There are three hurdles for a reader to clear in order to enjoy Kurt Schlichter’s new book “We’ll Be Back: The Fall and Rise of America.” First, he must ignore the cover. Yes, one can’t judge a book by its cover, but a picture of an angry middle-aged guy pointing at the viewer, presumably ready to open a can of whoop ass on him, might provoke some eye-rolling among people that fancy themselves intellectuals. Fortunately, the reader can take off the book sleeve and this problem is solved.
Second, he must make it past the generic “angry conservative” title. “We’ll Be Back” doesn’t really say anything. Rather, like the cover, it just gives the wrong impression of the book, which is not a partisan rant. It’s a thoughtful analysis of today’s political situation.
Third, the reader must simply accept Schlichter’s penchant to crack a joke in every other sentence of this book. Altogether, this is a serious book, but it’s told in a humorous way. For anyone with a background in history or politics, the jokes are actually quite funny. For example, when discussing the decline of religious practice in the West, he remarks, “The churches themselves, outside of places like Poland, where they believe in something beyond soccer, are broken.” Of course, every so often the jokes don’t always land: “It’s like the Beatles when Yoko showed up. It is unsustainable.” OK, Boomer.
With these disclaimers, “We’ll Be Back” is an otherwise excellent book that speaks to the current moment. Schlichter’s subject matter affects everyone, not just political junkies and doomsday preppers. He is a savvy commentator and entertaining writer who is able to make complex ideas palatable and imaginable. His predictions aren’t the abstruse reflections of a professor insulated from reality, but an actual veteran who has lived in the world, experienced life, and interacted with many different people. As such, his predictions of what will befall the U.S. merit attention, and his arguments are surprisingly sound, if sometimes grim.
Post Pax Americana
Of course, before Schlichter can discuss the future, he must discuss the past. He sets up two reference points with which to view today’s current decline, the Roman Empire and the U.S. in the early 1990s. In his view, American power peaked soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, as it was settling various conflicts around the world as its sole superpower, establishing a kind of Pax Americana. Such was the also case of first-century Rome, the ancient world’s cosmopolitan superpower.
Although entertaining on its own, Schlichter’s crash course in classical history has a deeper point that applies to today. Like Rome, America will fall, but this fall won’t be anything sudden or even perceptible to most people. He explains that America’s fall will probably “be a transformational change. … The old ways can simply stop meeting the needs of the present, and something different replaces them.” For the past three decades, Schlichter charts the mounting corruption of the American government, the departure from constitutional limits, and the growing unrest among Americans, particularly conservatives. Even if these problems are fixed, the system will be different than it was in the early ’90s.
Even though President Trump turned away from this apparent trajectory somewhat, Schlichter acknowledges that Trump’s administration suffered from personnel issues for his first two years, and then was sunk by Covid-19 and trusting the experts. Now, “when Biden was sort-of elected, the Democrats pushed hard as they could to the left even though the voters had seen fit to literally provide them the barest imaginable legislative majority.” Consequently, certain checks on political abuses like the Electoral College, election integrity measures, the filibuster, and the authority of elected officials (vs. unelected technocrats) are being challenged or eliminated.
This brings Schlichter to today’s precious present in which an ascendent leftist elite imposes its will on a resistant population. Indeed, the global response to Covid offered a taste of this, as national governments stripped populations of most of their freedoms in the name of public health. What distinguishes the U.S. from other nations, however, is that Americans have the right to bear arms. For Schlichter, this is the ultimate check on power: “They [Americans] understand that the decision to allow or disallow any act by the government ultimately resides with themselves.”
This leads him to think that a time will come soon when violence breaks out. He grants that quite a few things will need to happen before this happens: “What this [a civil war] means is that for America to reach a state of tyranny, there must not only be massive and systemic violations but, simultaneously, the elimination of any meaningful ability to address those wrongs, either under the Constitution or otherwise.” So long as Americans can vote out tyrants or overrule them through the other branches of government, then resorting to arms will not be necessary. Sadly, there’s good reason to think that such recourses may not exist in the near future, leaving the possibility of civil war on the table.
Enemies Foreign and Domestic
It’s at this point that Schlichter’s role as polemicist turns into one of a prophet, forecasting a variety of outcomes in the near future. First, he describes an America captured by the hard left, which brings tensions to a breaking point. Unfettered by the constitutional checks and balances, the Democrats would wreck the economy with uncontrolled deficit spending, permanently restrict individual freedoms, and refuse to enforce laws on protected classes. Any modicum of prosperity, peace, and stability would immediately be lost in an anarchic frenzy.
Then again, it could be that the system itself is preserved, but the blue cities rebel in response to the election of a conservative Republican administration. For the most part, Schlichter believes that leftist insurgents lack the guns and basic necessities to win a real war with gun-toting farmers in the red states (a point recently echoed by popular YouTuber Rudyard Lynch), but the left could possibly win such a conflict if local governments, the media, and the general public all go along with it: “The information operation component of a low-grade leftist insurgency like this would be to demonstrate the powerlessness of the red federal government and cause the public to feel insecure, weakening the Republican administration, by taking control of the cities and showing that President Trump can’t do a thing about it.” So, something like the riots of 2020, but far more extensive.
Or, it could be the red states rebelling against a Democrat Party that goes too far: “Gun confiscation … the deliberate refusal of the Democratic administration to obey the Supreme Court … A climate cult-driven attack to suddenly destroy the fossil fuel industry … the imposition of some sort of fascist ‘election reform’ measure” or “the refusal of the blue federal government to accept the election of a republican presidential candidate.” As with the previous setup, the red states will hold the advantage in terms of firepower, food, and geography. The trick would be mounting a scattered insurgency over the long-term and exhausting the counterinsurgency.
If a civil war doesn’t bring down America, then there’s always the chance that a foreign power could do it instead. With good reason, Schlichter believes that China is the country that poses the biggest threat to the United States. Their spies are deeply embedded in all American centers of power and their military technology has caught up to American standards, if not surpassed it with hypersonic weapons. It would be relatively easy for them to wage a quick war on the United States, turn the American government into a puppet regime (or more of one, anyway), and put down dissidents and rebels — all of which they currently do in Hong Kong. Schlichter recognizes some of the weaknesses China faces (lack of military experience, demographic decline, economic weakness, political instability), but still envisions a massive loss for the U.S. should China decide to attack.
For all the politicking and pyrotechnics of his scenarios, the most realistic prediction that Schlichter makes is the one where nothing happens: “Maybe, like old soldiers, we just fade away.” Maybe the money runs out, the old greatly outnumber the young, and everyone gradually stops caring — a bit like Western Europe or Japan today. And, like those places, the epidemic of loneliness sets in, resulting in an atomized society where the elderly quietly die in their apartments with no one to mourn them except their cats.
Hoping for the Best
Assuming none of these prognostications come to pass and the center holds for a little while longer, Schlichter concludes that Americans will have three choices: restore the constitutional order, elect a right-wing authoritarian leader, or elect a left-wing authoritarian leader. Since he discussed the last option already, he spends some time on the second option, the conservative authoritarian. He likens this to the reign of Augustus Caesar, which, at least in the beginning, had many things going for it. In one fell swoop, an authoritarian leader could fix the problems of crime, immigration, woke indoctrination, energy and water shortages, and people like Ilhan Omar holding office. However, as Schlichter concludes, “Yes, an authoritarian can make the trains run on time for a while, but that kind of regime has to derail eventually.” A few decent emperors may have succeeded Augustus, but none of them were quite as effective.
Ideally, Americans would elect a strong leader who can indeed bring back sanity to a corrupted system and preserve the constitutional order. Schlichter believes this can happen, but only with the right person in charge (i.e., not a Democrat or “moderate” Republican). He spends the last part of the book evaluating people who have the best chance of winning the 2024 presidential election and actually doing something. Like many other conservative commentators, he is currently the most impressed with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
All throughout his book, Schlichter keeps his argument front and center. His prose is clear, and his logic is honest. If one criticism could be made, besides a few lame jokes, there are times when Schlichter’s scenarios feel a little long and overwrought — this could be the novelist side encroaching on his other half as a political commentator. These narratives tend to slow down what is a briskly paced and relatively tight analysis. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between.
Overall, “We’ll Be Back” is timely and well done. It speaks to most Americans who aren’t necessarily preoccupied with politics or the culture wars but are still concerned with the downward trajectory of the country. Even for those who do follow these subjects, it offers a fresh perspective that takes in all likely possibilities, educating both progressive and conservative readers alike. Most important, however, is Schlichter’s optimistic realism, which accounts for the worse while sensibly hoping for the best. He is of the firm opinion that although a happy ending for the nation is ultimately possible, there may be a few bumps along the way.