It’s a big, strange, complicated world out there. It feels like many of the painful pressure points building for years in our public life are approaching a breaking point, with sudden, wrenching transformations looming. Many of the big-picture trends impacting day to day life this year were described years ago in The Politics of Crazy, but a few of them have ripened very suddenly. Here’s a review of some of the forces shaping our lives, in a quick bullet-point format.
Nobody really cares about Donald Trump’s obstruction of justice. Since the Clinton era, issues like obstruction of justice or perjury, which amount to a breach of institutional norms, have diminished into nothing more than a partisan issue. What matters is the activities he has been trying to hide. Firing Comey and interfering with law enforcement won’t bring down Donald Trump. Money laundering might. Even then, our representative institutions are probably too weak to cut through partisan rivalries and remove a corrupt president, just like they failed to remove Clinton. Trump will be driven out of office by the threat to his businesses posed by disclosure of the true nature of his financial activities. Once his businesses cease to be a safe place to launder money, he and his family will be forced to retreat.
Governments don’t matter as much as they used to. Your employee badge or stock certificate are far more important for your success and security than your passport.
It’s time to prepare for the end of professional government. Trump was just the tip of the iceberg. The triumph of consumer ethics and the death of community life will kill off institutions that once produced semi-competent professional representation.
Don’t blame democracy for Donald Trump. He lost his election by almost 3 million votes. Republicans control the House after winning just 48% of the vote. And in the Senate, the “majority” party won barely a third of the votes in total, nationally. The government we are living under is not a product of democracy.
In a strange historical twist, the Democratic Party is now the party of America’s winners, those who are best prepared culturally and economically for our future. Republicans are the party of America’s losers, those who sat stock still over the past 30 years while the world shifted around them. If Democrats want to win, they need build an economic climate that will produce more winners, and create less pressure on losers.
Accelerating technological advance, beyond just robotics and AI, is destroying traditional forms of paid work. You’ll find the evidence not in the unemployment rate, but in the rise of low-wage service labor. Rising employment in jobs of declining overall value will probably obscure this trend for another decade or two, making it tougher for us to muster the will to respond.
The culture divide that produced the 2016 election disaster is bigger than the racism and bigotry which are its scariest drivers. On one side of that election were voters (a majority) who have adapted to a world of relentless transience, an environment in which nothing can be taken for granted. On the other side was an aging, mostly rural white electorate still angry that we no longer live in a world where uneducated white people who refuse to adapt to changing conditions can expect to thrive and prosper despite their complacent mediocrity.
Events playing out in the year or so after Donald Trump is removed from power will pose the most dangerous threat to our national survival since 1860.
We are quietly approaching a tipping point in the market for fossil fuels. The collapse of that market will be sudden and seemingly unexpected, with terrible implications for rural economies in the US. Solar and battery technology seem to have already reached levels necessary to challenge carbon fuels for efficiency. Downstream from that development, the mechanical simplicity and accompanying reliability of machines running on stored electricity will make internal combustion economically hopeless. Transformations resulting from that shift will likely drag with it a pivot toward autonomous vehicles and heavier general reliance on AI. That point may be a decade or two away, or we may reach it this year. No one really knows.
The next generation just launching into the world will organize their communities almost entirely around their work (which will not necessarily be a “job”) and their entertainment interests, rather than around their homes/neighborhoods. They will inhabit virtual communities with little or no relationship to geography.
Owning capital-intensive things like a home or car is fading from ordinary people’s lives. They were always economic dead-weight. Cars, homes and other capital heavy resources will be owned by businesses or collectives and purchased on an as-needed basis. Individual lifestyles and social mobility will be better for it. Local communities, on the other hand, will suffer from this transformation.
Gentrification is not as much about race as we tend to think. Gentrification doesn’t always eliminate diversity. A gentrified neighborhood is sometimes more ethnically or racially diverse than the displaced population. Gentrification destroys a neighborhood by replacing a geographically-centered community of people who know each other and share each others’ lives, with a community of people who have no emotional ties to a location. Gentrification replaces neighbors with customers.
Organized religion is dead, not just in the US and Europe, but globally. Nothing is emerging to fill the psychiatric void left behind by its death. That’s why fundamentalist movements like the Taliban, ISIS, the religious right in the US, and the Israeli far-right have emerged as such a threat to peace and stability. As organized religion rots away, these extremist cults will proliferate, harrying the margins of otherwise functional democracies with a persistent threat of religious fascism.
Wealth inequality is producing accelerating cycles of capital inflation, followed by sharp collapses in capital value. Those ups and downs have always been a feature of capitalism, but they are reaching precipitous extremes. With too much capital in too few hands, that hoarded wealth finds fewer and fewer productive outlets, tending to pool in casino-like inflationary markets searching for returns. Concentration of wealth is like a boa constrictor around the neck of capitalism. Unless we find ways to tax away superfluous dead-money, the system will deploy its own built in remedy to restore stability – war. Across history, war has been the reliable mechanism for destroying massive accumulations of wealth.
On a related note, we have entered the dumb-money phase of the current global bull market. When this market “corrects,” it’s going to break stuff on a monumental scale. The collapse of this administration might not trigger that collapse. An eight year economic expansion has continued uninterrupted by Trump’s election and it might continue through his removal. There’s a good chance that it’s only ended by some other factor independent of politics.
These changes may feel frightening, mostly because we carry a natural fear of the unknown. Though many aspects of this emerging environment seem disturbing or disheartening, life for human beings is improving on nearly every measurable axis. Humans are freer, wealthier, healthier and happier than at any point in our evolution. It may not seem like it, but the world is getting better.