One of the more persistent self-congratulatory questions I hear people ask is this, “What would it take for something like the London riots to happen here in the U.S.?” The implication is that for all its flaws and wildness the U.S. is somehow more civilized in its incivility than is Europe, at least London.
It is, of course, deadly wrong. As the U.S. has discovered many times over history to its dismay, the patina of civilization here is as thin as anywhere. What protects the U.S. has been wealth, complacency, and American exceptionalism in service of the idea that bad things don’t happen here.
What would it take? A year of austerity and more cuts ahead, plus a wobbling economy, did it in London, and I’m reasonably sure the same thing would happen here in the U.S. Arguably, it would happen faster given this country’s modern inexperience with societal sacrifice in service of a common goal. All of this makes late 2012 — a year into U.S. austerity alongside a wobbling economy — the time to watch the U.S. streets.