America’s Grim Future
The United States is set to collapse this decade — the question now is how far and how much violence there will be. But by 2030 the country as anyone alive today has known it will be gone.
Sorry folks, but things are not likely to get better for the United States for quite some time, if ever.
No nation can long survive when it allows hundreds of thousands of people to die in a plague many poorer, less advanced nations have proven able to keep under control.
No nation can long survive when nearly 40% of its people living in a majority of its states believe a free and fair election was rigged against them.
No nation can long survive when, in an election so widely proclaimed to be about the fate of democracy, over 30% of the electorate casts no vote at all.
No nation can long survive when the majority of the population is split into two distinct and increasingly irreconcilable truth domains.
Just as no family can long survive if perpetually warring with itself, neither can a nation.
The sad truth is, the United States of America we all thought existed was a myth. There is no true point of unity, no real sense of shared sacrifice and consideration for others that goes beyond petty politics. The political architecture is antiquated and heavily anti-democratic, the history inseparable from slavery and genocide.
More than 50% of the Discretionary portion of the Federal budget — the part paid for by Americans’ federal income taxes — flows to the military. The United States has never transcended its original identity as a brutal settler colony dedicated to extracting every bit of value it can from those lacking the power to resist.
This is why half of Americans live on the verge of falling into poverty, why unlike every other advanced nation it has no universal healthcare system, why when a pandemic strikes people are forced to keep working and spreading a virus.
The American myth is collapsing, and with it, America.
So what comes next?
History shows that big, complex political organizations don’t typically last for very long. There are simple reasons, and the easiest way to think of the dynamics is to use a model borrowed from ecology.
Complex systems — anything with lots of independent parts that interact on a shared space — inhabited by complex agents (like groups of people or communities) tend to go through four sequential phases in a constant, looping cycle mimicking the seasons.
In Spring, when resources are becoming more plentiful, you see a period of rapid growth. In Summer, when space for all the new growth becomes limited and the days stop getting longer, growth slows down and the system achieves a temporary stable state. In Autumn, resources become tighter and tension grows as all agents in the system prepare for tough times ahead. In Winter, everyone and everything retreats, leaving a bleak landscape behind — for a time, until Spring comes again.
Countries work pretty much the same way, though over decades and centuries rather than months. And for the United States of America, Winter is coming on fast.
Historically, empires always crumble and break apart. In the 1990s the Soviet Union’s time came, only half a century before that the European colonial empires — the British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and Belgian (I know, right!) were disintegrating in the wake of the catastrophic World Wars, both produced by a grand systems collapse following several centuries of European colonization and exploitation of the rest of the planet.
And of course going back before that the list goes on and on. China’s history has been an endless succession of broad unification followed inevitably by fragmentation. India’s has too — much of the Middle East has been mired in the same pattern. Evidence is growing that this cycle exists in the Americas too, prior to the grand crash that came with the European’s arrival. Africa, humanity’s birthplace, shows extensive — though often overlooked — similarities.
The United States is set to fragment — how much, how far, and how permanently will likely be determined before 2030.
Presently, the United States’ social, political, and economic systems — the three that really drive these things we call nations — are all at a moment of severe collapse. These systems are also interacting, driving one another on. The social system is facing a stark shift in generational norms, while the economic system is grappling with severe inequality and the political system — already archaic — is has been torn apart by the chaos in the other two.
There are better and worse trajectories leading from here.
On the most hopeful track, the United States will deliberately decentralize, accepting that people in Red and Blue states want to be governed under sufficiently different interpretations of the Constitution to necessitate a radical increase in local political autonomy.
Basically, the national leadership would have to accept the inevitability of what must now come and adapt to preserve as much of the old America as it can while fostering a diverse set of experiments at the local and regional levels seeking new ways forward.
Long term, that probably looks something like this:
The federal government will be almost entirely devolved to a set of autonomous regions, each free to interpret and apply the Constitution to suit the demands of their own citizens. People and goods can flow freely across internal borders, citizenship remains national, and a limited military is kept to deter direct foreign attacks and handle the nuclear deterrent, but otherwise the regions are separate Constitutional zones who do taxation, spending, and policy separately.
Unfortunately this level of reform would require a level of self-awareness I frankly do not see in the sclerotic personalities presently in power. Joe Biden stands virtually no chance of being re-elected in 2024. Only half of the 82 million people who voted for him actually supported his candidacy — the other half, polls consistently showed, simply opposed Trump.
And 2020 was a one-shot deal. Trump was defeated less by Biden and more by the pandemic — Democrats are already quick to forget he won more votes than any other Republican candidate. If 2020 was — as Biden’s boosters fatally billed it — a referendum on Trump amounting to a choice between democracy or dictatorship, then the majority of Americans in a majority of states voted for the latter. The real breakdown of American voters came out to be:
- 40% pro-dictatorship
- 30% pro-Biden
- 30% pro-democracy
That’s a coalition that will not last — and in truth, the characterization isn’t fair. Yes, many Trumpists are fascists — but as many people voted for Trump because they feel he is all that protects their way of life from being obliterated by America’s Disneyfied cultural oligarchy which relegates rural people (who have less money than suburbanites on average) to the same kind of Subaltern, stereotypical existence in the national consciousness as Black Americans.
No, not to the same degree. But the failure to separate the powerful white elites who exploit everyone from the ignorant foot soldiers of their regime is absolutely fatal if you want to destroy it. That kind of inability to embrace nuance is why Americans can’t do counterinsurgency — and another factor in the nation’s demise.
Joe Biden is merely a tourniquet on a wound likely to require amputation in the end. He represents the revenge of the Old Guard that brought us to this exact place, essentially the Democratic Party’s peace offering to the few remaining Old Guard Republicans, an attempt to kick the can of reform down the road when demographics will magically deliver (so they believe) a permanent Democratic majority.
Which wouldn’t itself be democratic, but never mind. Serve the brand, that’s all that matters in America. Even Bernie Sanders simply fulfills a critical role in the Democratic Party, offering hope to those still willing to trust the party of failed promises.
Firmly trapped in their respective ideological corners, the two parties seem set to continue their dysfunctional cold civil war, the identity of each reduced to being not the other. The Dems can’t play the Trump card in the Midterm elections and expect that to turn out enough people to overcome the equal and opposite force of pro-Trump loyalists turning out to stick it to the Dems. If the Democrats could actually govern and pass popular policies they could run on that, but this is terribly unlikely.
Democratic strategists like Shor are obsessed with blaming the rhetoric of the left for the party’s failures, but the reality is the party’s own brand is rotten. People know politicians serve themselves first, party second, and constituents last. Trying to deny this only drives people into the arms of Trump.
The outcome of this charade will be zero effective change, all attention swiftly turning towards the 2024 Election, the media hyping a Biden-Trump rematch as Biden’s polls sink and challengers line up. The economy will recover, though not without hiccups and a possible stock market correction of historic proportions, but the long-term consequences of Covid and all the chaos of the Trump years will mount.
It won’t get easier going abroad, either — America has been revealed to be terribly weak. It’s credibility is gone, and it will be pressed on multiple fronts, likely unable to respond effectively at any stage. Biden has retained too much of Trump’s policies to avoid China drawing the conclusion it stands more to gain than lose from pushing America a bit.
Barring Trump’s untimely demise, the 2024 Presidential election looks to be a crueler repeat of 2020. Exhaustion with the never-ending partisan warfare and (one has to hope) the absence of a global pandemic will erode the forces that drove Biden’s historic level of support more than those powering Trump’s.
Trump too won more voters than any other member of his party. And polls show he retains upwards of 95% of his supporters even out of office. Biden, on the other hand, has predictably seen his poll numbers crash, particularly among Independents. Fully 15% of his 2020 voters indicate they strongly disapprove of him now.
In 2024 a third party or two is likely to appear, which could radically alter the electoral college map. But if one doesn’t, based on present polls it is best to assume that Trump will retain 90% of his 2020 voters in 2024. Biden will fight to keep 80% of his.
In Arizona around 3.3 million people voted, about 1.6 million for Biden and Trump each. The end margin was a little under 10,500 votes, which is irrelevant compared to the scale of the numbers even if you brutally round. Trump would lose about 160,000 voters, but Biden would lose 320,000.
In Georgia, each got about 2.5 million votes in 2020 and the margin was just under 12,000 votes. In Wisconsin each took in 1.6 million and the margin was 17,500 votes. Michigan swung strongly for Biden, where he won by a margin of almost 155,000 votes. If the scenario I laid out above held in 2024, Trump would narrowly win Michigan, offsetting a surprise in some other key state.
Given how Trump behaved in 2020 there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t pressure swing state legislatures — almost certain to be Republican in all the swing states I’ve listed — to throw out the Presidential vote and assign Trump electors to the Electoral College. That triggers an epic Constitutional Crisis that the Supreme Court — now widely seen as partisan — has to decide.
It can punt by simply throwing out electors from contested states, triggering the Contingent Election process where the House of Representatives chooses the President — each state gets one vote. Guess how many state delegations and legislatures the Republicans control and seem certain to control in 2024?
270 Electoral College votes or 26 state delegations in the House — Trump has two semi-legal paths back to the Presidency. He clearly has enough money to hire effective campaign organizers and strategists — it is his own lack of discipline and irrepressible ego that doomed him in 2020. And even then, only barely, despite Trump laying out exactly what he’d do well in advance.
Either way, and at this point, given how strongly the Democrats have committed to being the anti-Trump party and little else, even in state elections, it is difficult to see how America gets through the winter of 2024–2025 without mass protests at the very least. There are also viable — if unlikely — paths to an open conflict over the legitimate holder of the Presidency.
The fundamental problem with American democracy is that it isn’t democracy at all. America is a Republic, an early mode of democracy prone a recurring mortal threat: elected Representatives turn out to be self-interested cowards unable to see past their own prejudices or desires long enough to serve the common good.
America is a Republic, insufficiently democratic to truly consider itself an established democracy, and at the federal level the thing is a Federation to boot. What that means is that, like Rome, like the British Empire, like the Soviet Union, the structure that knits America together — its federal government — is extremely prone to fragmentation.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you are one of the well-connected folks whose wages are earned in DC. Checks and balances, separation of powers — history has shown these to be vital to a democracy. Most modern democratic governments have adopted them, many inspired by the United States.
The issue is that our elected officials are mostly rotten — and made that way by a Byzantine nightmare of a governing system that was long ago turned away from protecting Americans and instead became a pay-to-play game to determine who gets to exploit them.
America now faces a simple choice: Reform, or die.
And the clock is ticking down fast.