Wikinvest Wire

Why aren't Americans rioting?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In this piece at, Joshua Holland asks an interesting (and timely) question: Why aren't Americans rioting in the streets in response to the worsening financial and economic crisis like much of the rest of the world?

Over the past few years, a series of riots spread across what is patronizingly known as the Third World. Furious mobs have raged against skyrocketing food and energy prices, stagnating wages and unemployment in India, Senegal, Yemen, Indonesia, Morocco, Cameroon, Brazil, Panama, the Philippines, Egypt, Mexico and elsewhere.

For the most part, those living in wealthier countries took little notice. But now, with the global economy crashing down around us, people in even the wealthiest nations are mad as hell and reacting violently to what they view as an inadequate response to their tumbling economies.

The Telegraph (UK) warned last month that protests over governments' handling of the crisis "are widespread and gathering pace," and "may spark a new revolution".
It seems that people are pretty riled up everywhere these days.

That is, everywhere except for the U.S.

After recounting the increasingly violent protests and demonstrations in the U.K., Greece, Latvia, France, Iceland, and Russia, attention is then turned to the U.S.
Notably absent from the list of countries where the economic crunch is rending the social fabric is the good ole US of A, a state with the greatest level of economic inequality in the wealthy world.

Outside of a few scattered and quickly contained protests, the citizens of the U.S. -- a country born of revolution, but with an elite that's been terrified of that legacy since immediately after its founding -- have been calm, despite opinion polls showing that Americans are more dissatisfied with the direction in which the country has been headed since they began measuring such things.

It's a baffling disconnect, considering that real wages for all but the top 10 percent of the economic pile haven't increased in 35 years.
Americans are rightfully angry about that state of affairs, but with a few small exceptions, quietly so. Why? It depends on whom you ask.

In a 2006 interview with Harper's, Barack Obama shared a subtle, but rather fundamental observation about America's political culture: "Since the founding," he said, "the American political tradition has been reformist, not revolutionary." If there is to be positive change, Obama has argued, it must be gradual; "brick by brick," as he put it in one of his final campaign speeches.

Mark Ames, author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond, argues that Americans have been beaten down to a degree that they're now a pacified population, largely willing to accept any economic outrage its elites impose on them.

In a 2005 interview with AlterNet, Ames said the "slave mentality" is stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere, "in part because no other country on earth has so successfully crushed every internal rebellion."

Slaves in the Caribbean for example rebelled a lot more because their oppressors weren't as good at oppressing as Americans were. America has put down every rebellion, brutally, from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Confederate rebellion to the proletarian rebellions, Black Panthers, white militias ... you name it. This creates a powerful slave mentality, a sense that it's pointless to rebel.
As The Nation's Bill Greider told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "you can't do this to people year after year -- that is, upturn their lives, take away what they thought they had earned, and so forth and so on, without provoking rather intense political reactions. ... We're just, just beginning to see a few bubbles like that around this country. I don't say we're going to have riots, but I think ... people, out of their own distress and anger, will organize their own politics, and they will make themselves seen and heard around this country."
Surprisingly, the role of religion in the American culture was not mentioned, but, it is arguably as big a factor as any other.

If I can find the chart from Pew Research from a few years ago showing how much more important religion is in the U.S. than anywhere else in the developed world, I'll tack it on to the end of this post, but it seems to me that an abiding faith above and beyond President Obama's ability to rescue the economy is somehow involved.


UPDATE: Tuesday, Feb. 3 - 10:30 AM PST

FWIW - Unable to locate the results of the Pew Research poll that asked "How important is God in your life?", the best that could be found was from an LA Times story that contained the following, very similar data.


nancefinance said...

Americans have shown their willingness to rise up and rebel when necessary: How about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War? Or the Civil Rights peace march 45 years ago? Many have risked much to defend their sense of justice and democracy. Riots are a childish response to a financial problem. Americans are more sensible and solution-oriented. The current crisis calls for sensible solutions. Do we realy want to be like Iceland? I don't think so.

donna said...

I think it is more the faith we have in ourselves that we will change the way things are. We have, time after time.

And we are a young nation, one that has changed more in its history than many, many older nations have in their time. We adapt quickly and create new conditions. Howe long did slavery exist before America existed, and how quickly did we overturn it? And now we have an African American president. How many other western countries have done that? So few.

We don't riot because we quietly work to change things. If we didn't think this would work, then sure, we would riot. But we expect, in the end, our efforts will pay off.

fish said...

In a 2005 interview with AlterNet, Ames said the "slave mentality" is stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere, "in part because no other country on earth has so successfully crushed every internal rebellion."

Slaves in the Caribbean for example rebelled a lot more because their oppressors weren't as good at oppressing as Americans were. America has put down every rebellion, brutally, from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Confederate rebellion to the proletarian rebellions, Black Panthers, white militias ... you name it. This creates a powerful slave mentality, a sense that it's pointless to rebel.

Americans haven't rebelled to any significant degree because by and large its been pretty good to this point. I suspect that thats about to change. Further, the U.S. has been very successful at suppressing these things because historically there has been a fairly strong belief that, warts and all, the government had the best interests of the citizenry at heart. This allowed the government to feel confident that it could count on its enforcers during these episodes. I suspect that that is also in the process of changing.

The slave mentality will disappear the first time that one of the set piece battles that the police and national guard is so good at fails. Then its death by a thousand cuts time.

The Romans failed...the Soviets failed....the authoritarian United States will also fail.

Maybe Panarin is right!

Jim said...

Our protests (riots) should be demonstrated by our vote. If only the American voting public would turn out in great numbers to vote out the bandits that now rule in both parties, as they did in the recent presidential election (as influenced by our powerful and ever-present media), we could see real change, not useless rhetoric. But, even our right to vote is greatly diminished by the media and high-priced ads aimed at "their" candidate of choice. Our choice of candidates is "rigged" and predetermined by the media. We have to find a way to change the media's influence on our vote before we can bring real change to our country. After only three weeks, I am greatly disappointed in our new administration and hope for a sign of real courage by our new President.

Rehoboth, MA

Junior said...

Possibly Americans are still under hypnosis and the collective delusion that Barack Obama is the savior of the free world.

They just haven't woken up yet.

And they made us fat so we couldn't move quickly... it will take more than just a fiscal dicking to get America to riot. Take away NASCAR and the NFL, that should do it.

Anonymous said...

We ARE Rioting, with our pocketbooks. No spending, No borrowuing in effect is telling Washington we DO NOT Trust YOU or your feeble (so far-its still early) stabs at fixing the Bushco-Cheneyburton Bankrupt America and kill-the-middle-class forever New Depression.

Next step is put those responsible in the dock and punish them. OR;

Start Killing one Another. Maybe a concept whose time has come? Only the strong survive?

Anonymous said...

As far as "rioting at the ballot box", some of us tried that and got nowhere. I couldn't write in Ron Paul, due to my state's election rules preventing that. I could only choose McCain or Obama. This is the first pres election I didn't vote in, in the ~20 years I have been legally able. In that minor way, my own revolt has already begun.

I think the US is going to get much more unstable when the govt starts to take over retirement savings and restrict withdrawals (-when pension withdrawals are seen as a threat to the banking industry, there will be restrictions on withdrawals-). As more private plans fail and pile on to the government insurance, confidence in the entire scheme will be lost, and more people will try to pull everything out they can.

By that time there will be a lot more people out of work with nothing better to do. I'd guess 3-5 years down the road....

A lot of people near retirement I have heard talk about this, they don't want to think that they already lost 20%-40% of their retirement. They believed what they were told and contributed all they could, and the thought of getting screwed right at the end is terrifying. Losing it all is a devil's name they won't even speak of. They're just hoping the market comes back (way back) before they punch their last time card....


Dan said...

Americans drink Fluoride.

Nick said...

I'd like to think that the American population is smarter than many social analysts give them credit for. For example, a large difference between rioting and revolting is that rioting rarely accomplishes anything, is easily controlled, and costs everyone, whereas a well planned revolt can be successful at affecting change. There are quite a few people who think what the government is doing is an absolute disaster, but as still smart enough to understand that rioting about it would be counter-productive; I'm not sure that level of social cognizance exists in most other countries.

Another reason you don't see widespread uprising in the US is that although most people vehemently don't approve of what the government is doing, the reasons are not uniform. For every person who finds it disgusting that the Fed is monetizing all the failed gambling debts of the banks, someone else thinks the government is not spending enough to "help restore the flow of credit", which in reality is the exact opposite wish, even though they might not be aware of it. The fact that even the media-proclaimed "savior" could only get roughly 53% of the vote is a testament to how divided the country is, and how the two-party system fails to produce anything other than partisan politics. If the American people ever collectively realize that it's not so much "the other party" which is the problem, and more the inability to have a competent non-partisan government with the two-party system, then we might see some more substantial change.

Ted Seeber said...

Simple- Americans by and large are either too rich to care, or too poor to riot.

We live in a third world nation today. Either we're too rich to care- because the worst the economic downturn has done is cost us a few surplus bank accounts for which we got quarter-million payouts from FICA. Or we're too poor to riot- so far underwater on mortgage/credit cards/car payments that we're either working overtime or spending 80 hours a week looking for a new job.

Who the hell has the luxury of RIOTING?!?!?!?

Jim said...

I’d guess it’s due to our lack of reliance on government. Americans at their core are individualists. During good times, we demand government get out of the way. We only turn to government in times of crisis. Countries in Europe rely heavily on government at all times for all number of services, so when things go wrong, people blame the government. Americans on the other hand tend to blame ourselves. An interesting experiment might be a simple two choice poll - “Who’s at fault?” with answers “government” and “us”. I would be willing to bet in America there would be a significant lean in the results to “us”, and in countries in Europe results would lean to “government”.

Anonymous said...

Depends on what form of government a country has. Now, if we had a parlimentary system where an election could be called immediately and a gov't thrown out, then it makes sense for the population to protest or hold nationwide strikes.

Here we can't even have nationwide strikes which were made illegal since just after WWII.

Now work slow downs and blue flu would work, and like the commenter above protest with your pocket book. Hell ya.

Anonymous said...

If I take day off to go riot, my job will end up in china! Plus can't afford to drive to riot area...Jim

little larry sellers said...

I think we Americans have turned propaganda into an art form and we're so good at lying to each other that most Americans are chugging vast quantities of Kool Aid without even realizing it. However, once faith in our ridiculous two party system is destroyed, the real progress can commence and people will begin to stir from their heavy slumber. Unfortunately, once Obama fails, it may take another go-round for the Repubs and possibly another from the Dems before people are fed up. I hate to think what the country will look like by that point.

The real villains in America (besides Wall St, the Fed, the Treasury Dept, etc) are the propagandists who frame the boundaries of acceptance within their own "wing". You're allowed to be a right winger, but you'd better not listen to that nutty Ron Paul or follow Austrian economics. You can be a lefty, but you'd better not take Chomsky seriously and you'd better loudly and repeatedly profess strong religious beliefs if you run for any office above school PTA board.

Once people get mad enough, Americans are capable of great things. Too bad we've been buying our own BS for so long that most people can't even identify what's causing the economic crisis, let alone know what to do about it.

Anonymous said...

A great many Americans have drunk so much of the cool-aid that we actually believe that we live in the land of free, with lberty and justice for all. This is further reinforced by a, among most,complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world. End result is a citizenry who will believe just about anything they are told as long as it fits the narrative and mythology of the United States (you can tint it blue or you can tint it red, the basic "values" are the same). Both Red and Blue politicians know this and will craft their messages accordingly and just takes turns to be at the top.

Anonymous said...

Why rise up and riot? That takes energy. Americans would rather stay home and watch TV. How many bother to go to the polls to vote?

Jim T said...

Just hold your horses, the anger is mounting and like a volcano the eruption is coming!

I'm 55 and have lived an upper middle class life the vast majority of my life, but now I'm faced with being homeless within the next 60 to 90 days because the timing of this financial collapse hit me exactly at the wrong time. I've never had anything to be mad about before, but now I do and I'm getting real pissed off.

When I watch the news and I hear Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Nancy Pelosi or pretty much any jackass polititian speak anymore my blood starts to boil. I just want to reach in the TV and strangle the life out of those idiots. You don't want to know what goes through my mind when I see the Wall Street Banksters, but when the revolution does come those boys better be out of the country!

Very Public Executions are not out of the equation!

We the people are getting very angry, so don't belittle us with Slave Nation Bullshit! It's more like, you never want the quiet one to awaken because when he does. WATCH OUT!


Anonymous said...

One of the great things about living in the U.S. is that, when we do have riots, we'll have some of the best TV coverage of them in the world. Watching the Los Angeles riots in 1991 was great fun (if you weren't too close to them).

Anonymous said...

The reason "we the people" no longer riot, protest, or stage revolt of any form is because mainstream media and hollywood keep us distracted. American Idol is starting a new season, Jessica Simpson is getting fat, The Octuplets. Let's not forget the new Transformers movie, those million dollar superbowl ads sure were funny. Real issues like job cuts and worsening economic news are just sound bites and headlines until they show up on your own front door. How do we organize when we barely even know our neighbors. Past generations of Americans relied on community to stand toghther when government went astray. Now I guess we are all an army of one.

Anonymous said...

I too enjoyed watching the LA Riots. The trick is to live close enough to a major metropolitan area that you get the local wall-to-wall news, but far enough away that you are still safe.

Anonymous said...

American's only riot when the wrong sports team wins. Then all heck breaks loose and we burn cars. hat is what insurance is for right? I am surprised no one has torched the building that Madoff lives in yet.

Anonymous said...

The United States has the most heavily armed population in the world. The sales of guns and LARGE quantities of ammunition are going parabolic. It is just a matter of time before a tipping point is reached. We as a country have not had to really endure hardship for along time. Even the poor have cell phones and ipods. Once we as a people, really begin to collectively suffer, the possibility of revolt or insurrection becomes very real.

Anonymous said...

American's only riot when the wrong sports team wins.

When the Lakers win, their fans riot. Does this mean the Lakers are the wrong team to win?

Anonymous said...

That is correct.

Matthew said...

America is rapidly becoming a nation of obese absentee-intelligence morons more concerned with the best deal they can score at PriceClub than with even bothering to investigate what goes on in the country around them through the media which is total lies anyway. The fact that 9/11, the greatest black ops conspiracy in American History went down without so much as a whimper is total proof. Yeah, I went on a protest once in downtown L.A., those folks had to get a PERMIT first to throw their protest, oh yeah, there's dissent. Gimme my bigscreen, my DVD, my 5.1 surround sound and a stack of movies to watch and leave me the hell alone while it all flames around me who cares, is what it's all about. I am appraiser in Los Angeles. Time and time again I appraised piles of junk where the owners couldn't afford to buy paper plates, let alone pay for an appraisal, meanwhile they've got 200 channels and the 60" widescreen going night and day. This is the fall of the Roman Empire folks.

Anonymous said...

Several reasons why American's aren't rioting:
- Americans vote, we went through a peaceful "revolution" and have a new leader already.
- Some of us Americans still know how to write, we haven't yet outsourced or outlawed thought. American Citizens can still contact their elected representatives - I have, have you?
- Relationships between citizens and representatives are still on speaking terms, partially because there is a path to leadership in America that does not exist or is not promoted sufficiently in other countries.

Anonymous said...

A blue pill taker, obviously.

Anonymous said...

While its true that Americans are armed to the teeth, far more so than just about any other country on earth; we are still the most pampered and priviledged. The US govt isn't trying to take things away from us, in fact its trying to get us to buy more toys, McMansions etc and doing everything possible to make that happen.

This is why you aren't seeing riots. The US Govt just prints more and more money and trys to get it to its people.

The people who should be rioting are either children or aren't even born yet. They are ones the govt is screwing in order to keep the current population from rioting.

Victoria Hokulani said...

I suppose when critical mass is reached with all the Jim T's and his brethren (see post above)we just might see some rioting. It might just be a horde of angry, pension/401K drained babyboomers who spark those torches. Maybe Jim T will fire up his inner Revolutionary and lead the way! (An inflamed, focused True Leader is always helpful for gathering the proles.)
And if China decides it would be in its best interests to no longer buy US Treasuries, and the gov's tit dries up for Welfare and disabled, then watch out. Hunger is a good accelerant for rioting.
The Fox News/CNN Rascal Scooter/Hoverchair demographic is a formidable obstacle for any brewing American Revolution, though.

Mathlete said...

People without power riot. People with power go to work and get the job done. Whiny leftists (as in actual Communists) don't have real jobs, they are students, work in academia or as "activists" and run around trying to start riots at WTO, GOP convention, DNC convention, G7 meetings, etc.

Americans riot when their property is stolen, their rights are violated, taxes are hiked, or their life is threatened, i.e. for a good reason. The leftists and Europeans riot because the government doesn't give them enough of other peoples' money. I, and many other civilized Americans, enjoy watching those losers get tear gassed and billy clubbed.

Chuck Ponzi said...

Jim T,

This is the solution to the problem. Get used to it.

Leading an upper middle class life for the last 30 years was a mirage; fueled by declining real rates and housing ponzi wealth.

As one of the other frequenters says: enjoy the die off.

You're pissed that your retirement is less than 2005; my entire generation is pissed that d-bags in their 60's are raiding social security at our expense. The cupboards are bare in the US and I'll never attain an upper middle class lifestyle at the rate things are going. If anyone's going to get killed, it's not just the banksters, it's the entire generation of fraudsters that robbed the world and bankrupted our economy. Be careful who you direct your anger at; you be on the receiving end of a pitchfork.

Remember, Obama reflected the anti-boomer sentiment in this country.. it could escalate right quick since we have nothing to lose; we never got anything to begin with. That's how violent aggressions start.

Chuck Ponzi

Anonymous said...

We'd have to turn off our TVs to riot.

Anonymous said...

Of Course we are.
You need young fit, aggressive, war-like people to riot, all of that kind are now rioting in Afghanistan, Iraq and where ever possible.

That's what every nation has done from time immemorial. They send out the youngest, strongest, fittest to go out and fight. Since America hasn't too many people to fight in the borders. They go far away, because they can find suckers to sponsor their travel and stay in those countries, and because they have these nice looking able Rioters, both male and Female.

These rioters also display a stong sense of Antics. It makes for some good global display and pastime.

Anonymous said...

I find myself asking this question more and more these days, and we're now starting to hear more about potential social unrest and upheaval in this country. I suspect as is mentioned, momentum is gaining and we're not too far from that tipping point. More than half of Americans still don't have a clue, still worried about that new cellphone or ipod they want, or what brad or jennifer aniston are up to, or what superstar is getting a huge contract to throw or catch a ball. We are so detatched from any sense of reality its not even funny.

Many of us can see the writing in the wall. I sense that once everyone understands where we're going, and enough people feel pain, we'll see a truly ugly side to this country.

Buckle up, its going to be a long, bumpy ride folks....

guy n. cognito said...

we don't riot b/c we know it'll collapse under it's own weight.

and what's the point in rioting like Iceland did if you're just going to elect some socialist labor movement to run your country?

Anonymous said...

"As The Nation's Bill Greider told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "you can't do this to people year after year -- that is, upturn their lives, take away what they thought they had earned, and so forth and so on, without provoking rather intense political reactions."

But who has taken away what anyone has earned except arguably the Fed through inflation? The problem is confusing asset values with earnings. If anyone thought the stock market and real estate carried no risk and always went up they were just ignorant. They did not earn those profits, they got lucky and now that the profits are gone they got unlucky. That's the way non-risk free assets go. Now, we can be angry at the Fed for creating such an unreliable currency that it has driven everyone into speculative assets by necessity. That would be legitimate.

drunk said...

Americans can't riot, or even rise up, because deep inside, they know they are the one to blame.

They voted for Bush and deserve all that is Bush.

They spent Wall Street WMD money and got blown up. But they know trillions of 'free' easy money is just too good to be true.

They puff their anger by voting in Obama and hope he can walk on water to save people skin. Or sin.

Time to drunk Cool-Aid by the gallons. Besides, going down while watching TV is more fun than going down with a real hole in the head. That is the essence of the video-game generation.

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