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02/05/2020 / By News Editors
The big question for the year 2020 is simple: can America get its mind right?
(Article republished from Kunstler.com)
If the answer is no, we may not have much chance of continuing as a peaceful, functioning country. The era of the long emergency, as I call it, is of a piece with Strauss and Howe’s figurative winter in their Fourth Turning view of history playing out in generational cycles analogous to seasons of the year. Whatever you call it, the current disposition of things has had a harsh effect on our collective psychology. It has made an unusually large cohort of Americans functionally insane, believing in demons, hobgoblins, and phantoms, subscribing to theories that, in previous eras, children would laugh at, while contesting obvious realities and provoking grave political hazard.
The madness is distributed over many realms of American life, with the common denominator of a thinking class fallen into disordered thinking. The disorder is led by the information media and higher education with their crypto-Gnostic agendas for transforming human nature to heal the world (in theory). It includes a grab-bag of delusions and deliberate mind-fucks ranging from the morbid obsession with Russian interference in our affairs, to the crusade against free speech on campus, to the worship of sexual perversity (e.g. the Transsexual Reading Hour), to the campaigns against whiteness and maleness, to the incursions of woke-ness in the corporate workplace, to the cynical machinations of economists, bankers, and politicians in manipulating financial appearances, to the effort to divorce reality from truth as a general proposition.
These diseases of mind and culture are synergized by an aroused political ethos that says the ends justify the means, so that bad faith and knowing dishonesty become the main tools of political endeavor. Hence, a venerable institution such as The New York Times can turn from its mission of strictly pursuing news and be enlisted as the public relations service for rogue government agencies seeking to overthrow a president under false pretenses. The overall effect is of a march into a new totalitarianism, garnished with epic mendacity and malevolence. Since when in the USA was it okay for political “radicals” to team up with government surveillance jocks to persecute their political enemies?
This naturally leads to the question: what drove the American thinking class insane? I maintain that it comes from the massive anxiety generated by the long emergency we’ve entered — the free-floating fear that we’ve run out the clock on our current way of life, that the systems we depend on for our high standard of living have entered the failure zone; specifically, the fears over our energy supply, dwindling natural resources, broken resource supply lines, runaway debt, population overshoot, the collapsing middle-class, the closing of horizons and prospects for young people, the stolen autonomy of people crushed by out-of-scale organizations (government, WalMart, ConAgra), the corrosion of relations between men and women (and of family life especially), the frequent mass murders in schools, churches, and public places, the destruction of ecosystems and species, the uncertainty about climate change, and the pervasive, entropic ugliness of the suburban human habitat that drives so much social dysfunction. You get it? There’s a lot to worry about, much of it quite existential. The more strenuously we fail to confront and engage with these problems, the crazier we get.
Much of the “social justice” discontent arises from the obvious and grotesque income inequality of our time accompanied by the loss of meaningful work and the social roles that go with that. But quite a bit of extra tension comes from the shame and disappointment over the failure of the long civil rights campaign to correct the racial inequalities in American life — everything from attempts at school integration to affirmative action (by any name) to “multiculturalism” to the latest innovations in “diversity and inclusion.” In short, too many black Americans are still failing to thrive in this land despite fifty years of expensive government programs and educational experiments galore, and there are few explanations left to account for that failure, which includes black-led cities in ruin and high rates of black violent crime. This quandary harrows the thinking class and drives them ever deeper into their crypto-Gnostic fantasies about changing human nature to heal the world. The net result is that race relations are worse and more fraught than they were in 1950. And the outcome is so embarrassing that the thinking class avoids facing it at all costs (despite bad faith calls for “an honest conversation about race” that is, in actuality, unwelcome).
Our country is caught in a matrix of self-destructive rackets and the common denominator is the immersive dishonesty we have given ourselves permission to practice. In ethics and daily conduct, we’re nothing like the country that came out of World War Two. Our national maxim these days is anything goes and nothing matters. That’s a poor platform for navigating through life on earth. After a decades-long clamor for “hope and change,” that’s one big thing we don’t talk about changing, and apparently have no hope for changing. America has got to get its mind right about lying to itself.
This is a forecast, after all, and I’m going to try to be as concise as possible on the particulars, which we’ll now turn to. Forecasts, you understand, are like jazz, an improvisational connecting of dots at a certain moment in time… or throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if anything sticks.
There’s an excellent chance that the Democratic Party will be in such disarray by summertime, that it may break apart into a radical-Wokester faction and a rump “moderate” faction. That would make the election somewhat like the 1860 contest on the eve of the first Civil War. The current crop of leading candidates — Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg — all look to me like horses that ain’t gonna finish. Michael Bloomberg could end up leader of the rump moderates, propelled by his inexhaustible bank account, but I doubt his appeal to the racial minorities and the new millennial voters Democrats depend on. I’m not sure he’s left with much else.
I’m convinced that Joe Biden is in still in the contest solely to avoid investigation. He’s already obviously not wholly sound of mind, and he’s not even in the White House yet. Think of how Bob Mueller looked testifying in congress six months ago, and imagine Uncle Joe in the White House Situation Room. The record of grift from Uncle Joe’s Veep days is vibrantly nauseating, and embarrassingly on-the-record in video and in bank statements. Similarly, for Elizabeth Warren: there are too many video recordings of her lying about herself. She’d never overcome an opponent’s political ad campaign replaying them daily. I’m sorry, but despite the crypto-Gnostic wish by many Thinking Class-niks to make the marginal seem normal, I doubt the voters want to see Mayor Pete in the White House with a “First Husband.” Bernie Sanders has a shot of leading a radical faction this time — if he can overcome the hacks in the DNC — and only a dim shot at winning the general election. This overview leaves a pretty big crack in the door for Hillary Clinton to ride into a hung convention in Milwaukee on a paper mache white horse and try to “rescue” the party. I believe she’d be laughed out of the hall, making for a humiliating final scene in her accursed career.
One other possibility is that a figure currently off the game-board somehow flies in to lead the Democratic Party, but it’s impossible to state who that black swan character might be. That could also be something like a “smoke-filled room” scenario of a nominating convention, like the one that picked Warren Harding a hundred years before: the party poohbahs get together and just ram their decision down the delegates throats. I’d assign a 20 percent chance to that outcome.
Whatever you think of his style, manner, and policies, Donald Trump has one outstanding quality: resilience. As David Collum has remarked, Mr. Trump is anti-fragile (in the Nassim Taleb sense). The more he is antagonized, the stronger he seems to get. His weak spot is his ownership of the economy and the financial markets that are supposed to serve it. His destiny, which I described in blogs three years ago, is to be the guy left holding the bag when things economic start cracking up — a situation I’ll describe in its own category below. The odds are not so good that the status quo of an ever-rising stock market will hold up until next November. And if it goes south in a hard way, that will certainly work against his reelection. It could also be the one thing that would permit the Democratic Party to stay glued together — but implies that a shake-up in markets and banks would have to happen by early summer, before the conventions.
Meanwhile, the attempts at impeachment have a peevish Lilliputian flavor. Keeping it up —bringing a threatened second or third bill of impeachment with extra charges — will only reinforce Mr. Trump’s anti-fragility. Second to the economic issues is the question whether the firm of Barr & Durham will manage to pin some criminal responsibility on the people who undertook the RussiaGate coup against Mr. Trump — a ghastly mis-use of government power now celebrated by Democrats, who, you might recall, used to be against police states. A series of perp walks by the likes of Brennan, Comey, Clapper, and others could finally burst the bubble of credulity that the Mueller face-plant and the damning Horowitz report failed to achieve among the True Believers of Rachel Maddow. Of course, this matter has even greater significance for correcting the meta-problem of America chronically lying to itself. RussiaGate and its spinoffs was such a gargantuan edifice of malicious dishonesty that it must be deconstructed in the courts, or the mental health of the nation may not recover. It is the key to ending the regime of anything goes and nothing matters. Bottom line: if the markets or the value of the dollar don’t crash, Mr. Trump will be reelected.
However, I expect that his rivals will resort to Lawfare tactics to tie up the election process in a paralyzing tangle of litigation that would impede or deny a peaceful resolution of the outcome. These tactics may provoke the president to declare some extraordinary measures to overcome this climactic act of “Resistance” — perhaps a period of martial law while the results are re-tabulated. Yes, it could get that extreme.
Economy and Its Accessories
The shale oil “miracle” was a financial stunt using debt to provide the illusion that the nation’s energy supply was safe and assured long-term. It’s been an impressive stunt, for sure, with production nearing 13 million barrels-a-day now, but it is foundering on its Ponzi business model — the producers just can’t make money at it, and they’ve spent ten years proving that it’s a foolish play for investors. The result will be dwindling investment in an endeavor that requires constant re-investment. Which means that 2020 is the year that shale oil de-miracle-izes and production falls. The bankruptcies have only just begun.
The economy is really just a function of energy inputs, and these must be inputs that make economic sense — that don’t cost more than whatever they return. All our banking and finance arrangements depend on that. If energy inputs decline, or the cost in energy exceeds the value of net energy you get, then debts of every kind can no longer be repaid and the whole system implodes. From there the question is whether collapse is slow or fast. My guess is that it may start slowly and then accelerate rapidly to critical — and the process has already begun.
As a result of this energy dynamic, we’re seeing a generalized contraction in economic activity and growth worldwide, expressed in standards of living that will fall going forward. The effects in America are already obvious and discouraging: the struggling middle-class, people living paycheck-to-paycheck, people unable to buy cars or pay to fix them. The hope was that America might reindustrialize (some version of MAGA) while the “emerging” economies kept producing stuff as the “engines” of the global economy: China, India, Korea, Brazil, Mexico and others. These places saw standards of living rise dramatically the past thirty years. Reversing that trend will be a trauma. These emerging economies are topping off and heading down because of the same basic energy dynamics which affect the whole world: running out of affordable energy, oil especially. The likely result will be political instability within China, and the rest — already manifest — and some of that disorder may be projected outward at economic rivals.
Europe has experienced plenty of blowback from its contracting standard-of-living as expressed in the Yellow Vest disruptions in France, the Brexit nervous breakdown, the gathering power of nationalist political movements in many nations, and the ongoing refugee crisis (largely economic refugees from failing third world places). The European banks, led by the sickest of them all, Deutsche Bank, suffer from a crushing burden of bad derivative obligations that are liable to sink them in 2020, and then there will be a scramble for survival in Euroland, with the recent refugees caught in the middle. I think we will see the first attempts to expel them as financial chaos spreads, violence erupts, and nationalism rises.
The “solution” to the quandary of contraction since 2008 has been for central banks to “create” mountains of fresh “money” to provide the illusion that debts can be repaid (and fresh loans generated) when reality clearly refutes that. All that money “printing” has only deformed banking relations and the behavior of markets — the most obvious symptoms being asset inflation (stocks, bonds, real estate), the quashing of price discovery (the chief function of markets), and zero interest rates (which makes the operations of banking insane).
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