So Labor Day 2018 hit, and American politics emerged from the August slumber.
I find it amusing how media across the ideological spectrum perceives its own internal organizational metabolism as synonymous with the rest of the world's. August is often referred to as a quiet month in the world of news, but in truth August is just (like December in the West) when the staff of media companies goes on vacation, so big names aren't writing as many articles, and so... a quiet month.
Anyway, once again news headlines across the globe are shouting about another devastating week for Trump. Like they've been doing since the 2016 Republican primaries (where, thanks to the media's nonstop Trump fixation, he got billions of $ in free press and the ability to sell himself to the GOP's voters. Heckuva job there, media.), all the while failing to recognize the true nature and magnitude of the threat to American democracy, and...
See, this is why I avoid writing about politics. Diagnosing a system in decline, trending towards collapse, is frustrating when the only language the powers-that-be in journalism-land speak is that of media cycles, who turned on who, what that one anonymous source everyone seems to quote so much may or may not have said in private. Political writing in the news media exists to gather clicks, and ultimately sell to ads. Journalists go on about their integrity, but their editors decide what is fit to print, and if you think they aren't disciplined as much by the need to generate revenues as some noble desire to truth-tell, well... how much money do you have? Will you give it to me? Because you are really, most of time, paying for entertainment, and not cogent analysis. And I can be entertaining! I can wear funny hats, do dumb dances, all kinds of ridiculous stuff!
Anyway. I've decided that paying attention to the news is a sucker's game. Critical events, the real moments where change can be effected, are not going to reveal themselves through the collective efforts of Op-ed writers and other pundits. Only attention to the actual function of the complex system that is American politics-economy-society can give you those. And, sorry to say, it is rarely entertaining to produce or report that kind of analysis.
Right now, there's a huge amount of social pressure to be engaged in politics, to be aware of what is happening, to be 'resisting' or whatever. But I think that is mostly a waste of time, except when directly effecting material change, like in getting a law passed or a decent candidate (there are a few) elected. And unfortunately, the way representative 'democracy' is usually structured, it is actually designed to prevent popular pressures from effecting change. It is meant to (and this is why the Founders chose this form of government for the nascent USA) slow down change, keep things stable and predictable.
Politicians and media hacks want to pretend like your avid participation and engagement matters, but it doesn't. We Americans, as a people, are disempowered by our system of government.
This is why Election 2016 was so crucial. Since the Second World War ended in 1945, the US has seen a massive concentration of power in the hands of the Presidency. Congress has failed time and time again to act to reign in the executive branch. American presidents (Bush, Obama, and Trump all) now claim the right to kill Americans they decide are 'terrorists'. They've done it, too, to a few people. Without trial, without oversight (unless you count Congressional committees, which get to keep 'national security' proceedings secret).
Look, any Jill or Jack who has made it through Middle School knows, per the American myth, that the Founders expressly worried about the country being run by some future king. But our system has evolved such that we now effectively do have kings - albeit, up until now, kings who appeared to be somewhat willing to accept certain customary restrictions on their behavior.
This past week, the news has been abuzz with more rumblings about how incompetent Trump is, how there's some cabal of bureaucrats working to undermine his orders, yada yada. Media outlets are up in arms, declaring this to be a sea-change - like they've done every other time some horrible revelation has come out of the reality tv wreckage that is Washington D.C. But I have a sneaking suspicion that only death will remove Trump from the Oval Office (and then the Pence theocracy begins!), because he threatened in 2016 not to respect the result of the election if he lost, and in 2020 he'll almost certainly do it again - this time with all the power of the executive behind him. Money someone in his administration watches House of Cards. When the chips are down, when things get real rough, that Executive power - which Congress can only really challenge if willing to foment a Constitutional Crisis, and did I mention that we'll soon have a solid Conservative-majority Supreme Court, so good luck getting through that with your legislative-branch... whatever Pelosi comes up with? - is going to get America killed.
Americans simply don't understand the danger, and how little anyone can do (absent an actual coup, non-stop national strike, the GOP turning on Trump, or some other miracle) to stop Election 2020 from being the shitshow to end all shitshows. Here's hoping I'm wrong, but I predict airstrikes against Iran (won't go well), blatant voter suppression in swing states with a GOP governor, and another Electoral College - popular vote split.
The 2018 Midterms? I'll call it now - sure, the Dems take back the House. But the GOP holds on to 50 or 51 or 52 senate seats, so Trump can't be convicted even if impeached. 2019 will see Trump's boosters accuse the Dems in Congress of sabotaging their MAGA project, and blame them for all Trump's failures. The Dems under Pelosi will probably play all kinds of games and make a big show of leading a 'resistance' - but will do their very very best to set Joe Biden up as the anti-Trump in 2020 (this will be a disaster, if it happens).
A year of screaming, and then when things get dangerous for Trump (probably a GOP primary challenge, well-funded) the wag the dog begins. Possibly, depending on how violent the rhetoric gets, even political violence at home. Personally, I think most Americans are too lazy to engage in actual violence, but there are always a few nutters out there.
So how does this all play into the thing you might actually be here to read about, that is, Bringing Ragnarok? Well, for starters, while the details of Trump and Trumpism are heinous, terrible, and unprecedented tragedies - they didn't come out of nowhere, and they are signs of a system on the verge of collapse.
I don't think this can be stopped. I think the USA is pretty much done. I see three reasonably likely futures: The 'good' one, where a major reform effort deconflicts the contradictions in our federal system, and allows greater regional autonomy (even independence for places like California, Texas, and Cascadia); The 'middle' one, where an alliance of centrist elites basically merge the moderate republican and neoliberal democratic wings of the two parties to create a temporary sense of stability, a patch to the system, that will eventually fall apart; The 'bad' one, which serves as the foundation for the 2041 Thread, which takes Kim, Patrick, and Timur across Post-America Idaho.
Just for fun, here's my working timeline for American history from 2020 to 2028, the decade that sees America collapse entirely, as old contradictions work themselves out and the nation fractures politically as it already has economically and socially:
- 2020 is a year of chaos and uncertainty, with air strikes on Iran and a bitterly contested election ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, with multiple instances of hacking, voter suppression, and another Electoral College - Popular Vote split deepening the public sense of D.C. having gone beyond hope.
- 2020-2024 sees almost total paralysis at the federal level, with multiple states openly defying federal authority, American leadership on the global stage now a thing of the past, and military operations continue unabated overseas. A new 'Great Recession' results from multiple rounds of tariff-hikes coupled to oil shocks resulting from conflict in the Middle East, and causes the collapse of numerous governments around the globe.
- 2023 sees a dispute in the South China Sea escalate suddenly into open warfare. China launches a pre-emptive strike on Navy and Air Force installations in Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia, destroying their ability to contest China's domination of the region. The American government is caught unprepared and unable to intervene, highlighting the American federal government's collapse into total dysfunction.
- 2024 sees the next American Presidential Election, which while mercifully free of overt violence, sees the fragmentation of America's two major political parties into their constituent elements. No fewer than four Presidential candidates earn votes in the Electoral College, throwing the election to the House of Representatives, an institution that now routinely polls at 15% favorability among Americans. The resulting negotiations install a caretaker President, functionally powerless.
- 2025 A new front opens up in the Middle East Cold War (Iran-Iraq-Syria-Turkey, backed by Russia and China vs. Saudi Arabia-Gulf States [Oman, Kuwait, UAE] backed by Israel, India, and USA) when Pakistan disintegrates, its nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of would-be local warlords. China, backing the remains of the former government and Army, engages in a proxy war with India over control of resources. The United States, attempting to remain relevant, sends 'peacekeepers' who soon openly back India's intervention.
- 2025-2028 Sees a long, slow, grinding civil war in Pakistan merge with the sudden collapse of the Iraqi and Syrian governments to produce a conflagration that tears the Middle East apart, sending oil prices skyrocketing. US involvement is sporadic and limited, but it soon becomes apparent that the Saudi intervention in Iraq relies (logistically) entirely on support from the Pentagon, which has slowly begun to act as its own agent in foreign affairs.
- 2028 sees the start of another election cycle, with the present 'caretaker' President attempting to consolidate support from centrist parties formerly comprising the moderate wings of the old GOP and DNC. Exhausted by years of political turmoil, Americans report the lowest levels of engagement in federal politics since polls on the topic began, with most actual policy now being set at the state level.
- In September of 2028 a sociopathic general who has spent a lifetime seeking power and authority within the United States Air Force launches a nuclear strike intended to decapitate the present leadership and install a friendly puppet as the new President. Later investigations reveal that General Hollahan had long believed that God spoke directly to him, and had given him a Holy Quest to bring down the forces of the Antichrist - which he interpreted as all non-Christians in the United States. Unfortunately for America, he was one of the few insane sociopaths capable of presenting as normal, evading psychological tests meant to weed out nutters from the nuclear chain of command. And by forming a small, pseudo-Christian cult within the US Air Force Academy, he was able to build a functional cabal capable of destroying the US government.
I guess I can't help but throw in a big 'kaboom' to really kick off the alternative history plotline. In reality, though, this is just a writer-trick to speed up what I already perceive as inevitable, that is, the functional division of America into successor states, as it experiences its Soviet Union moment. Everything aside from this attack (probably more possible than we think, but thankfully still unlikely) I consider to be as close to 'prediction' as someone can get, using the theories I rely on to do futurist analysis.
Sound depressing? It is. It is sad. America could have been, could still be, so much better. But the thing is, 'America' is actually a myth. A nice idea that lets us all think the world is a certain way, and that certain things can't, won't, ever change. But history doesn't work like that. It may be produced by human interactions over time, but there's a deeper structure to our social interactions than we realize. There are patterns to history, because certain forces are fundamental to human communication and cooperation.
What is happening in America right now is the resolution of many of these forces, too long ignored by our political elites, and so like a bent branch swinging back suddenly they seem to have produced a crisis out of nowhere. But they have a history. A heritage. A past rooted in colonialism and genocide. It's too bad most (white, at least) Americans don't seem to care about history. It's that ignorance that has doomed the American experiment.