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Friday, 18 June 2021

America – The Edge of Chaos

Tarek Osman , Monday 4 Jan 2021
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Whether or not the Jo Biden Administration will come to office smoothly, is important, for this will strengthen or weaken the credibility in the basic tenets of America’s democracy. But in the bigger picture of what is happening in America, there are more important challenges to be considered, for these challenges will determine America’s near future.

The first is that Trump is not merely a president who has lost re-election. Rather he has represented large social groups that are increasingly antagonistic to the Federal system:

These groups are mainly:

- Far right capitalists that want a major dilution to the state’s role in almost all economic sectors.

- Far Christian Right groups that want legislations that conform to their interpretations of religion and Divine Will.

- And sections of middle and lower middle class Americans, particularly of White Americans, who see that the economic policies of the past two decades have impoverished them, and who want reversals of these policies. 

Trump’s main success has been uniting these diverse groups behind him. He was even able in 2020 to mobilise a larger number of voters than he had managed to four years before. But what’s more important than Trump’s savvy is that:

- These social groups have now been united in a movement. And irrespective of Trump’s own future, that movement will continue and likely grow.

- This movement has geographical depth. Any look at the US’s electoral map shows that a substantial part of the mid-West and the South now belong to this movement. And it is important to remember that it was there, in the hundreds of towns of these vast middle and southern states, that the American experience acquired some of its psyche-formative experiences. And if these heartlands are now the core of an angry movement, that’s a dangerous sign.

The second challenge is that the Federal system itself is facing serious problems.

America’s political system, a legacy of a rich as well as fraught history, places major powers in the hands of the different states of the Union. This means that the notion of the consent of these states to the federal government in Washington DC is crucial for the functioning of that government. And yet we have seen in the past decade moments when rejections by different groups of certain federal programmes have threatened Congress’s funding of parts or the entirety of the federal government. 

Now with the existence of these angry groups that formed the movement which Trump represented, we are likely to see more antagonism, and likely more derailing at the Congress. The result will be more dilution of the functioning of the federal government. 

This goes beyond bickering and negotiating. Many in these angry, rejectionist groups are convinced that the federal system is corrupt and beholden to narrow economic interests. Others in the same groups believe that their views reflect what they consider to be Divine truths, and so are un-negotiable. 

The third challenge is that these problems unfold while the US is undergoing major changes that will have lasting impacts on its society.

- The first is demographic. America is inching towards becoming, for the first time in its history, with a non-white majority. This is already altering the way many, traditionally-influential groups in the US, view America: as a continuation and development of Western, European civilisation.

- The second is that America’s traditional political, financial, and cultural centres in the north east (on the Atlantic) have been losing ground for two decades, and rapidly since the Financial Crisis of 2008, while relatively new centres on the West Coast (on the Pacific), with colossal wealth, have been strengthening their hold on important levers of power. The result, it now seems clear, is the coming together of the two clusters, though with much more sway in the West. This coming together weakens the political dynamism born out of America’s diversity and vastness, arguably the secret ingredient of the traditional success of American politics.

- The third is that changes in the rules and regulations of political funding over the past couple of decades have diluted the quality of policy-making in Washington DC, particularly with regard to the types of people who go into politics – with many intelligent, rigorous, and high integrity persons opting to stay out of that scene.

The fourth challenge concerns the American society itself:

America has been, for at least a decade now, suffering sad ills.

- The opioid pandemic is the most notable here. Credible reports talk about millions of Americans who regularly consume opioids without valid medical reasons.

- There’s a notable rise in suicides.

- And there are trends of new types of crimes.

All of this could be seen as symptoms of degeneration, or the diminishing of hope amongst some social segments. And yet, it does not spell doom and gloom for America, which remains a colossal, continental country, with a major ability to absorb problems and give rise to innovative solutions. Plus, America has the legacy of arguably the intellectually-richest political project in modern human history. Yet, the changes here are new and lasting, and the problems perilous. 

Perhaps chaos theory offers us a helpful way of thinking. It states that chaos emanates out of patterns that grow stronger and complex over time. The question then is: whether these challenges, which are persistent patterns, would continue to grow and get more complex? The answer to this question will determine whether America moves closer to the edge of chaos.  

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