An Iraqi Sunni, a Bosnian Serb, and a Moro Muslim walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey, you’ve all been politically downgraded.” So they shoot up the place, killing everyone.
Ha! That’s a good one.
OK, it’s not. But it proves a point.
You see, in addition to showing that “walk into a bar” jokes are lame, this scenario illustrates what political scientists call “downgrading.” The term refers to “a dominant group’s loss of status.”
In Iraq, the Sunnis were in charge until America took out Saddam Hussein (totally worth it—yup). In the former Yugoslavia, the Serbians ruled Bosnia until the nation dissolved into chaos. And in the Philippines, the Moro Muslims were dominant in Mindanao until the government took away their privileged status.
In all three cases, and in numerous other examples around the world, “those experiencing not just political defeat, but ‘status reversal’ [were] most likely to initiate conflict.” The Sunnis, Serbs, and Moro all fired the first shots in full-blown civil wars.
The popular image is that of a downtrodden revolutionary taking up arms against an oppressive government. While that sometimes happens, the more common instigators of violent conflict are groups that were once in charge but have lost power.
This makes sense, in that people who are used to being oppressed will often put up with it year after year. Furthermore, they are unlikely to ever be in a strong enough position to just start shooting without getting immediately wiped out.
But people who have spent generations on top, and wake up one day to discover that their word is no longer law… well, they don’t take it lightly, and they often have the resources to do something about it. They will not tolerate “losing status in a place they believe is theirs.”
So they attack, first on a cultural level by insisting that any societal changes are direct affronts to them, then on a legal level by using their status to cement laws that give their group preferential treatment. And if that doesn’t renew the old hierarchy, they erupt into armed confrontation to “take their country back.” This is why political scientists say that “in the twenty-first century, the most dangerous factions are once-dominant groups facing decline.
On a totally unrelated note, research has found that “15 to 20 million Americans think violence would be justified to return Trump to office.”
So there’s that.
White conservatives have held the bulk of power for most of American history, and they will be damned if they are going to just hand over the country to a bunch of trans immigrant environmentalists who don’t worship the right god. Hell, even white liberals are nervous about ethnic minorities taking over.
But it is the white conservative, exemplified by the Republican Party, that seeks to solidify its place on top of the cultural pyramid. And to do so, it is willing to “salute aggregated power, stifle dissent, declare martial law … rewrite history to suit its needs, disregard realities, overturn election results, disenfranchise women, [and] arm all its citizens.”
And if these lunatic actions “hurtle us deeper into a paranoid, dangerous, atomized culture,” too bad. White conservatives see the demographic changes that will erase their ethnic aristocracy, and they fear the end of their chokehold on American culture. As such, they believe that they have nothing to lose.
But their assault on democracy will never end. You see, when once-dominant groups are “driven by fantasies, by resentment, by an internalized sense of inferiority, there is no redemption in anything.” It doesn’t matter if they win elections, burn books, drive out the immigrants, or get told—over and over again—that they’re special. They will find that “even shooting at other citizens does not soothe their anger but instead deepens the spiritual and moral void that haunts them.”
They will keep fighting, even in the unlikely event that they get back on top. And if they cannot accomplish their goals, they will just burn the whole place down, so that nobody can have the power that was once theirs.
This has happened around the world, repeatedly, and here is no reason to believe that it can’t happen in America.
Featured image: Pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, January 20, 2020 (Mobilus In Mobili/CC BY-SA 2.0)