Our stereotype of the banana republic dictator is that he/she does their oppressing from above – with the military, the secret police, the “legal system” and so on.
And that’s all true – the KGB, the Gestapo, the Pasdaran, were or are all pretty effective at making life miserable, nasty, brutish and short for those who didn’t toe the authorities’ lines (and, often enough, for those who did, just to be safe).
But Americans are blessed to live in a place where, for the most part, we haven’t had to learn about how authoritarians subjugate us from “below” – by weaponizing the “underclass” against the middle.
History is chock full of examples, of whom most Americans are blissfully uneducated.
The Soviets weaponized envy against the closest thing that existed to a “middle class” in much of the USSR, the “kulaks” – which, like “counterrevolutionary”, was a fungible, malleable term that ould be expanded to include pretty much anyone those in power disdained. Sort of like “racist”, “misogynist” and “fascist” today.
The Nazi Sturmabteilung – popularly “the Brownshirts” – were a popular way for people with no particular talent or skill to fit into something, by being a thug and smacking down the opposition (and the Communists’ Rote Fahne, which lives on as “Anti”-Fa today, were the same thing for the communists).
The “Red Guards” in China certainly weaponized class envy, along with a parallel groups in Cambodia.
Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega enlisted his “Dignity Battalions” – a “paramilitary” mass of down-and-outers and slum-dwellers who beat down opposition without a whole lot of ceremony.
Iran’s Basiji – basically a theo-political militia reporting to the Revolutionary Guards – serve much the same purpose in Iran; they are “Karen” with firearms. ]
And Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Militia of Venezuela” – basically a half-million-strong mob of thugs that bypasses the military chain of command to report to Maduro? Same exact model – a mass of characters with no particular stake in life other than upholding the regime/s that gave, or give, them any status at all.
All of them were threats looming out there, awaiting anyone who spoke up, who demonstrated, who were seen to be thinking about being a threat to the various regimes. A nervous knot in the stomach that everyone needed to keep in mind, and keep happy.
The lesson is obvious – a population that’s nervous about getting pummeled in the street, and publicly castigated out of public life by a drooling mob of (usually armed, always legally-supported) people, can’t do mundane (to Americans) things like organize, speak, oppose the regime. It ratchets the consequence curve outside the range of more and more people’s abilities to accept.
Nervous people are politically passive people.
I thought about that reading the news that Los Angeles County is decriminalizing a wide swathe of offenses:
In a new policy directive entitled “Declination Policy Directive,” Gascon has directed his subordinates not to enforce Penal Code Section 602 (trespass), Penal Code Section 415 (Disturbing the Peace), or Driving without a Valid License (Cal. Vehicle Code Section 12500).
Social justice warriors believe these are all statutes the white aristocracy uses to subjugate members of minority communities, institutionalizing racism. Resisting Arrest will also no longer be prosecuted.
Gascon will end the practice of charging minors as adults for murder and other serious crimes. He will extend victims services to the families of anyone shot by police. He will eliminate gang enhancements in criminal complaints, a practice Republicans initiated in the 1990s. He will have no cash bail, and the death penalty will no longer “be on the table.”
So – if you’re a “normal” in LA County, you have to worry about your city/county regime arbitrarily shutting down your livelihood. You have to worry about “Anti”-Fa and the cancel mob coming after your personal and professional reputation. And even without all that, you have to be concerned about the ongoing decay in your community that these sorts of policies inevitably bring.
LA County is doing de jure, by the way, what Minneapolis is doing de facto today. Watch for the student senate that runs Minneapolis to keep up with the Joneses before too terribly long.