. Most places probably won’t be much better, but the US will be a violent mess.

  2. It’s a sign of our times that Joe Arpaio isn’t in jail.

  3. Bolo

    I didn’t know he was running for governor… good thing we’re getting out of Phoenix in May. Canada’s looking better all the time.

    The frightening thing is speaking with ardent Arpaio supporters. They love him and they love his abuse of prisoners and illegal immigrans. Of course, they don’t call it that, but that’s what it is.

  4. Greg

    Canada’s looking better all the time.

    Do your research first. We are gaining ground on the U.S. every day, in the bat-shit crazy derby.

  5. Ian Welsh

    Virtually every country in the modern world is shifting right, unfortunately. The question is where they’re starting from…

  6. Ian, perceptive comment indeed: “Virtually every country in the modern world is shifting right, unfortunately. The question is where they’re starting from…” As you know, my best friend lives in Denmark, and even there, where the social contract and general social consensus is strong is showing signs of unraveling.

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