America in November 2020: a Structural-Demographic View from Alpha Centauri

Peter Turchin

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As readers of this blog know, structural-demographic theorists distinguish between two causes of revolutions and civil wars: structural trends, which build slowly and are quite predictable, and much less predictable, or even unpredictable, triggering events. In this view, a revolution is like an earthquake or a forest fire. As Mao once wrote, “a single spark can start a prairie fire.” A fire needs fuel—dead plant material—which accumulates gradually as plants die and fall down. But what it needs to start is a spark—somebody throwing away a careless match, or a lighting strike coming from the sky.

Structural trends undermining social resilience in the United States have been building up for decades. It became clear to me 10 years ago (see my 2010 forecast) and has become obvious to most everybody in the last few years. These structural forces are: increasing popular immiseration (declining incomes, falling life expectancies, growing social pessimism and despair), elite overproduction and intra-elite conflict, and failing state (growing state debt and collapsing trust in state institutions). The Covid-19 pandemic put even more pressure on the system, especially exacerbating immiseration.

What is somewhat unusual is that the triggering event for USA in 2020 is also highly predictable. Every four years America elects president. Even under “normal” circumstances a ruler transition stresses the system, but when it happens under conditions of high social fragility, it can deliver a death blow to it. Last time this happened was in 1860. The result was the American Civil War and what many historians call the “Second American Revolution,” because it overturned the previous social order, dominated by slave-owning southern planters in alliance with northern merchants who shipped their products overseas. This ruling class was replaced with the new governing class, the northern manufacturing, mining, railroad, and agro-business elites. The main fault-line then was between the slave-owning South and the free-labor North.

Today the faultline is between what could be called the Red and Blue Americas. Blue Americans hate and fear Trump and everything he stands for. Red Americans hate and fear what Biden stands for. Either side is united primarily not because they particularly like their candidate, but by their dislike of the opposing party. There is a geographic aspect to this confrontation (the coasts versus the heartland) but it is not as clear-cut as it was in 1860. Also, the Red and Blue parties coincide imperfectly with the Republicans and Democrats, because many Obama voters switched to Trump in 2016, while many republican politicians have endorsed Biden. The division is over the issues.

As a reminder, my analysis in this blog (and elsewhere) is always non-partisan and as even-handed as I can make it. So let me try summarizing how each side feels, as though I were an observer from Alpha Centauri.

Blue Americans cannot bear thought of four more years of Trump, his desecration of the values that made America a beacon to the world, his bullying and lies, his undermining of the norms and institutions that make America work, his contempt for European allies, and his kowtowing to foreign dictators. They fear that Trump will use false claims of election fraud and the post-election social unrest to engineer a military coup, in which he would set himself up as dictator, and abolish free press and American democracy.

Red Americans fear a Biden administration that will open borders to massive immigration, encourage looting and property destruction by BLM and antifa rioters, take away their guns, increase their taxes, and end the oil and gas industry in America. Many see Biden as the senile figurehead for the global cabal of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and child-sex predators that include prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites, and deep state allies, whose aim is to establish an unelected “liberal dictatorship” that would abolish freedom of speech and American democracy.

Each side sees the world in Manichean terms and increasingly endorses violence as the necessary means to prevent the other side from staying in, or coming to power. As a result, we are in an extremely fragile state, which in technical terms is known as the revolutionary situation.

What will happen on November 3? One possibility is that one side wins by a landslide and the other accepts it. This is what the generals fervently hope for. This would avoid a civil war, at least for a time. The problem is that neither side has shown any willingness or understanding to solve the structural problems that have brought about the current revolutionary situation. And it takes years to reverse the negative structural-demographic trends, even once the necessary reforms are implemented. So we simply kick the problem forward to 2024.

Moreover, a clean win by either side, while possible, doesn’t seem to be very likely. Let’s face it, we live in a “post-truth” world. The difference between the Red and Blue parties is stark not only in their visions of where America needs to go; they also completely disagree on what is true or false. Each side believes that the other has been lying and suppressing information. The polls reported by the mainstream media, who has decisively taken the Biden side, suggest that Biden leads Trump by 10 percent or more. The Blue party is convinced that they are winning. But if you read Red party-aligned media and social media, they are equally convinced that they are the ones winning. Come election date and the days after, during the messy process of counting ballots and contesting results state by state by the lawyer teams on each side, it is unclear to me how either party could be convinced that they lost the elections.

What comes next—in November and in the months ahead? In dynamic systems terms, we are on the cusp with a highly positive Lyapunov exponent. What it means in English is that, unless there is a clean win, we will be in situation where possible trajectories start diverging dramatically. All kinds of outcomes become possible, even ones that seem outlandish right now, such as American Civil War II.

Many social scientists, who study civil wars and revolutions, don’t believe that a civil war here is likely. They look at the current wave of violence and don’t see how it could escalate to a civil war—the United States has a strong and well-armed police force that can easily put down any popular insurrection. But this view misses an important point: successful revolutions rarely result from the revolt of the masses. The most important factor is the divisions at the top, with dissident elites mobilizing the masses to advance their political agendas.

Using the past as a guide to the future, I can think of a number of possible trajectories after Nov. 3. These are all very speculative, and some may seem outlandish, but others have also been war-gaming various post-election scenarios.

In one demonstrations against Trump turn violent, he uses the military to suppress them, and then sets himself up as dictator (this is what the Blue party fears). In another Trump is arrested by the FBI and is put on trial. Alternatively, Biden is tried and convicted for corruption.

Other possibilities include a regional rebellion, e.g. the West Coast announces independence and the state governors use National Guard to defined themselves against the Trump administration in Washington. Or the Deep South announces independence against the Biden administration in Washington.

A group of colonels seizes the power and establish a junta (this one seems the least likely as the social norm that the military doesn’t interfere in politics is one of the few that has not yet unraveled).

Since we seemingly live in a dystopian novel, I can also imagine a trajectory in which Trump is assassinated by a lone gunman, who is then killed, and the person who killed the killer of Trump’s assassin commits suicide by shooting themselves four times in the head, and then jumping from the twentieth floor window.

Just about the only way in which street violence could directly escalate to a revolution is if revolutionary crowds break into the White House and depose Trump. But even this trajectory requires collaboration from the top (the police and the army standing aside to allow this to happen).

I am sure you can think of other possible trajectories. The main point is that hitting a cusp creates a fan of possible trajectories, many of which couldn’t even be imagined ahead of time.

One final thought is that the timing of any such possibilities is completely unpredictable. Social breakdown can happen in days, but historical comparisons suggest that usually it takes many months. For example, Lincoln was elected on Nov. 6, 1860, but the first real battle of the Civil War took place in July 1861.

And this concludes my “analysis from Alpha Centauri.”

Postscript: 4.XI.2020. A day after the elections, and the possibility space has started collapsing, but there is still a multitude of trajectories ahead. As I expected, a “clean win” by either party has not materialized (even though many from the Blue Party were expecting a Blue Wave, that turned out to be wishful thinking). The next likely phase is when both parties declare victory.

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Benign Brodwicz

I agree with the SD model as a first approximation model of US history, some major dimensions. What is missing from your musings IMHO is the international dimension, i.e., the very aggressive use of the pandemic (possibly engineered) by the Gates Schwab Soros crowd to implement a classic Communist “revolutionary” takeover of the US. And I am surprised as a former Soviet Russian that you didn’t include this, as most historians now agree that the Russian *Communist* revolution was not an organic event, but grafted upon an organic event (as will be any change occurring as the result of the present crisis, as it had plenty of tinder to burn.)

Loren Petrich

This seems to me to be evidence-free conspiracy theorizing.

It is also out of character for capitalists like Bill Gates and George Soros to be supporting a movement that wants to destroy everything that they had worked for.

Richard

Conspiracy theories don’t have to be logical.

What is disturbing is the number of people who embrace crazy ideas without thinking things through.

ronehjr

George Soros has worked to undermine societies built by Europeans all over the world. So the pandemic angle, while unnecessary in the long run, could certainly be one more facet to that end.

Linda S Fox

You are incorrect about the aim of the “Blue Revolutionaries” – they are not actually trying to create an egalitarian society. They are USING the illusion of one to keep their privileges and power intact. They have functioned, so far, by using government contracts and special legislation (tax breaks, high numbers of visas to import cheaper help, unfettered use of monopoly power to accumulate money, freedom to ignore critics, by crushing their outlets for expression).
They simply believe that the masses will accept the simulation of a Socialist society, while living in a technocratic oligarchy.

steven t johnson

No competent honest historian has ever made a convincing case for the Bolshevik revolution as some sort of artificial transplant. Or whatever crackpot notion is being advanced here. To claim this sort of thing is to claim that either the democrats could have created a democratic republic for Russia, made peace and carried out land reform. Or that the Tsar was the incarnation of the soul of Russia and it was defiance of God’s will to overthrow him. For the first, the fact that the democrats had no intention of attempting to make peace, reform land tenure and even delayed a Constituent Assembly refutes all such claims. (And the mystery of how the Bolsheviks won in Moscow in 1917 or won the civil war does too.) For the second, ignorant superstitions are beliefs but they are not history but mythology.

Loren Petrich

The democrats – do you mean the Provisional Government?

It continued Russia’s involvement in the Great War, despite Russia losing very badly and large numbers of soldiers deserting and some army brigades talking about mutiny.

Then the Bolsheviks came along and promised “Peace, Land, Bread”.

Juan Alfonso

What is missing is the interferences coming from foreign geopolitic powers, like Putin’s Russia. Namely their ability to create, feed and spread a variety of conspiranoic memeplexes like the ones that apparently have highjacked your central nervous system.

Gryunt Burguntly

And what you spewing is not any sort of “conspiranoic memeplexes” but the absolute truth unalloyed about the malign powers of the EVOL PUTIN MONSTER, right?

Kilgore Trout

I feel sorry for Dr. Turchin. His newfound recognition will make his blog posts a magnet for absolute imbeciles.

al loomis

trump is a fearful man, and might have financial doom awaiting his end of office. perhaps he has a comfortable bolt-hole awaiting in crimea.
biden is the annointed child of the deep-state, and with trump out of the picture, police and army are likely to keep unrest in limits.
the structure of the usa nation is hopelessly unfit for purpose, and crises will continue to rock the boat, until military coup is ‘necessary.’

steven t johnson

The notion that state debt—but not the much larger Federal Reserve debt created to service banks and the stock market—and collapsing trust in state institutions—as opposed to decaying infrastructure and the deliberate destruction of state services— constitute the fiscal crisis of the state is quite far fetched. Even worse, the usual problem of SDT, the problem of pre-selecting boundaries where the cycles get to play out neatly, while excluding analysis of areas where they don’t,* comes into play. The US is de facto an empire, which the Soviet Union was not and cannot be disappeared by a mere policy decision. Is the empire in crisis? So far as I can tell, not in the sense required by SDT, insofar as SDT has a coherent concept of fiscal crisis at all.

Secondly, the notion the media are all against Trump is absolutely wrong, relying on the insane pretense Fox News, just for one, is not media. President Twitterpated has never been shut down. The presentation of the issues as one of values like disdain for European allies or QAnon conspiracy theory ignores the real issue for the elites, namely, being tired of all the democracy crap. They by and large support Trump, The Democratic Party is on the verge of a split, which is why it was so difficult for a suitably right-wing nominee to be named in the first place.

Thirdly, the notion that the military officer corps has principles borders on obtuse. The officer caste is like the police, almost uniformly right wing, if not outright fascist. Closely related is a bad misreading of the situation as rural vs. urban. This is code for racism, of the kind that could lead to extermination camps. The property owners in low population density areas have undue sway over their areas, big fish in little ponds, and the suburban areas were essentially created as higher SES/racial strongholds. Cities are for the poor and miscolored. Imagining that the mayors of large cities can engineer secessions is nuts. Most states are either one party Republican in effect, or one party conservative Democratic. Neither will take up arms against a national Republican government. And the overthrow of a Biden government will be spearheaded not by parties but by the police and military.

*SDT can clarify much about the history of a France centered on Paris but including the langue d’oc but why wasn’t Provence/Catalunya the arena of structural-demographic trends? Why didn’t the structural-demographic trends for “France” include what became Belgium? If the causes of the cycles named in SDT are truly causes, they must play a role in national formation, not just in the evolution of given state. SDT must incorporate a demarcation that explains how it applies to a given area/history.

Richard

“The officer caste is like the police, almost uniformly right wing, if not outright fascist.“

OK, dude, it’s clear you don’t know many in the US officer corp.

Yes, military officers tend to be conservative, but they also tend to have a deep respect for the Constitution and following laws, which, if you’ve noticed, Trump has trampled all over. Also, they are almost all college-educated.

Polling of the officer corp actually shows a majority oppose Trump.

Richard

Poll of the US military in August 2020: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2020/08/31/as-trumps-popularity-slips-in-latest-military-times-poll-more-troops-say-theyll-vote-for-biden/

A slight advantage to Biden overall but among the officers, 59% have an unfavorable view of Trump vs. 35% with a favorable view.

steven t johnson

As for the poll, the OP is entirely correct that the situation can change dramatically. What these polls show now tells us nothing about what would happen if Trump says there is conspiratorial violence against the police, who need support.

But I have no reason to believe that a deep respect for the Constitution means a damn thing in an officer caste where the tradition of West Point is upheld to this day. Deep respect for the Constitution is exactly why West Point was the greatest school for treason in this country’s history. If Trump succeeds in preventing votes being counted, claims an Electoral College victory, this alleged moral principle would “justify” the officers supporting the loser, violently attacking the majority of the people, while congratulating themselves on their integrity. In constitutional law, originalism, respect for the Constitution, is an absurd reactionary ideology designed to corrupt democracy. If the Federalist Society filth hold the conscience of the officers who revere the Constitution in their pocket, anything can happen.

And in the end, the real principle in an army is, follow orders.

So, I cannot agree. Again, opinions not only can but will shift wildly in a time of social rupture. Every indication is that the officer caste will shift hard right. And there isn’t the slightest indication they will shift left.

Richard

So, expert of West Point, how many military officers have you talked to?

Your assumption that the military would rally to a man to calls them losers and suckers for sacrificing for their country (not to mention condoning bounties being put on them) seems rather not based in reality.

BTW, did you call Biden right-wing? If so, explain why the right-wing military would overthrow a right-wing President.

steven t johnson

Richard repeats the false claims about bounties on US soldiers to wrap his indignation in an American flag. The self pity of officers and troops convinced they are the only true patriots is exactly the motive that will lead them to follow orders to attack the disloyal conspirators.

johne

I’m another who doesn’t believe that a Centaurian who has done linguistic and anthropological due diligence would find the US media anti-Trump. Indeed, it is only with the pretext of a presidential campaign that they are posing semi-basic questions, and are not at the usual pains to take the edge off anything that might possibly be considered criticism of the president. Still, anything that smacks of presidential health, for example, physical or otherwise, is mostly avoided when possible, and fealty to the informal Goldwater Rule and its derivatives, that mental health professionals should avoid political commentary, is adhered to as if it were statutory — unless the professionals are right-wing.

As others have mentioned, polling data seems to indicate that military officers are less Trumpian than their enlisted men. By the same token, rural property owners (in most areas, the people who live there), have less sway over their region than do the owners (usually national) of local AM stations, who employ Rush Limbaugh and his imitators to sway owners and workers alike. Albert Speer was quoted as saying, “Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought,” and while “deprived” may have put it a bit too strongly, Goebbels didn’t have Limbaugh’s three decades to do his work with tractor drivers and packing shed workers looking for a work-hour escape from the boring routine of employment that can usually be done by rote.

Again, cities vary, but as has been reported apropos of Trump’s appeal to suburban white women, the suburbs are a lot less white than they used to be. An important reason is that even the middle-class, and certainly the poor, are being priced out of the cities where they work, even in city jobs like police and public utility workers. (Tangential to this, studies seem to indicate that even small cities are more Democratic than their surroundings — what is there about American urbanization today that promotes the Left?).

steven t johnson

Yes, the radio networks are national and they are part of the media that supports Trump. I think in practice it is various kinds of property owners who are more susceptible to such propaganda and who are the primary targets. They are believed to be the solid citizens, the leaders of the community because they are successful, i.e., have property and money.

As such they are the core of the political system on the local level. In rural areas they are the elites. The thing is, on the local level, most political systems are effectively one-party, very rarely are they competitive in a way portrayed in a middle school civics textbook. It is not even so common for the dominant party to have significant permanent factionalism. In a county, though there may be many workers, with or without college education, the people who count tend to be bank managers, automobile dealers, lawyers, the occasional doctor. Even in small towns the eminent citizens tend to a surprising degree to be owners of commercial real estate. Union leaders are never regarded in this light. Any principal may be conceived as a community leader but never a regular class room teacher. Clergymen, who functionally are small businessmen, are also deemed leaders.
.
This is regarded as so important it is common to openly recruit businessmen as leaders, and call that community participation. Another common tack is to openly consult “stakeholders” who are largely definable in practice as people who have property or businesses that may be impacted.

What you say about even small cities is true…but the thing is, these are larger ponds so it takes bigger fish to control the local politics. Nor is it a simple linear relationship, where if the population density is, say, ten times denser then it takes ten times the amount of wealth to have the same power. That’s why national politics is so much more open to popular (i.e., left) concerns than local politics usually are. Not even Rupert Murdoch can influence a country the way Ammon Bundy can a county.

Also, my guess is that urbanization eases fears of minorities by showing they aren’t demonic the way the media shows them. (And the media does by and large show them as evil or mere entertainers or maybe non-existent.. The main exceptions are in segregated media which pretend there are no whites.)

abprosper

Its outstanding to find out that Mr. Turchin has a blog.

Now to address what you said, ah no. The US officer core is Left leaning do to being more formally educated than the Enlisted. A huge chunk of the Officer Corps Colonel and up are left wingers albeit with Neo Con leanings. Think War hawk Democrats. This is a product of Obama’s purge of the Officer Corp and of the fact that of the US isn’t based all over the place or at war with anyone, officers tend to not have promotions or often even a career.

The Enlisted OTOH are all over the map, most I know are to the Right of Donald Trump as they tend to come from Red States or the Red parts of Blue States.

Gryunt Burguntly

Stevie, you sure run off at the mouth for someone who doesn’t get basic facts right:

“The US is de facto an empire, which the Soviet Union was not”

The entire post-1990 history of eastern Europe and central Asia demonstrated this is idiotically wrong.

steven t johnson

A Soviet “empire” that exploited the wealth of captive nations, suppressed the culture and imposed an authoritarian, nay dictatorial regime disappears without a war that leaves nations battered?

The English are still in Ireland and Gibraltar and those islands off Argentina and the French are still playing coup maker in Africa and the Portuguese were still mucking about in Africa just fifty years ago after centuries and the US still dominates the Philippines…real empires do not just quite because real empires are the bread and butter of powerful elements in the oligarchy ruling the imperial metropolis. So, no, the disappearance of the so-called empire proves it was not an empire in any intelligible sense at all.

As for the claim about how the subsequent history proves there really was a Soviet empire? The massive burst of prosperity in all the countries freed from exploitation, the astounding burst of cultural creativity and most of all, the universal spread of freedom after the tyrannical puppets were overthrown is what would show there was a Soviet empire. But there wasn’t any such thing. With the possible exception of East Germany, every single restorationist regime is poorer for the majority of the people, less free, more backward. The overthrow of an empire makes things better, at least after the reconstruction of the damage from the revolution—but wait, somehow there wasn’t any such in the overthrow of the Soviet “empire”!

The only way the facts don’t refute you is if you like poverty and lack of freedom and cultural reaction.

Nichol Dance

“A Soviet “empire” that exploited the wealth of captive nations,”

My understanding is that generally the funding flowed from the center of the USSR to the outskirts.

Robert T Pero

a great essay – with a viewpoint from a spot off of this planet – perhaps that is a lead in to a different sent of scenarios/possibilities.
thanks for your work – in 2010 I too was in a place where I was being forced to confront this epochal transition – I have found your books and your blog to be helpful.
Namaste.

johne

To revert to historical analogy, we might wonder if the US social norm that the military doesn’t interfere in politics will hold. The United States’ deterioration has so far followed with remarkable precision the model of similar breakdowns in other Western Hemisphere republics. In those, the military typically regards itself as the most basic guardian of the nation, the one required to intervene when the rest of the government fails. Indeed, only George Washington’s intervention seems to have prevented the officers of the 1783 Newburgh Conspiracy from revolting against the Continental Congress, due to its arrears in military pay and pensions — deemed by the officers an emergency if ever there was one!

Richard

Rachel Bitecofer has predicted that the military will be forced to step in and remove Trump.

It really comes down to whether the rest of the GOP leadership would be willing to stand up to Trump and tell him to leave when Biden wins. As, so far, outside of Mitt Romney and Justin Amash, they have shown themselves to all be cowardly spineless amoral unprincipled short-sighted bootlickers, I am not holding out hope that the GOP leaders will do the right thing.

If there is an international crisis, The top brass will induce Trump to leave.

VLADIMIR DINETS

Thank you for cheering us up in this difficult time.

Rich Howard

This WaPo opinion piece discounts a civil war and I found it hard to argue with. But…

“successful revolutions rarely result from the revolt of the masses. The most important factor is the divisions at the top, with dissident elites mobilizing the masses to advance their political agendas.
and wondered what Peter would say.”

Matt

But this view misses an important point: successful revolutions rarely result from the revolt of the masses. The most important factor is the divisions at the top, with dissident elites mobilizing the masses to advance their political agendas.

Who exactly are the elites that are pro-Trump? All I see are anti-Trump elites and others that are pretty neutral (e.g. the military). The Republican party elites support Trump while holding their noses. Trump’s only strength is popular support. And the idea that Trump is hankering for dictatorial powers is a Democratic fantasy for which you can’t find any support in his behavior. If anything, he is reluctant to use power. All this Civil War talk will seem so silly after the election.

J. Daniel

“Who exactly are the elites that are pro-Trump?”

Religious leaders.
Old-fashioned industries (oil for example)
Koch/Adler types

J. Daniel

Senators
Supreme Court “Justices”
Deep state political appointees
The think tank industry

Have I missed any?

Brendan Mackie

The American gentry! Small scale local elites, who are elite because of capital ownership, not social or cultural capital:https://patrickwyman.substack.com/p/american-gentry

Richard

If you don’t think Trump is authoritarian, imagine Obama doing even 10% of what Trump has done.

The Right-wing media would have you believe that Obama is the second coming of Hitler rolled with Stalin in that case. Actually, they were about there regardless.

Bruce Lepper

One determined leader who’s ready to break the rules will always be able to find support, and lots of it.
Those who break the rules usually end up beating those who follow the rules, don’t they?

We know that Trump is a shameless liar and that he has strong gun-carrying organized support groups who he has openly asked to stand by.

Surely the most relevant question is: to what extent does Trump believe in himself as a Messiah?

WARE_bluefield

I had just completed the translation of this post into Japanese.
https://bit.ly/2GjAXHm

I’ve been wondering for a long time: is “state financial fragility”, which is a key factor in ST theory, still valid in today’s states?

Recently, the much-discussed MMT theory argues that “a state with its own currency has no financial constraints on the government”. This claim seems to be partially true in developed countries with fiat money systems. On the other hand, if a increasing popular immiseration or has a weak taxation system, this would certainly seem to be a disruptive factor.

You said in an interview with Razib Khan a decade ago that “My working hypothesis is that the two out of three mechanisms of the demographic-structural theory, elite overproduction and state fiscal fragility, continue to operate in the modern world”.
http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2010/02/10-questions-for-peter-turchin.php

Are there any changes, etc., in your current thinking in the adaptation of ST theory to the present world?

Albert

I believe you tried to be fair to both sides, but a red state person would not think that you characterized their views correctly. I don’t believe that their main issues include seeing “Biden as the senile figurehead for the global cabal of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and child-sex predators” (unless you think that the bulk of red state voters are in QAnon). Instead I believe that many would point to their concerns about wokeness, political correctness and illegal immigration as among the main reasons they support Trump.

Ross Hartshorn

Dr. Turchin: so, the comments on this post have gone ugly early, for the most part, but perhaps you will still be reading this far down in order for me to ask a question. I know you had left the Soviet Union years before it disintegrated in 1991, but perhaps you had enough contacts still to know, did people there see it coming? And, more generally, do nations on the brink of a collapse such as that know that they are?

I recall Nassim Nicholas Taleb writing that just before his home nation of Lebanon blew up in a civil war, the taxicab drivers all seemed to know it was coming, but his father and other members of the ruling elite did not. I am curious as to how common this is, if it is known at all.

Loren Petrich

Let’s give a shout-out to our host’s article
Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties’ – NOEMA
By Jack A. Goldstone and Peter Turchin – September 10, 2020
https://www.noemamag.com/welcome-to-the-turbulent-twenties/

I like its discussion of two successful exits from structural-demographic crises, in Britain in the 1830’s, and in the US in the 1930’s. I note a curious similarity. Leaders of the recoveries threatened to pack some recalcitrant bodies with supporters.

Lord Grey threatened to pack the House of Lords with Whig peers, and FDR threatened to pack the Supreme Court with his appointees. Though neither threat was carried out, both bodies backed down.

We’re already seeing discussion of packing the Supreme Court as a response to the Republican Party playing Calvinball with court appointments — obstructing Obama’s appointees, then going ahead under Trump. Like obstructing Obama’s appointment of a Supreme Court Justice while saying that it would be inappropriate to do so 10 months before an upcoming Presidential election, and then turning around and doing the same thing only 2 months before an upcoming Presidential election.

abprosper

1930 America was essentially a completely different nation with a totally different demography (90% European) economy, social and civic structures and a President, FDR with widespread
popular appeal. You could threaten to do that and get away with it.

202 is radically different in every category.

even threatening Court stacking in a declining trust society in a revolutionary condition is amazingly foolish as it send the signal, it doesn’t matter how many fair elections you win, I’ll pack the courts with my cronies and undo everything you want,

Its a near absolute incite to all out civil war since there is no way to get what you want through the election process.

And note the converse is not true, to get the justices they want, the Left only needs to win a majority in the Senate during a vacancy since the Right will respect the rules. Merrick Garland was well within the rules as written, Its not sporting but US politics are becoming winner take all.

johne

“[E]ven threatening Court stacking in a declining trust society in a revolutionary condition is amazingly foolish…”

But that was exactly what Roosevelt did! (And what does European descent have to do with it?)

In any case, Goldstone and our host lay out in convincing and well-written detail what the rest of us have been unsuccessfully trying to get at in our comments here.. Read the NOEMA article that Loren Petrich links to above.

Loren Petrich

Another thing that needs reforming is the US Senate. It’s a relic from when the US states were independent colonies. The smaller states didn’t want to be overshadowed by the larger states in the new nation, so the Constitutional Convention delegates decided on a compromise: one house with members proportional with the states’ populations (the House of Reps), and one house with two members per state (the Senate).

That makes the Senate very unrepresentative, and a Senate rule, the filibuster, makes it even worse. That is not part of the Constitution, but it emerged over the 19th cy. One can talk and talk and talk all one wants, unless 3/5 of the Senators succeed with a “cloture” vote, to cut off their talking. In recent years, that nonstop talking has been replaced with the threat of it: Senate holds.

I’m reminded of the fake war in Star Trek TOS: “A Taste of Armageddon”.

I concede that that rule is not as bad as it could be. Early modern Poland’s parliament had the “liberum veto”, a rule where any one member could say no to anything, thus effectively requiring unanimity. This enabled Poland’s neighbors to divide that nation among themselves in the late 18th century.

Loren Petrich

It will be hard to do much about the Senate except by Constitutional Amendment, but that requires 2/3 of both houses and 3/4 of the states, though the first part could be replaced by a Constitutional Convention.

But the filibuster is a Senate rule, and it can be abolished. It has recently been abolished for executive-branch appointments and Federal judges, and it is now only for legislation.

Another solution is to add more states, and DC and Puerto Rico have been talked about recently. An alternative would be to split up some of the more populous states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois) or merge some of the less populous states (The Rocky Mountain states or the Great Plains states west of I-35 or the New England states).

steven t johnson

Yes SDT acknowledges the influence of external factors. What I cannot understand is how SDT draws the line between external and internal, especially in the case of today’s US.

Nor is it clear that journalistic neutrality requires the deliberate dissemination of lies by the President or even the simple acknowledgement that they are lies. Some sections of the mass media only very recently got the nerve to stop acting as a simple megaphone. The particular example offered, the Hunter Biden laptop, so far as I know, has no email correspondence between Hunter and Joe Biden. As such, it is at best (skipping over worries about tampering, due to the dubious provenance,) or at worst, depending on your perspective, evidence as to what Hunter Biden was telling his partners.

I have no idea why ordinary people would believe Hunter Biden was telling the truth to these people, instead of scamming them. There’s no story here. Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, as near as I can tell, have strange theories about the “Deep State” and they see suppression by the “Deep State.” They are outraged because they have delusions about Trump being some sort of dissident from the US campaign to rule or ruin the world. But unless SDT accepts “Deep State” theory as valid I see no reason to take them seriously.

VLADIMIR DINETS

It’s worth remembering that as conservatives in the US and UK sink deeper and deeper into alternative reality, the media faces a no-win choice. Follow the “both sides” approach and help propagate conservatives’ lies (as the BBC had to do), or do fact-checking, publish only true facts, and inevitably become more and more “liberally-biased” (as NYT and WaPo did).

Vic K

No, people who publish true facts end up in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh… presumably true facts are too dangerous to the US and UK.

al loomis

it may be that smedly butler stopped a coup attempt, simply by saying, ‘wouldn’t work, and i’m not mug enough to carry the can.’
and dined out years thereafter, making a few bucks, too.
is the situation more volatile now, more frsgile? don’t think so. the shirtless ones of the usa may well get violent, and they are better armed than yer usual rebels, but the police and military are well fed and unlikely to join the rebels. interesting times, but radical change unlikely.
but neither is there any engine of renovation. trump is no leader, but some general who has won the respect of the sergeants [are there any? usa military is just bandits in uniform ] may offer his service in saving the republic, about 5 years from now.

Daniel F

“Either side is united primarily not because they particularly like their candidate, but by their dislike of the opposing party.“

Spontaneous, unsponsored 96-mile-long car rallies are not motivated by dislike of Biden or the Democrats.

johne

On the other hand, it might be something even more powerful than affection or charisma — the abuser’s dominance. It is the same thing that is in play in the Stockholm Syndrome, or the abused spouse that pleads the case for their abuser, and doesn’t show up for the court date, when it comes to that. I now believe that it’s the same advantage that Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin and Mao had (we can finally dispose of the myth of Hitler’s “rhetoric,” supposedly responsible for hypnotizing the Germans of the ‘Thirties). It’s part of what Adam Serwer referred to in his Atlantic article, “The Cruelty is the Point.”

That seemed clear, to me at least, last week with the following Trump quote:[1]

“Our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID. You know that, right? I mean our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry, but everybody dies of COVID.'”

And again,

“Now they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible what he said,’ but that’s true. It’s like $2,000 more so you get more money,”

Slandering an entire profession, implicitly inviting retribution (legal or otherwise), against the victims of the slander, frightening the sick and warning them away from possible succor, and minimizing the danger of contagion to those not yet sick — it is breathtaking.

It has not been unusual in past pandemics to blame doctors or anyone who tries to help, and subject them even to physical attack. Mostly, that took place in supposedly less enlightened times.

I don’t understand why this hasn’t attracted more attention.

[1] https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/523740-american-medical-association-rips-trump-claim-that-doctors-are

kaishaku

Peter, on “they also completely disagree on what is true or false.”
Quite so, and they presume that their foes’ views are expressed in spectacular Bad Faith.
When Blues charge Trump with “kowtowing to foreign dictators”, I presume this to refer mainly to Russia, with many Blues seeing anyone (even Tulsi) who disputes this view, as being in Putin’s pocket.
Whereas, when “Reds” hear such charges, they see such stuff as being laughable, and mostly/ brutally dishonest (esp. after the Mueller & Horowitz Repts. appeared).
Taibbi’s theory (in Hate Inc.) is, that much of this stems from the bus. Model of TV networks, which reaches out to (ever-narrowing) demographic groups.

J. Daniel

Peter writes: “The next likely phase is when both parties declare victory.”

Trump tried for a couple days, but reality doesn’t care what anyone says. Reality simply sits there. It just is.

Now for the post-mortem:
I claim that hardly anyone voted for or against Biden out of strong emotional connection or antipathy to him or his political stance. He was mostly a mirror to reflect how Americans feel about Trump (for whom they do have strong emotional connection or antipathy). They voted for or against Trump, not for or against Biden.
What is surprising to me is how high a percentage of Americans voted for Trump instead of against. That is, they voted for a sales pitch based on upset and anger, ignoring facts (“they’re fake news”), ignoring managerial failure (covid is out of control), even ignoring self-interest (except for those in the relatively small elite subset that stood to benefit by accumulating more wealth or social influence if he won).
The unfortunate lesson for politicians, going forward, is to appeal to anger. Since without the senate Biden will be unable to steer the country out of its headlong rush into the trough of the SDT quasi-cycle, the country will likely be stuck treading water until another government is elected in some number of years that either turns the SDT cycle around, or resumes its downhill slide.
Politicians are wily creatures and will increasingly realize the advantages of following the populist route by appealing to anger. This of course puts the Republican party at an advantage because they can safely direct anger to the powerless. In contrast the Democratic party will be loathe to direct anger to the underdogs that they try to protect, and also unwilling to point the finger at the few but powerful at the top of the food chain who skim off the economy’s wealth for themselves, because without elite support elections cannot be won. And so the downward slide will continue until… what?

Loren Petrich

Seems to me that Trump is trying to win by playing political Calvinball. Like what Mitch McConnell did with the Supreme Court, saying that it would be wrong for Obama to appoint a Justice to it 10 months before an election, then saying that it is right for Trump to do that 2 months before an election.

So far, the courts have rejected his claims of massive vote fraud, in good part from lack of evidence. But some of his supporters have called on state legislatures to override the popular vote and nominate slates of electors, thus repeating the rival slates of electors of the election of 1876. But so far, no state legislature seems willing to open that can of political worms.

SteveLaudig

” “Second American Revolution,”. the strife may have ended being a revolution but it began as a “pre-emptive counter-revolution” in the sense that those fearing a revolution moved pre-emptively to thwart it. see generally Mayer, Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe 1870-1956… the slide will continue until the contradictions of the system real critical mass and that will be within the Democratic Party “inclination”. Clinton I directed anger at the underdogs in the triangulation

Nichol Dance

While I appreciate the concept of civil strife being a product of warring elites rather than purely organic matters, I think that the Red vs. Blue model doesn’t reflect reality. The notion of a battle fought purely over whether you are for or agin’ Trump doesn’t age well.

It’s fairly obvious that the hoi polloi can be driven like cattle by a combination of media and guys-who-give-speeches, but the herds are more subtle than Red and Blue (we’re just lacking a White and Green for horse racing). BLM activists and their good friends the Antifa iconoclasts share little with media robber barons share little with La Razans share little with non-STEM urban college grads. Each has their own set of kinks.

Team Red appears a little less fragmented being largely built on top of race and culture (the strongest glue of all) but hasn’t yet formed a coherent philosophy beyond hand-waving about the Constitution. Without Trump (hey, he’s an old man) I’m not sure how cohesive it really all is.

Where things amp up, and I can see this coming more from the Right, is the moment that a group feels physically threatened in any way. Putting together ‘lists’ of Trump supporters by prominent Blue folks is a little nudge in that direction. It doesn’t take much to metastasize a citizens vigilance committee.

J. Daniel

Interesting! Similarly, the many small business owners who depend for their elite status on personal income levels that in turn depend on cheap labor, weak labor law, weak unions…

Right wing media owners.

Peter mentioned Republican politicians.

So we’re up to 11 in our list. With Trump on his way out, these elite segments for sure won’t turn into Biden supporters.

c1ue

Very weak analysis – particularly in its glossing over of the causes of immiseration: health care and offshoring.
Nor is the author particularly successful in this attempt to be “objective”: the notion of Trump kowtowing is risible. Trump has no problem endorsing dictators, but then again, neither has any Republican or Democrat for at least 2 generations – so long as said dictator was “our bastard”.
I would recommend the author spend more effort to understand to root causes of immiseration rather than the presumed assumption that these are arising due to these “deplorables” not “learning to code” – even as the journalist labor demographic undergoes the same experience.

BRADLEY L MAYER

“The result was the American Civil War and what many historians call the “Second American Revolution,” because it overturned the previous social order, dominated by slave-owning southern planters in alliance with northern merchants who shipped their products overseas. This ruling class was replaced with the new governing class, the northern manufacturing, mining, railroad, and agro-business elites”. This is the view of Eugene Genovese, John Ashcroft and Eric Foner, generally that there was a clash between two different ruling classes, one capitalist and the other not, with one displacing the other, and hence a “bourgeois revolution”, however “incomplete”.

Many, including myself, think this view is incorrect. The slave owners, really *merchant* owners of slaves, were accumulators of capital and thus part of the general American bourgeoisie, while their cotton-producing sector bootstrapped the early U.S. economy both internally and on the world market. Capital *can* be accumulated by means other than “free” wage labor, it is only that the scope of accumulation is more limited. Those limits began to be hit by the 1850’s. The class conflict was *not* with Northern manufacturing capitalists, but between the Midwestern settler farmer households and slave owner aggression into Kansas and the West. It was these farmer’s sons that made quick work of the Confederates from Shiloh onward, while the eastern Army of the Potomac staggered about for years.

It was a war between non-capitalists and a certain type of capitalist, slave-owning ones. But the farmers proved incapable of making themselves the new ruling class, a “farmer’s state”. So no revolution even with the end of a particular form of production, slavery. For capital accumulation this was merely a “technical” adjustment in labor regime. The political proof is that there was no fundamental alteration in the 1787 Constitution, except to extend already existing rights to Black men (at least on paper). Instead, after 1876, the farmers were content with a restoration of the old Jacksonian political regime they had supported back in the 1830’s and 40’s. And there we have been stuck ever since, and now, having been stuck with this anachronism for so long we are paying the price.

Today there is no “third” class independent of capitalists and their dependent laborers (whether slave or wage). All wage laborers or capitalists, with a layer of professional managerial people intermediate between the two, in the employ of capitalists to manage the workers in the broad social sense, economically, politically, ideologically. True, capitalists are hardly equal within their class, and indeed there is a conflict between the advanced high tech monopoly industrial, commercial and financial sectors, and the parasitic capitalists lodged in real estate, hospitality and certain low-brow entertainment industries, a “Trumpen-bourgeoisie” that is less dependent on the professional managerial layer, and has also become disgruntled with their broader management of society, notably with the Democratic Party and mainstream media. And for wage laborers, the Trumpen-bourgeoisie only need low skilled people willing to obsequiously grovel before the great Boss-man cult of personality. The advanced monopoly techie sector, and even most manufacturing generally (notice we don’t hear of NAM anymore? And if you are too young to know the acronym, that’s my point), needs reasonably skilled, intelligent workers who can think for themselves.

This is the essence of the “culture” war: the work culture. My conclusion, perhaps surprisingly, is that this intracapitalist conflict could lead to a *political* revolution, if the old institutions, in continuing to promote provincial Trumpen-bourgeois characters into the center of power, in this way become intolerable fetters. But there is the danger of creation of an opening for a progressive working class – this class orientation though not inevitable – left intervention that takes the political revolution beyond capitalist bounds. And “they” know it, and hence either hesitate (Blue) or react (Red).

steven t johnson

The notion that a labor regime is a mere technicality in capitalist production is extraordinary. Planters may have sold their produce on the world market after the Civil War as before, but not being able to count their sharecroppers as capital made a difference. Great revolutions cause great changes in property distribution (one way we know they are “great” revolutions….Trotsky pointed this out?)

The notion that the effete easterners failed to defeat the manly southerners is nonsense.

Even the idea that the Constitution wasn’t changed after the Civil War is preposterous, relying on the blind assumption that decades of reactionary efforts to whittle down the impact of the Civil War amendments, especially the Fourteenth Amendment, were good faith interpretations!

SteveLaudig

On the Senate as a constipation point making the US Federal government NOT a representative democracy:

South Dakota 858,500 = 2 senators
North Dakota 757,000 = 2 senators
======================
These 1,615,500 Americans get 4 senators
California 39,145,000 = 2 senators
Texas 27,469,000 = 2 senators
======================
These 66, 614,000 Americans get 4 senators

The difference is 41 times as much power to the Dakotas. A number that doesn’t even match the number of persons commuting to work every day in either Los Angeles or Dallas. If I were a resident of California or Texas I would object to paying equal taxes since I wouldn’t be getting equal representation and in America, no [equal] taxation without [equal] representation.

Fifty three percent of the population gets 20% of the representation. That makes for illegitimate government. That is “equal” taxation without “equal” representation.

For example: The 37,253,956 Americans who happen to reside in California have two [2] Senators. The 563,626 Americans in Wyoming have two [2] Senators. Divide the population of California by the population of Wyoming and it shows that the Americans who happen to live in Wyoming have 66 times as much “Senator” as those in California. Why should the pay the same taxes. Change geographic location to race. Rethink.

Now, 2.87% of the population gets as much “Senator” as 53% percent. That’s not an egalitarian democracy and not really even a democracy.

Rank State pop 2010 % of tot pop % of Senate RT % of Pop
01 California 37,253,956 11.91% 2% 11.91%
02 Texas 25,145,561 8.04% 4% 19.95%
03 New York 19,378,102 6.19% 6% 26.14%
04 Florida 18,801,310 6.01% 8% 32.15%
05 Illinois 12,830,632 4.10% 10% 36.25%
06 Pennsylvania 12,702,379 4.06% 12% 40.31%
07 Ohio 11,536,504 3.69% 14% 44.00%
08 Michigan 9,883,640 3.16% 16% 47.16%
09 Georgia 9,687,653 3.10% 18% 50.26%
10 North Carolina 9,535,483 3.05% 20% 53.31%

41 Maine 1,328,361 0.42% 20% 2.87%
42 New Hampshire 1,316,470 0.42% 18% 2.45%
43 Rhode Island 1,052,567 0.34% 16% 2.03%
44 Montana 989,415 0.32% 14% 1.69%
45 Delaware 900,877 0.29% 12% 1.37%
46 South Dakota 814,180 0.26% 10% 1.08%
47 Alaska 710,231 0.23% 8% 0.82%
48 North Dakota 672,591 0.21% 6% 0.59%
49 Vermont 625,741 0.20% 4% 0.38%
50 Wyoming 563,626 0.18% 2% 0.18%

The Electoral College can thwart popular democracy every four years. The manner of electing U.S. Senators, which has every discriminatory, anti-democratic, and unrepresentative feature as the Electoral College, prevents representative in every election to the United States Senate. This feature disqualifies the United States Federal Legislature from being called a body that is either democratic, in the sense that each person holds the same power to elect, nor representative of the population, whites are overrepresented, the Money Power [formerly the Slave Power ].

I’ll concede a bit of a rant, but only a bit. It is deeply deeply unfair, unjust, and very dysfunction as it allows minority rule over a long period of time and delegitimizes the government.

Loren Petrich

I agree about the US Senate, but reforming it will be difficult. Completing the abolition of the filibuster will be a start. It has already been abolished for executive-branch and judicial appointees, though it remains for legislation.

Some of the flaws of the Senate, like 2 per state, are baked into the US Constitution. Its creators recognized the necessity of amending it, but the process they decided on was cumbersome.

First step: either 2/3 of both houses of Congress must approve it or else a Constitutional Convention must do so.

Second step: 3/4 of the state legislatures must approve it.

This means that the Senate can easily obstruct efforts to weaken or abolish it. One will need someone with LBJ’s legendary skill at political arm-twisting to get around that problem.

A Con-Con, as it’s sometimes called, has been convened only once, to write the original Constitution. There is a proposal to call one to propose a balanced-budget amendment, and the whole idea seems like a political can of worms.

Loren Petrich

A big problem with American democracy is the increasing power of the Presidency. George Washington was a very modest Chief Executive, not wanting to be crowned king, and refusing titles fancier than “Mister President”. He served a second term because his colleagues were dividing up into political parties, and he quit after that term.

But fighting the Civil War meant that Abe Lincoln ended up expanding the powers of the Presidency, and fighting the Great Depression meant FDR doing likewise. Half a century ago, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote “The Imperial Presidency” about Richard Nixon’s Presidency, and the problem has only gotten worse. The Right grumbled about Obama’s executive orders, though they seem to like executive orders that Trump issues. Trump himself seems to think that the Constitution gives him the right to do whatever he wants to. His successor Joe Biden is likely to face a divided Congress, and he may end up issuing lots of executive orders.

An executive leader who ends up doing a lot of the work of leadership is one who might think of staying in power permanently. Trump has talked about serving a third term, and even about being President for life, despite the 22nd Amendment. He isn’t even talking about alternating with one of his cronies, as Putin has done.

There is another famous leader who decided to stay in power permanently. Julius Caesar. By deciding that he would stay in power no matter what, he successfully defied the Roman Senate and ended the Roman Republic. It was already in decline over some decades of strife and civil war, and the final blow was JC’s crossing the Rubicon River with his personal army.

So the US may be headed to Caesarism. Trump clearly wants to be an American Julius Caesar, and it looks like he will be thwarted. But there may be future would-be American Caesars.

Loren Petrich

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/11/03/donald-trump-julius-caesar-433956 – comparing Donald Trump to Julius Caesar and saying that he is a similar sort of authoritarian populist demagogue. Complete with surviving scandals like being the “Queen of Bithynia” from his alleged relationship with King Nicomedes of Bithynia (now NY Turkey).

But Julius Caesar was more competent and politically skilled and level-headed and diligent than what Trump often seems to be, and he turned out to be a good leader. But he ended the Roman Republic.

He was murdered by some conspirators who hoped to restore the Republic, but its institutions were too badly weakened, and some generals fought over the nation, with Octavian winning and going by the name Augustus Caesar. He posed as a faithful servant of the Senate, but it was evident who was in charge. The Roman Empire stayed a monarchy for the rest of its existence, some 500 more years in the west and 1500 more years in the east.

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