How We Once Feared Being 'Detroited' by a Communist Takeover

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This whole idea of a place being "Detroited"
 — of Detroit being synonymous with a place trashed by liberals and Democratic party members — is sort of silly. It's a uniquely American kind of verbal scaremongering — that if those guys get control of government, factories will go idle, taxes will skyrocket, and the government will sink into a mire of debt. It's so pat that it takes just an ounce of critical thinking to see it for what it is: propaganda.
And yet, when we linked to our initial blog post on our website, one of the commenters bought into the verbal gambit instantly. Another more knowledgable participant saw right through it, writing: "The dogwhistles are loud. But yeah, the cons have been 'Detroiting' the US as hard as they can since 1979."
It's worth noting that Detroit as a symbolic political battlefield isn't new. Again and again, the identity of Detroit has been used as a sledge to drive home propaganda about the dangers in American political life.

Better Red than Dead: In this fictional account, Detroit Mayor Eugene Van Antwerp welcomes our new Communist overlords — to prevent bloodshed.
  • Better Red than Dead: In this fictional account, Detroit Mayor Eugene Van Antwerp welcomes our new Communist overlords — to prevent bloodshed.

Probably one of the most amusing instances of this was a piece in the now-defunct LOOK magazine back in 1948, when Detroit was still a sprawling and prosperous factory town fringed with a ring of suburbs. The piece was given the provocative title, "Could the Reds Seize Detroit?" It's a piece typical of its time, terrifying the public with the Red Menace in the early days of the Cold War. One provocative passage (once quoted by the late Alexander Cockburn) describes what the Arsenal of Democracy might look like in the run-up to a Communist takeover, with conditions ripe for a rebellion. It reads:

[V]visualize conditions during a great depression when factories are idle, when hundreds of thousands of men—all normally employed by Detroit's automobile plants — are out of work, bitter, discontented and susceptible to influence by subversive agents who offer them an antidote for despair.

Of course, we don't need to exercise much imagination to "visualize" such a scenario. And these conditions weren't produced by Soviet agents and didn't involve Communist operatives with guns pointed at the mayor's head … they were mostly the product of a federal government that largely turned its back on its cities.


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