A popular topic on the Right for a long time has been the looming economic trouble that everyone agrees is inevitable, due to the spiraling debt. The political parties lost interest in the debt during the Obama years, but the problem remains. The Federal government adds another trillion or so every year and we’re just at the start of the great Baby Boomer retirement, which promises to bankrupt Social Security and Medicare. All of the things Reagan warned about, and did nothing about, are still there and getting worse every day.
Now, as I mentioned in the podcast last week, one reason no one cares about this stuff anymore is nothing every happens. The politicians never do anything to address the problem and the warnings about the disaster never come true. The 2008 mortgage meltdown can probably be blamed for the public’s indifference to these issues now, and maybe the politicians too, because the disaster was averted. That problem was worse than the predictions, but the consequences were nothing like predicated.
For the Right and increasingly for the Left, the hand-wringing over the looming financial troubles has always been a proxy for the general angst about democracy. After all, the primary driver for the debt trouble is the public’s insatiable desire for free stuff and the politicians need to give it to them. The creative ways in which the U.S. government finances its spending is driven by the need to feed the beast that is democracy. They say necessity is the mother of invention and we see that in our fiscal situation.
The thing is though, a financial crash, even a debilitating one, is never enough to bring down a nation. For example, the Long Depression lasted in the United States from 1873 to 1896, with the most severe portion being the first decade. The Great Depression lasted for over a decade and was followed by world war. There was never a fear of revolution in these economic disasters because the public trusted itself and the institutions of the nation to work through the problems. People just kept working the problem until it got better.
Revolts come when people no longer trust their rulers. The king bungles a series of issues and the people decide they need a new king. The ruling class gets reckless and lazy and they find themselves on the run. Revolutions come when the system itself is no longer trusted. The economic crisis that triggers it is just an excuse for doing what people have been thinking about doing for a long time. The radicals were able to overthrow the French monarchy because no one could think of a reason to not overthrow the system.
That’s the dangerous waters we seem to be in today. Now, elites love to confuse the institutions with the people occupying them. Despite being replaceable and often replaced, they see themselves as indispensable. That’s just their arrogance, not a sign the public has lost faith in the system. After all, no one trusts Congress, but the voters can replace all of the congressmen with more trustworthy people in a series of elections. Is that a loss of faith in the institution or just the normal process of democracy?
Still, there is a growing distrust of the system and it is something you see in the Progressive coalition, Trump voters and the Dissident Right. The reasons are different, but all around, people are losing faith in the system itself. Team Brown wants to begin the great replacement today and they see the system as a hindrance to their efforts. The MAGA-pedes see the system as an impediment to Trump’s reform efforts. The Dissident Right sees the system as part of the cancer that is destroying white society.
Cultural discontent is not a new thing, so it is temping to think that we are reliving the period from the 1970’s into the 1980’s. Smart people in the Nixon years thought the country was headed for civil war. By the middle of the 1980’s everyone was happy again due to the robust economy. Trump’s approval rating is his highest as the economy is finally showing that old dynamism again, but people are even more angry now than before the election. Maybe this time is different and a good economy is not enough.
Of course, the troubles half a century ago were different than today, despite the similarities. The culture war of the 60’s and 70’s was between white people in a country that was 90% white. The fight today is between whites and non-whites in a country rapidly moving to majority-minority. Then we have the brown waves of migrants washing up on the southern border, that serve as a daily reminder of what the future holds for white people. This is a very different crisis than we saw in the 60’s.
History buffs like to look at the French Revolution for clues as to how the American experiment ends. The alt-right thinks the interwar period in Germany is a good model for what comes next. Of course, the Roman Empire is always a handy example. All of that is probably wrong. In fact, the alt-right is laughably wrong about what comes next. The better example may be the Holy Roman Empire. The slow disintegration of that political construction is a less glamorous story, but it may be a more relevant one for us
After all, America has always been a multi-cultural empire. It was just confined to this continent and composed of white people. Even today, the cultural difference between the people of New England and those of the Midwest are obvious. The whites of the west coast are wildly different in temperament than the whites of New York. When someone from the Northeast visits Texas for the first time, they almost always say that they feel like they are in a different country. That’s because Texas is a different country.
Since Gettysburg, American has been a collection of cultural regions held together by the Yankee hegemony. The rest of America has functioned like Puerto Rico to the winners of the Civil War. That is, they retained some local autonomy, but were never allowed to have a say in the big issues. A fun way to see this is to to examine the list of President before the Civil War and after the Civil War. Heck, the GOP is a party based in the South and Southwest, yet the President is the quintessential New Yorker.
Maybe instead of a dramatic collapse or a great revolution, maybe the future for this empire is to just stagger along from one crisis to the next, losing a little bit of influence here, a little bit of land over there. A long, episodic process where the American Empire slowly disintegrates, returning to its natural parts. A generation from now, America will be out of Asia. Another generation and Europe is free. All the while the role of the central government recedes domestically as the local cultural regions re-assert their authority.