I want to continue talking about Snyder’s idea of “the politics of inevitability” just a little bit more.
One of my readers pointed out that this theory that was employed by people in the west as well as the east is really a version of determinism. And the problem with determinism is that even if events are determined it is extremely difficult to predict the future.
What the Americans thought was their own inevitable dominance after that collapse of the Soviet Empire turned out to be one more dangerous illusion. The road to heaven turned out to be more complicated than that. In fact, the road to heaven turned out to be a road to unfreedom. Inevitability turned out to be a churlish illusion. As Timothy Snyder said,
“The American politics of inevitability, like all such stories, resisted facts. The fates of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus after 1991 showed well enough that the fall of one system did not create a blank slate on which nature generated markets and markets generated rights. Iraq in 2003 might have confirmed this lesson, had the initiators of America’s illegal war reflected upon its disastrous consequences. The financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation of campaign contributions in the United States magnified the influence of the wealthy and reduced that of voters. As economic inequality grew, time horizons shrank, and fewer Americans believed that the future held a better version of the present. Lacking a functional state that assured basic social goods taken for granted elsewhere—education, pensions, health care, transport, parental leave, vacations—Americans could be overwhelmed by each day, and lose a sense of the future.”
The decline of America was set in motion. Nothing was inevitable except the crushing power of wealth.
Americans don’t believe this even though they so powerfully demonstrate it. Inequality breeds contempt. First inequality ushers in resentment, then contempt. First, the lowly feel resentment about their “betters” and then they feel contempt for themselves for failing to live up to their own ideals. They see themselves as losers. Their self-respect is curdled by envy. It had happened earlier to African Americans enslaved for centuries until many of them lost their ability to love even themselves as shown in the novels of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. We need a writer of equal power to tell us the truth of what happened after 2008. Instead, we have too many people who don’t want to look at the truth of modern North American society and prefer the contentment of looking at comfortable myths.
Such a situation is ripe for the demagogue. America got exactly that. It got Donald Trump to make America (and of course Americans) great again. What a wonderful illusion. All they had to do was keep out the undesirables and have faith in their new leader. He could do it. And astonishingly, millions of Americans believed him, without any evidence that he could do it. They believed it because they wanted it so much to be true.
The same thing happened in Russia. They got Putin. He promised Russians that the Soviet Empire could be revived. He would do that in Ukraine. So far he has just brought ruin without empire. In Russia, as in the United States, some people achieved enormous wealth while ordinary people were left to suck socks. And that created huge problems in both countries.