Noah Smith offers 1930s Spain as an example for the USA today

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


This means that if the U.S. had a civil war along currently existing left-right lines – i.e., Republican voters vs. Democratic voters – the right would win. It would probably win more quickly and decisively than the Spanish right won. This is not just because of military sympathies and gun ownership, of course. The American right has a population advantage among men, who are more likely to fight in war than women. It also has greater organization, being mostly unified by religion (Christianity), race (white), and a shared vision of history. As for foreign intervention, Russia would probably be on the side of the American right, while there is no foreign great power that would obviously intervene to help the American left.

What would be the consequences of a rightist victory in that kind of civil war? Lots and lots of people would die, many more of them on the left than on the right. Nonwhites, religious minorities, and suspected leftist sympathizers would be the victims of many massacres. Right-wing paramilitaries would rape many leftist and minority women, as in Spain. The U.S. economy would crater, hurting red and blue America alike. A dysfunctional, repressive regime would set in, with atrocities probably continuing for decades. The country might break up, or might eventually have a Spain-like democratic restoration, but the U.S. would be a much poorer country and certainly a second-rate global power. (As for me, if I’m still alive, I’ll be in Canada or Australia or Japan writing angry, drunken blog posts denouncing the right and lamenting the fall of America – like Pablo Picasso, but without the artistic talent.)

I’m 100% with him up to this point.

Then he goes off on a tangent about “stridency”:

I worry about this stridency. I worry that this attitude, and these tactics, depend crucially on the assumption that we live in a constitutional, democratic regime that is so unshakably stable that raised fists, angry op-eds, and the ballot box will always be able to prevail. I worry that they have forgotten Mao’s adage that “power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” and that the other side – as the sides are currently drawn – has all the guns.

But what would it look like if the Left woke up and started to organize for resistance? The first step is to convince people that fighting against the Right is the morally correct thing to do. And therefore left writers should write things such as “People voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes. They don’t deserve your empathy.” But Noah Smith links to this article to indicate disagreement.

And then Noah Smith writes this:

Instead, I think the left should focus on reaching out and broadening its tent. Instead of relentlessly enforcing purity, I think the left should try to win over many of the folks who switched their votes from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

I could respond with snark: does he mean Jill Stein voters?

But I’ll respond seriously.

Let me tell you about that. Back in the early 1990s I spent a good chunk of my time going door to door in rural Louisiana, doing outreach to the community on behalf of a labor union. My focus was definitely not on “enforcing purity”, rather, I wanted to understand what the rural voter feared, and why they voted the way they do. I engaged in hundreds of conversations with people, from diverse backgrounds, about what was happening in the USA.

Do I feel like doing that now, 20 years later? No. As I wrote back in 2010:”

I am surprised by what I’ve been thinking this last year or two. For the sake of seeing some consistent movement in progressive politics, I’ve come round to the opinion that militancy on the Left is perhaps a useful thing. Not a good thing, but at least useful. These thoughts seem almost old fashioned. Militancy and discipline on the Left are concepts from the 1930s, they seem out of place in 2010. And yet, I can imagine them allowing for more progress than what has been normal for the last 50 years. I’ve recently become a believer that a trained and militant cadre would do a lot to help advance progressive causes in the USA. All the flaws and failures of this approach are well known to me – the in-fighting, the obscene factionalism, the constant lying and back-stabbing. I’ve seen a little of that with my own eyes, and I’ve read a lot about that stuff in history books. All the same, what are the alternatives? I’ve seen progressive movements try to take a relaxed and casual approach to politics all my life, and those movements have not been enough to defeat the overall conservatism of the era.

I’d state this even more strongly in 2016.

It’s important to note where the analogy to Spain fails: surviving on a mostly agricultural economy was an option in the 1930s. That is not an option now. The people who voted for Trump are lost in nostalgia, dreaming of the old industrial and agricultural success that the USA enjoyed 100 years ago. Fascism can not bring back the old industrial jobs. There is only one way forward for the economy, and it involves more technology. This issue has been much discussed since the early 1960s, yet a large part of the USA public continues to resist the idea.

It’s important to note how central racism is in fostering these hopeless, nostalgic economic ideas. I don’t use the word “racism” as an accusation, I mean it is an identity that retards economic progress. A knowledge economy tends to undercut the old racial categories. The Democrats have spent much of the last 50 years talking about re-gearing the economy, and its workers, to fit with the knowledge economy, but many whites continue to vote against the Democrats, simply because the Democrats continue to insist that the knowledge economy should be open to all, regardless of race. So the whites vote against the future, because the party promoting a positive view of the future is also the party that wants equal rights for non-whites.

Noah Smith seems to think that the Left should stop “relentlessly enforcing purity”. I don’t think that’s possible, on both moral and economic grounds. In the first place, it is immoral to stop fighting for what is right, but in the second place, it is bad economics.

At some point the whites have to admit that the economy has changed. At some point the whites have to admit that the old agricultural and industrial jobs are gone. At some point the whites have to commit to the future. Trump can not save them from the future. There is no point trying to sugarcoat this. Rather, we should be as blunt as possible.

I am all done trying to “understand” these people. From this point forward, I intent to be blunt. These people are acting like fools, and they need to be told that, over and over, until they finally understand it.

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