We can reassure ourselves by repeating obvious truths: The United States is not czarist Russia. The present is not the past. History does not repeat itself. But those facts are not immutable laws so much as observations, and even though they are built on solid foundations, those foundations are not impervious to shifting sands. We can go backward. We can descend into a primal state we thought we had escaped forever. That is the lesson of the 20th century.
The similarities between past and present are legion: The coarsening of the culture, our economic woes, our political logjams, the opportunism and fecklessness of our so-called elites, the corruption of our institutions, the ease with which we talk about “revolution” (as in Bernie Sanders’ romanticization of “political revolution”), the anger, the polarization, the anti-Semitism.