Friday, October 10, 2014

Coming to pass?

     In 1996, William Strauss and Neil Howe published The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. Drawing on their earlier work in Generations: The History of America's Future, they predicted that a great crisis would strike American life sometime around the year 2005.  On pp. 272-3, they tentatively predicted five ways in which this might come about.

      1.  A state, nearing bankruptcy, lays claim to its federal tax payments, setting off a constitutional crisis.

      2.  A global terrorist group "blows up an airplane," leading to American retaliatory strikes, and terrorist threats to blow up an American city with nuclear weaspons.

       3.  The President claims emergency powers after Congress refuses to pass a budget, forcing a government shutdown.

        4.  After an epidemic of a new communicable disease hits American cities, the President mobilizes the National Guard to impose quarantines, and large-scale violence breaks out.

        5.  Anarchy breaks out in the former Soviet Union, threatening local war and the lives of American citizens. (They specifically postulated a civil war in Lithuania.)

While none of these events, obviously, has occurred in exactly the way they speculated they might, I think it is fair to say that all but the first either happened in some form, or are well on their way to happening as I speak.  To this list I would add the possibility of a large-scale cyber-attack in response to sanctions imposed upon Russia or, perhaps at some later date, China.   More importantly, however, the mood of crisis within the United States is not passing away.  It is getting worse.

Thus, despite thirteen years of trying fruitlessly to roll back Islamic militance in the Middle East with American military power, the Obama Administration has reacted to the beheading of two Americans in exactly the way ISIS hoped it would: by launching another war.  Having reached the United States and killed one American resident, Ebola is now causing panic and some are calling for closing our borders to travelers from affected West African states.  Today's New York Times reports that the Republicans, in a last blitz of campaign ads, are claiming that the Obama Administration cannot handle the problems of our out-of-control world.  They are calling for stronger action, both to close borders and to destroy ISIS in the Middle East.  This might mark the beginning of a critical new trend.

A great deal, it seems to me, is going to depend on next months' elections.  Republican control of the Senate is now the more likely outcome, but far from a certain one.  Should it occur, I suspect the last two years of Obama's presidency will rival the last two years of Andrew Johnson's as one of the most turbulent in American history.  Mitch McConnell recently told a Koch brothers-sponsored conference that in that event, the Republicans will use the power of the purse to defund every part of the federal government that they do not like.   Yet the Republican call for stronger government is a countervailing trend--all the more so since the world is out of control and nowhere near stability.

I feel sure there will be more individual Ebola cases in the United States, and it is possible that new cases are already incubating in Dallas it, like HIV, gets into the right (or wrong) population at the right or wrong time.  The war with ISIS, meanwhile, is not likely to go well.  I personally don't think ISIS is likely to mount a major terrorist attack in the US, but if they could, there would undoubtedly be a strong push for some devastating action in return.  And Putin could try to pull off a quick occupation of one of the Baltic states at almost any moment, calling our bluff (which is all it is so far) and leaving NATO in disarray.  If one or more of these events takes place,  it seems possible that in the 2016 election each of the two candidates might be trying to persuade the nation that he or she has what it takes to take drastic action abroad and at home to deal with a new set of problems.   Hillary Clinton might have the chance to be not only the first female president, but also one of the most powerful and impactful presidents in our history.  This would be an enormous departure from either her husband's or Barack Obama's administration, but times are changing fast.  Republican candidates are also beginning to talk tough, and it will be interesting to see exactly what they propose.

I am not proposing these scenarios optimistically.  It has been a very long time since our political class was as unimpressive as it is now.  Increasingly it is the product of an educational system that tells its graduates very little about what the world is really like, and how people have managed to improve it in past eras.  Private wealth as been getting stronger and public authority weaker for a very long time.  We also have a very substantial body of opinion that will shrink from any kind of drastic measure to solve any problem, out of hostility to the very idea of coercive government.  Things have gone far enough, however, to say bluntly the Strauss and Howe's works have been born out as prophecy, as well as history.  The outcome, which they were much too wise to predict, remains undetermined.

6 comments:

Gloucon X said...

“They (Republicans) are calling for stronger action, both to close borders and to destroy ISIS in the Middle East. This might mark the beginning of a critical new trend.”

Hardly unexpected, and it’s just a continuation of the trend of a party out of power blowing hot air. Let’s see if they will also call for closing the borders of Texas to protect the rest of the country from Ebola. And what does tougher action mean with regard to ISIS? Will Republicans make putting combat troops back into Iraq, or into Syria a centerpiece of their 2016 campaign? No they won’t if they want to win in 2016.

Nothing more will happen with regard to Russia. The US attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and Germany is a failure, and so there is no reason for Russia to take any steps in the Baltics. Sanctions may still be there, but in name only. The Germans will not freeze for lack of Russian gas, just to please Washington.

If she runs and wins, I agree that Hillary could be a formidable president --America’s first Iron Lady. But I wonder if she’s considering the toll on her health for a woman who would be in her 70’s. If she wins, her VP could be a very important selection.

Sorry, I can’t agree that S&H’s 1996 predictions represented any great feat of prophecy. Predicting more terrorism three years after the first wtc bombing and one year after the Ok City bombing doesn't make you Nostradamus. The ethnic wars in Yugoslavia were raging at the time, so it was hardly far fetched that the same could happen to ethnically mixed areas of the former SU. And plagues and financial crises are standard issue in the soothsayers kit, because they always happen, eventually.

Larry said...

I think too David that the failure of the main stream media to keep the public adequately informed must play a part in our deteriorating state.

They have enabled a consumer society rather than an educated one and will ultimately pay the price as chaos grows amongst a restless population being ill-served by the plutocratic class in this country and around the world

ed boyle said...

Obviously the crisis has been growing due to the nonrecogniton of a systemic crisis. In other words we are driven by an ideology over a cliff. Before every civilizational collapse a worldview dominates which brings about its own end. Look at czarist or soviet Russia's or ancien regime's disfunctional behaviour and what it led to. We see that all today in the whole world but USA is the leader of the system, sets the tone.

WWII and napoleon's wars were reorganizational wars after an obvious collapse of an old order through revolution and collapse of monarchies due to financial and military incompetence. Napoleon and Hitler had militaryvisions of conquest, a New World Order. The collapse of the communist bloc, also in Asia has opened up a similar window of opportnity for someone to mould the future. Obviously Bush, Cheney, neocon theorists have made a large impact, actually counterproductively, destroying old structures in the hopes of eing able to easily direct the forces unleashed in a new and desirable direction. To redraw the map of the middle
East. Before WWII Americans meddled in Latin America, doing more damage than good(correct meifwrong) and after WWII they took East Asia, Europe nto this category and nowadays Arab countries and Eastern Europe nd now China(funding uigur terror attacks, student demos). There has been on Washington's part an accelerated attempt at destabilization since communist alternative ideology and military funding were withdrawn in East Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, South America. It took some time for the othr side to respond with an effective opposing ideology to "Atlanticism", i.e. Eurasianism.

The collapsed of communism reduced the control mechanisms on the West, military and financially irresponsibility and socially as well, accelerating onesided policies leading to massive debt incurment, military expansion, social, infrastructure neglect, job export, all on the assumption that "We won the Cold War and can do no wrong".

If Hitler, Napoleon's attempts to restructure a chaotic world are similar to US efforts since Bush perhaps then Russia's strategic thnking and military efforts to destroy these chaotic, scattershot types is worth considering in perusing Putin's pushback. The West is destroying itself furthermore by a false belief in growth, i.e. in modern economic theory disregarding malthus, resource economic limits,etc. Inasmuch as Russia and China only copy the West they will fail. If however they fall back on traditional methods and survival techniques they can perhaps manage decline. If the West' hubris, in debt bnging, growth expansinism, cultural and military exclusivity leads to its implosion as in Easter Bloc it only has itself to blame.

N.B. Russia's 80 year cycle was from 1918-19 and West's is from 1940-2020. Irresponsible bankrupt system with burnt out population is a bad starting place for a civilizational contest like WWIII or similar, that is shaping up.

Rupert Chapman said...

Seldom have I ever so strongly hoped that someone was wrong, and seldom have I ever so strongly feared that they were right. I hope soon to begin reading Strauss and Howe.

Bruce Wilder said...

I'm curious about whether your views have also been informed by others, who took up the Fourth Republic thesis -- Bruce Ackerman, Theodore Lowi, Michael Lind or (the blog-favorite) Stirling Newberry.

They expand the notion from the character of generations to the character of institutions.

In that respect, I cannot help, but think the die has been cast, and the results of the present election on the partisan composition of the Senate, though possibly aggravating, will not be decisive -- the decision having already been taken. The great trials of Civil War and the Great Depression seemed to strengthen the country, morally, in its commitment to democracy and the common man, but this last crisis has been met by elites with cynical and exclusively self-serving skill and by the masses with passive resignation.

When I read your book about FDR and preparation for WWII, I was struck by the contrast with business elites today, which have no such sense of sharing in a common project of building a sustainable society or world. FDR's vision was responsible for focusing that, but Obama seems content to simply cover for its absence. FDR labored amid a world, which had collapsed, and sought a new architecture, Obama -- unwisely -- has sought to preserve a structure that should have collapsed, and now we will live with the rot, and incapacity.

Today, Obama is thought to be planning to appoint a political operative to address Ebola. FDR was no stranger to political operatives, but can we imagine him elevating someone with no public health expertise to such responsibility?

Sorry, if I ramble; my distress seems to crowd my thoughts.

Ron Lawrence said...

After watching your talk at the FDR library on CSPAN I was taken with the comment that FDR could get Americans to look at themselves as citizens. That is such a contrast to the current Democrat that holds this high office that only seems to get Americans to think of themselves as victims.

We are indeed a two party system but not as currently thought of. The two parties that exist now are victims and those that aren't. Those that aren't don't care which party is successful as long as they can survive on their own and have the country survive. The victim party also doesn't care which party is in power, as long as the benefits that they want continue.

In my opinion, the victim party will only muster themselves if they perceive that the country that gives them the ability to be takers is in jeopardy. The "aren'ts" party spans every monetary class in the US, and will muster themselves at a moments notice, when called upon to protect the country.

To get the victim party to muster will take an attack on the US similar to 9/11 or worse. Anything less is not seen as catastrophic enough to rouse them.

The aren'ts may over react but any affront to the country is seen as, at least, a cause to become more highly active and prepared.

All that to say, I think that the S & H predictions weren't to hard to come up with, save the first one. The two party system that I see now, will cause the downfall of the US much more quickly than any of those predictions. We cannot afford to tax the aren'ts until they become victims.

One of the real current parties needs to learn a lot more history, to quit causing the crisis of the day.

Ron Lawrence
St. Cloud FL