How 2024 Will Shape America’s Future
The USA is stuck on rails — and the train is barreling over a cliff of its own making.
When I was still in academia, systems theory became something of an obsession.
I’m one of those people who absolutely has to know how stuff works. And across a decade in higher education I developed a unique approach to understanding complex social problems.
Working out why America is so broken has always been a pet obsession of mine. And I’ve got coherent explanations, but they aren’t pretty.
One of the hardest parts of watching America’s slow collapse, a country I once swore to defend with my life — as did my father, both grandfathers, and a grandmother too — is the simple fact that the people who could mitigate the damage and alter the fall can’t or refuse to see what they’ve got to do.
The critical objectives they must achieve, to put it in military terms. Which I often do, because war is the ultimate natural laboratory for studying social organization.
America is in desperate need of systematic political and economic reforms like its leaders were once capable of negotiating. Its debased form of democracy and wretched history of promoting unrestricted corporate oligarchy are running up against the challenges of a diverse social order long afflicted by extreme inequality.
Most of what Americans are taught to believe about their own country and the way it works is more or less mythology.
Political leaders spout their favorite versions of the national myth, pressing Americans to fight each other over ideological nonsense when the true architects of America’s fall take action after action seemingly designed to accelerate it.
Then enter the media, a for-profit industry that relies on telling anyone willing to subscribe or endure annoying, deceptive advertising biased stories intended to generate engagement. Social media gets a bad rap for creating algorithms that train people to click on the lowest-quality content, but traditional journalism has always relied on the same mechanism — the only difference is that editors had power in the old days, and now coders do.
Americans are told in school that they’re supposed to pay close attention to the news to understand the world. But when all the news channels are selling a narrative product specifically designed to appeal to an audience primed to believe only their news is real — well, is it any wonder Americans seem so perpetually ill informed, selecting the news perspectives that make them feel good and special?
The education system is little better, politicized from the bottom up by parents who are afraid their little darlings will learn facts that don’t match up with their worldview. Teachers’ jobs are half babysitting, half making sure students get good scores on standardized tests that determine their school’s funding.
This is a big part of why vaccine rates are so low. And why so many parents are offended by the very idea of learning about racism in school.
You get the society your education system generates.
Politics in America is naturally broken because there is no American society, no true American nation.
Claims to the contrary are motivated by rich power people’s desire to keep America the way it is: an engine for their own prosperity.
If this weren’t true, half of Americans wouldn’t live paycheck to paycheck. America wouldn’t have three times the Covid-19 death rate as Canada. Half of American federal income taxes wouldn’t flow to the Pentagon while climate change ravages the land. More than 2/3 of Americans would bother to vote for President.
The big lie of America is that the America actually exists as a coherent nation. There is no real democracy to defend — just a weird perversion of the idea, a puppet show maintained by jerks on TV that is forever almost a democracy, but not quite, and nobody can agree on what it looks like anyway even though they’ve got strong opinions.
Because no prominent group exists with sufficient power to alter the two-party doom loop, America’s story is continuing down a stark trajectory that Trump’s election in 2016 proved was beginning.
In 2016 I correctly worked out Trump’s plan to play a min-max game with the electorate, angling for a narrow Electoral College win by targeting older white voters in rust belt states who didn’t like Clinton. In 2020 I was right in predicting Biden was unpopular enough to result in a dangerously close election Trump would try to steal through shenanigans.
2024 is set to be a continuation of this brutal trend. Nothing substantial has changed in the structure of the dying American political system, and so the forces at play remain unchecked.
As of today Joe Biden’s polling averages have gone into death-cross: that is, for the first time they match Trump’s — formerly very consistently the least popular president in recent American history with approval hanging around 40%.
Biden is already there now, and still trending downward. While like Trump the rabid support from older partisans keeps his reelection hopes alive, the collapse in support among Independents is sure to doom a man whose appeal was supposed to be his moderate credentials and alleged foreign policy competence (just ask Afghanistan or Ukraine about that).
Even Obama’s poll average ranges didn’t change much through his eight years in office:
Democrats ought to dump Biden now in favor of Harris to try and shake up the game, but the groupthink gripping the senior leadership is extreme.
Leaders like Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden are all party-first types who also believe the senior leaders have a natural right to be in charge. Even when like Pelosi they’re a fabulously wealthy hypocrite pretending to be progressive or in Biden’s case have spent a year pretending to support progressive policies to keep The Squad under control, the party relentless in dragging in donor dollars and free work from young folks who haven’t yet given up all hope.
So it is extremely unlikely that the basic political dynamics that led to the deadly-close results in the electoral college in 2016 and 2020 will be any different in 2024.
A key sign of America’s collapse is the simple fact that presidential polling averages no longer move all that much. Every President in recent memory has experienced the same pattern: their polls decline after an election (or in Bush’s case, a terrorist attack) down to a baseline level.
Improvements come around elections when the rhetoric amps up and more people feel like they have to openly support their team. But even then the numbers just don’t move much anymore — Obama’s didn’t, Trump’s didn’t, and Biden’s won’t.
Most “moderates” or “centrists” are just corporate shills, unable to attract grassroots support.
The real American middle is ignored, doesn’t participate, or feels dragged into backing the lesser of two evils, defined mostly by their neighbors’ beliefs. The hardcore partisans drive the show, and the more money they amass the more dangerous they become.
That’s a major reason why there is such an extreme difference between rural and urban voters. Proximity generates political dynamics the big national parties drift off of to try and gain support, which for them equals money.
Big companies donate to candidates on either side to hedge bets, and wind up having more voice than regular voters no matter who is in charge in D.C. This creates a business opportunity leading the media and prominent business personalities like Mike Lindell, Elon Musk or whichever loudmouth Ayn Rand obsessed billionaire is performing for the cameras this year.
To fix America would require making it a real democracy: multiple political parties, campaign finance laws, nationwide mail-in voting like rural people have used for decades (I’ve never once voted in person myself), and not-for-profit media platforms committed to transparency.
But the hell of times like these is that any sane democratic reform will be negated by the nightmare that is D.C.
And America will spin its wheels like an old car trapped in a snow drift until the people willing to tear the country apart to get what they want win — and then, they won’t have a country to fight over anymore.
2024 now almost certainly comes down to one of four basic scenarios, ranked in order of probability:
- Trump narrowly wins the electoral college while losing the popular vote again.
- Trump is installed for a second term thanks to state legislatures intervening after the election.
- A third party candidate wins enough electoral college votes in the right places to throw the election to Congress.
- The Democratic candidate manages another bare-bones electoral college win and it withstands Trump’s attempts to overturn it.
The fundamental consequences of each outcome will look about like so:
- In 1 there are nationwide protests and a media obsession with whether GOP voting laws were responsible for suppressing a large chunk of the vote. Around 40% of Americans reject the legitimacy of Trump’s second term. Many Americans in Blue states flirt with the idea of secession.
- For 2, nationwide protests an order of magnitude more vigorous and sustained than those in scenario 1 are probable. A majority of Americans reject the legitimacy of Trump’s second term. The Democrats launch every legal bid they can to prevent Trump’s inauguration and California, if not the entire West Coast and Hawai’i, sees leading Democratic politicians openly discuss seceding.
- 3 is chaotic as the Contingent Election process hasn’t been used since the 19th century and no one would be sure what to expect. The House chooses from the three candidates with the most electoral college votes, creating a pathway for a compromise centrist candidate to be elevated to block Trump with bipartisan support. Does it work? I think so — but it might trigger widespread protests too. It’s hard to say how crazy the crazies will get.
- And 4 sees the Republicans protest nationwide, decrying another “stolen election” while several Red state governors propose secession. In effect, it’s the unstable situation America is in now maintained for another four years — or until someone decides to pick up their ball and go home, so to speak, triggering a Constitutional crisis that may never end.
The ultimate outcome beyond these broad predictions cannot be known with any reasonable scientific certainty. There are just too many higher-order emergent effects to consider.
However, the basic direction of evolution can be outlined in broad strokes. If either 1 or 2 comes to pass, the Democratic Party as we know it is done. Failure at this point will tear it apart completely. A three-party system will temporarily emerge, but with Trumpists holding the balance of power and America’s march to division continuing apace.
My bet is that if it’s 1, America doesn’t divide right away. Trump will dismantle half of the federal government and pollute the other half so thoroughly Blue States will copy the tactics Red States are using now, basically going all-in on state’s rights, daring Trump to overreach with federal power.
Mainstream Democrats won’t give up their dreams of an elite-dominated technocratic national government no matter the evidence that technocracy can only ever sustain itself at a local level. These old white people will accept the Vichy France model if Trump wins, pretending to defend Americans from the worst of Trumpism while allowing America’s modern-day Nazis to prey on Black, brown, and indigenous groups as they please.
I give the odds of either scenario 1 or 2 coming to pass being about 50/50, with a brazenly stolen election a bit less likely than a narrow electoral college win.
Barring a radical change at the top, not some petty staff reshuffle, the Democrats have little hope of escaping the bad feelings this difficult year of self-owns on their part has produced among Independents who are, based on historic polls, always primed to turn against the party in power.
Scenario 3 is something of a dark horse option because it only has precedent at moments of severe political uncertainty and a shifting of the party coalitions. 1992, 1968, once in the early 20th century and a couple times in the 19th are the only prior examples.
There is reason to believe, however, given the predictable decay in Independent support for Biden coupled to the fact a third or more of Republicans actually would like to move on from Trump, that a serious third party contender will emerge in 2024. They will likely be funded by wealthy backers and adopt a generally centrist position focused on government corruption and inefficiency.
Finally scenario 4, as the continuation of the decay of America already underway, in fact probably looks a lot like 1 in the long run. Unless deep reforms are adopted and soon, the two party system will just keep on hollowing out real politics, binding every random local squabble to the endless war in D.C.
In effect, scenarios 1 and 4 are ones where the D.C. machine clings to life for another five or ten years. Nothing really changes, America simply stagnates, and the stage is set for a major breach — or, with crazy luck, the country finds a way to muddle through.
2 and 3, by contrast, are scenarios where the widespread demand for some sort of real change that brought Obama into the White House is more powerful. Progressives should hope that a third party centrist movement grows strong, as this will give them the ability to finally dominate the Democratic Party. It will be an urban-focused organization with less total power, but the ability to focus it to force the centrists controlling the Presidency to adopt at least some reforms.
The alternative, I’m afraid, is that the Trumpists capitalize on justified anti-establishment sentiments among the American people to bring us all scenario 2.
That outcome, I suspect, will be the one that splits America up the fastest. Because the moment wealthy Americans in the West Coast and Northeast states truly grasp the perverse fact that American unity forces them to subsidize the anti-democratic activities of Trumpists in the South and Midwest, America as we know it is done.
In a country built on the ideology of the unrestricted right of economic self-expression, once the last veneer of democracy is shredded rational incentives will take over faster than you can imagine.
Nothing truly holds America together except inertia produced by the fact it gets enough people filthy, stinking rich. Moment it no longer serves that function or could serve the rich people better organized differently, more regionally, and inertia will undergo a phase shift and start pulling America apart instead of holding it uncomfortably together until it fissions like an atomic bomb.
It’s already happening. And barring the emergence of a kind of pragmatic, forward-looking thinking alien to most Americans who pay attention to politics, America’s future is easy to predict:
It probably doesn’t have one.