The question is how far the disintegration will go.
The United States was always fragile. And now that once again two entirely distinct, opposed, and geographically connected societies have emerged each defined by its own set of shared Truths, unity cannot be preserved.
The majority of Americans now agree, whatever their political preferences, that the United States of America is systematically rigged in favor of the wealthy and well-connected.
And it is.
The United States is now totally dominated by a predatory wealth extraction machine centered on Washington D.C. All politics in America is driven by powerful groups trying to minimize their tax burden and maximize their share of public spending.
This reality is deliberately obscured by politicians and members of the media whose jobs depend on securing the profits of whoever they are owned by. In the old days, when there were only a few national media channels, it was much easier to sustain a common national narrative telling people there was no alternative to the status quo than it is in the Internet Age.
As a result “Truth” seems to be decaying — but the real truth is that we’re witnessing the collapse of a system long ago colonized by powerful interests.
The entire left vs. right, red vs. blue, conservative vs. liberal, republican vs. democrat system everyone now alive has been taught to believe is a permanent feature of American life is in reality a construct. Not one produced by conspiracy, but through a natural process of emergence, where lots of people pursuing their own interests separately produce a collective effect none directly intends or controls.
Doesn’t mean once it emerges that they don’t erect what controls they can, though. The world is a complex place, and humans need simplifying narratives to help make sense of it and steer our decisions. Those who can offer a convincing narrative gain great power.
But different people are attracted to different narratives, because life is complicated and everyone has their own unique perspective on it. Truth depends on being able to reconcile perspectives, and so winds up being a function of language — the tool humans use to convey perspective to others.
Humans are a fundamentally tribal species, who despite being part of a broader society are always most strongly connected to people from their in-group. The languages a person knows and uses marks their group membership. Sharing perspectives across different languages represents an order of magnitude increase in complexity, which leads to a natural tendency towards miscommunication.
Which all boils down to something very simple: It is natural for different people to hold — or at least prioritize — different sets of facts and truths. This fact is obscured by the American education system and media because it contradicts the simplistic narrative they sell about America.
You know — the one where anyone can get rich if they work hard, where equality is possible if everyone simply agrees inequality is bad, that kind of thing. The Disney-fied civics lesson taught from middle to high school and repeated by pundits and experts on TV and in articles.
Until the Internet democratized global communications, giving individuals a greater ability to find and affiliate with groups of like minded people, the major newspapers and later broadcast networks in the United States had incredible power over national narratives. They quarreled openly and vigorously, but always within certain bounds that failed to question the broader story.
But with more options — more narratives — society is becoming open in a way it never has before. And the powers-that-be do not like what this portends, because simple narratives are now too easy to disprove. They see their profitable scam unraveling, the pyramid scheme that is America starting to crumble, and instead of adapting they are pushing to lock down channels of communication wherever they can.
In Systems Science, there is a useful concept called the rigidity trap that explains this behavior — and its long-term impacts — very well.
Basically, the rigidity trap emerges when major changes in the environment begin, and those who fear winding up worse off if they are permanent invest in short-term stabilization efforts that ultimately fail. Like with the changing seasons, you can’t always hold off winter forever, you can only prepare and endure.
When a landscape is dominated by a small number of powerful agents, their actions tend to have an outsized impact. They tend to structure everything around them — they are able to invest resources towards maintaining their advantageous position in the future.
But when changes are rapid enough or severe enough, their capacity to keep up this investment starts to fail — and the resulting collapse winds up deeper than it would have been otherwise, because so many resources were wasted trying to hold back the tide.
This dynamic aptly describes what is happening in American politics and media. Around two-thirds of Americans agree that the system only works for the wealthy and well-connected. Around half are suspicious of the legitimacy of the democratic process. Most of America’s senior leaders are in their 70’s. And every crisis, every challenge, every debate, always seems to split exactly the same way.
These are flashing red warning signs preceding periods of major upheaval and change. They don’t usually go away until the pressures producing the tensions are relieved.
Rigidity traps sometimes seem to work, but only delay the inevitable — and the United States is well into what may prove its terminal winter.
America has already fractured into two camps primarily motivated to vote out of fear of the other. Media in the United States has over the past decade come to see the perpetual profit potential in amplifying and promoting this angst. Politicians also benefit, because fear-narratives are simple and compelling, allowing a fear-mongering voice to swiftly lock in a large and lucrative audience.
Notably, any meaningful attempt at reform is scorned and assaulted from all sides. Any third party is crushed by lack of media attention and hostility from the establishment, aspiring voices that do not declare their allegiance to one side or the other are labeled suspect and squashed. The only ideas or people who rise to positions where they could begin making actual change are selected by those in power based on how well they toe the line.
This is all characteristic of rigidity traps. And only way out of one is a managed transition to something more stable — but this is precisely what those sustaining the rigidity trap most strongly oppose. Thus, the paradox: change is badly needed, but the resources are controlled by agents of the status quo.
But this unstable equilibrium never lasts. And the shift, when it comes, can be brutally chaotic.
And so, the forecast for the future of the United States is very grim. Polarization is set to increase, driven by media voices new and old, with every new national challenge, every movement, every policy being sucked into the partisan maelstrom.
Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, Green Development, MeToo — pick an emerging important social movement, and watch how each is destroyed by the two-party nightmare. First one party embraces it, then the other denigrates it. People who don’t even really know anything about the issue are instantly hit with a barrage of media coverage that tells them what people on their side are supposed to believe. Even if they don’t, they conform, because who wants to be on the wrong side of a political spat?
It isn’t altogether different than a protection racket, yet it is perfectly legal — so long as you call it politics. And because it is profitable — for the racketeers, who can afford to buy off politicians — any attempt to change it meets with a swift and vicious response.
Any hope of saving America depends on this doom-loop being broken. A viable third party movement has to form and start changing the equation by winning seats in Congress (less likely) or a non-partisan effort by fed-up Americans and allies have to think bigger:
We have to force a Constitutional Convention per Article Five that changes how federalism works in the United States of America.
To keep the United States federal government’s decay from plunging America into a decade of conflict, a new set of working administrative boundaries are vital.
Using the 2020 Presidential Election’s county-level results as a guide and the handy tools available on mapchart.net the below map illustrates what the United States would look like broken into a set of Federal Regions.
Each Federal Region will have its own delegated federal government, elected to apply the Constitution within each region as its citizens prefer.
State borders would be adjusted — they broadly follow political divides within many states — and after a transition period lasting 2–4 years all Federal powers are delegated to new Regional Federal Governments. Washington D.C. becomes what Brussels is to the European Union, only with a much-reduced role, mostly tied to the national economy and defense if America is ever attacked.
When you are dealing with a complex system, sometimes the only way to manage it is to split it into working chunks. And the truth is, if you look at the United States in almost any context, it already functions this way.
States are mostly controlled by one party or the other, with the minority party having little to no chance of ever gaining power so long as national polarizing trends continue unabated — as they are likely to for at least the next ten years. This means each state is a fiefdom of the party in control, an anti-democratic outcome that leads to poor governance in both red and blue states.
Where people live determines a huge chunk of how they perceive the world, and in a time when people are losing faith in global sources of truth they always turn to closer sources. This is a normal human behavior, and though it produces a feedback look that further drives fragmentation in moments of history like the one we’re living through right now, you have to learn to ride the wave instead of fighting the inevitable.
You simply aren’t going to be able to impose a national unity, a national truth, on a nation where these colors define how you believe your government ought to work and their distribution is so deeply geographic:
Reforming how Washington D.C. works is the only way to prevent the Collapse of America from going so far it either rips into fragments — or, worse, the struggle for D.C. spawns a second civil war.
This only happens if the military splits, which can only come about through an actual Constitutional dispute over who is the true Commander-in-Chief. Though this kind of situation is still very unlikely, January 6, 2021 showed the potential is now present.
And sooner or later, the way things are headed, someone is going to get desperate enough to at least try and make it happen. I personally believe America’s institutions will tend towards paralysis and steady fragmentation under most circumstances, but if the last year has proven anything it is that events can spiral out of control very fast if mistakes are made by anyone in a position of responsibility.
Hope that Joe Biden or some other politician can reform the D.C. system sufficiently to make it work is misplaced. Too many interests are fighting against fundamental change because their profits depend on the status quo. Though we can expect many superficial, symbolic progressive gestures from the Biden Administration, these will inflame the conservative opposition and leave progressive die-hard types unsatisfied.
The best-hope outcome for backers of the status quo are fractures in both parties that leaves a centrist party combining about half of the Democrats with a third of the Republicans holding the balance of power. Long term I suspect this would result in the middle being consumed by hard right and hard left, but it represents their best long-term hope for maintaining control.
Unfortunately for them, rigidity traps fail badly at some point, in part because some groups will benefit as chaos and confusion grow. There will quickly emerge new pressures locking in future fragmentation.
The best outcome for the rest of the world — not the Beltway or Wall Street insiders — is a broad-based social and political movement demanding fundamental reform, one that actively rejects both major political parties and the rhetoric they use to appeal to demographics through sympathetic media outlets.
Every effort must be taken by Americans at home and allies abroad to offer alternatives — Constitutional reform on non-partisan grounds is the best bet.
Short of that, the next-best thing anyone can do is simply dis-invest from the United States of America in any way they can.
Physically, financially, emotionally — the time has come not to tune in, turn on, and drop out, but to tune out, turn off, and reject the game as it now stands. Helping the agents of the status quo sustain their vampire grip on the livelihoods of millions of Americans only serves their interests and makes things worse in the long run.
So invest abroad — not within the United States.
Read public news services like the BBC, Australia Broadcasting Corporation, Deutsche Welle, and Al Jazeera. Reuters and the Associated Press are also decent.
NPR is as good as you’ll get within the United States, but leaven it with other perspectives. South China Morning Post, Japantimes, Middle East Eye, and pretty much anything reputable out of Europe sees America’s issues better than American press does.
Avoid American nationalist publications like the New York Times, Atlantic, CNN or Fox News, New Yorker, Slate, Vox, OANN, Newsmax, and so forth. These are all infested with cheerleaders deeply invested in selling you a narrative that plays well with advertiser needs and friendly politicians. American journalists deliberately craft stories as narratives that sell ad space and subscriptions. They are simply not trustworthy, except where their information can be verified by non-American sources.
Push for true reform or drop out entirely — any other choice simply feeds the beast and accelerates the ongoing Collapse of America.
And whatever your choices, hang on tight.
This gonna be one helluva ride.