Surviving the Era of Big Men
A couple years ago someone made a movie in Germany where Hitler gets teleported into 2014 and wakes up in a world of selfies, cooking shows, refugee crises and feckless politicians spinning their wheels while hoping the next media distraction is enough to divert our attention from their incompetence. In other words it's a perfect world for someone on Hitler's level to fester and spread in the walls like a toxic fungus.
It was a pretty funny movie with lots of cute moments that will also regularly make your skin crawl when you start to realize we all agree, to a greater or lesser extent, with some of the things Hitler said. It's so bad that sometimes I wonder if I've accidentally quoted him in the past without knowing it.
What really creeped me out was the Sacha Baron Cohen style candid footage showing people on the street having generally positive reactions when they notice the Führer strolling around. Thankfully there were just barely enough notable exceptions scattered through the movie to restore some of faith in our species. Here's the best set of trailers I could find. You might want to skip the second one if you suffer from epileptic seizures, though.
While I enjoyed the film it ended up letting me down in the end. The conversation never was allowed to go on to exactly WHY we aren't allowed to admit to ourselves that many of those pragmatic and terrifying ideas find fertile ground to take root in our own minds. The working class has valid gripes about too much immigration destroying jobs and their communities are either gentrified out of their price range or left to rot. The response they get from latte-sipping liberals is that we should all quit being racist and try to “get along”, whatever that means. When a person holding multiple jobs and barely getting by gets told to stop being so selfish by a Tesla-driving yupster on a salary paid by government grants, it sounds an awful lot like “Let them eat cake!”
Let's be perfectly honest with ourselves here. In any society, significant numbers of people don't typically decide to pick up AK's and build roadside bombs if their life is going great. Likewise in a properly-functioning fair and equitable society, armed thugs don't tend to beat intellectuals to a bloody pulp in the street while passers by look the other way. No, it takes some serious incompetence to screw up so bad that you hand the nation over to a bunch of rabid assholes. Unfortunately it looks like those conditions are about to become ripe for exploitation right here in the USA.
While some of Trump's fan base is still shouting his name like it's a football game, anyone even remotely paying attention can see now that he's named his price and from this point on it looks like the ball is back in the possession of the Neoliberal deep state. Yes, that's right. Team Incompetent somehow seems to get all the breaks while Homeland Senility gets all the juicy contracts and the Constitution gets quietly folded up and shoved in a dark corner until “the end of hostilities”.
In other words the Trump administration becomes just another yellow brick in the road that leads to our next age of Big Men.
Who will we get this time? Maybe a General Washington or a Robespierre? An FDR or a Stalin? A Lincoln or a Santa Ana? What if we don't get so lucky, and it's a bunch of burlap sack-wearing anti consumerist wing of the Green Party that uses religion to brainwash it's way into power like the Faith Militant from Game of Thrones?
Literally things have gotten so bad that all it would take is a well-organized and fully committed individual with an extra helping of charisma to mix a little bit of truth into their particular Brand of Crazy and it would spread all over the place. Well, almost. We are still waiting on the Trump voters who threw their last Hail Mary at our political system to finally figure out they have been betrayed. Apple Pie and Baseball may stick around for some time, but America will never be great again. At least not like it was before.
A large percentage of the rest of the earth's population will just have to go shopping for new overlords I guess. But at home? You should keep an eye on the horizon for the Big Men that will be clawing their way to the top and looking for their own chunk to carve off of the struggling empire. And if you happen to be a minority, immigrant, gender somethingorother, reasonably educated and/or identify as a progressive liberal that likes to speak out about social justice issues then you'd better get a good look at these Big Guy contenders early on. The nasty ones can be hard to spot at first, or maybe they seem so ridiculous and cartoonish that you don't take them seriously. Just remember someone who had a starring role in Wrestlemania XXIII is now sitting in the Oval Office and guarding the History Eraser Button.
Mutually assured destruction aside, there are certain benefits of living under the right Big Guy (or Big Gal, in the case of Empress Dowager Cixi). Admittedly the times surrounding the Big Era are by definition full of social dissatisfaction and upheaval with lots of suffering to go around. If you learn what Big People like, however, and provide said product and/or service with a higher quality than most then there's lots of room for moving up or, more importantly, being left alone.
Meanwhile the Bigs are usually so obsessed with fighting off rival Bigs and other threats that people on their good side tend to benefit from all the extra security they keep around. This is especially helpful during those periods of history when the strong become a lot less covert about taking advantage of the weak. If you are double lucky this reasonably sane warlord will also have some talent when it comes to dealing with the international scene and keeping larger hostile foreign powers from rolling their Pre-Teen Hilux army through your barely-scraping-by kitchen garden society and taking whatever they want, women and children included.
I don't know the odds of getting a "good" or a "bad" Warlord, or if figuring that out is even possible. People's experience of Big Eras is highly subjective, and what one group calls a tyranny another may applaud as a sound pragmatic policy. Generally speaking, however, watch out for the ones who are a little too trigger happy. It's one thing to have a little neighborly dispute now and then, but quite another to set out on a campaign of global conquest. Good leaders recognize the hazards of too much expansion of fighting against coalitions instead of joining them. It may have been possible for one power to take over large chunks of the planet at certain times in history, but never on a budget anyone could sustain for very long. If the current leadership of your nation insists otherwise then be prepared for lots of Big Disappointments.
As the climate gets more hostile, infrastructure fails, critical resources dry up, and displaced populations start wandering the focus of conflicts will necessarily downshift from global domination schemes to become more local and regional. That's a huge advantage for people who have the ability to stay mobile. If it looks like Henry the Heavy is getting a little too greedy with tribute collection to fund his next military disaster you can always pack it up and sneak away in the middle of the night in search of greener pastures.
Which kind of brings me to the last point. If it starts to feel like something is going very wrong, then by all means extricate yourself and those you love from the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are way too many examples in history when people should have listened to their instincts only to find themselves on the wrong side of a wall with a firing squad lining up in front of them. Sometimes your best gauge of a political situation about to catch fire is the mood on the streets and the willingness of locals to share possibly dangerous ideas in public. This, however, requires you to establish a Baseline of activity early on that can be used to measure against anomalies, which also happens to be a technique soldiers use in conflict zones to stay alert for surprise attacks. Your best defense against Big Folk of the notorious variety will always be getting the best information you can and being prepared to act on it when the time is right.
I suppose it's possible to become a warlord and go into business for yourself, but often it's a title with a very short shelf life and a lousy retirement plan if you know what I mean. It also usually requires growing up in a manner that subjects you to much hardship and learning the appropriate applications of violence, and honestly if you are looking for survival tips on the internet then chances are no amount of training is going to get you ready for a leadership position in a pirate army. There can be some serious perks to being a nobody with a desirable skill set, however. If you don't appear to be a threat but are useful enough that everyone wants to keep you around then that's a good recipe to keep yourself alive long after the next wave of knuckleheads have pounded each other into hamburger.