How Long Does America Have?

Antisocial Contracts

Perhaps, like many, you suppose that fixing America is just a matter of waiting out the Trump years and electing a new president. Thus, you believe the problem is Trump.

You are wrong.

If it wasn’t Trump, it simply would’ve been someone else. America’s problems long predate Trump: inequality, a lack of opportunity, an imploding middle class, a falling quality of life. These problems create political room, demand, for demagogues. A broken social contract creates demagogues.

But what do demagogues create?

If it wasn’t Trump, it would’ve been someone else. And now that it is Trump, a chain reaction has ignited. The media is under assault. The state itself is becoming a tool of racism, bigotry, and repression. Hate crimes have spiked, reflecting the normalisation of anger.

A broken social contract creates demagogues, and demagogues rewrite antisocial contracts: repressive, authoritarian, destructive to human potential. They scapegoat minorities and press, start wars, and ethnically cleanse the weak and unwanted to elevate the blood purity of the true volk: antisocial contracts. None of this actually makes anyone better off.

Demagogues cause societies to undergo economic, social, and political phase changes. From dysfunctional to malfunctioning. From democracy to authoritarianism. From open economies to closed ones. From vibrant public spheres full of art and science to ideologically policed spaces that punish dissent. That is what antisocial contracts really mean.

So when I ask “how long does America have left?”, the unstated assumption, “until what?”, is: until it’s broken social contract becomes an antisocial contract.

The rise of American authoritarianism has kickstarted a chain reaction that is taking it down precisely the same path as Russia and Turkey. No: these nations aren’t “the same”. But in terms of political economy both are imploded or fallen states, that now have profoundly destructive antisocial contracts.

How long does the US have until it’s the next Russia slash Turkey? I’d give it about five years.

It’s true that America can elect a better president. But how much better? Even the democrats have no agenda to genuinely fix any of the deep, lethal ills that plague it, inequality, inopportunity, a shrinking middle class. There simply isn’t such an agenda to rewrite the social contract, a new New Deal or Marshall Plan.

What happens in societies like that? A kind of oscillation, between demagogues, and less bad but still pretty bad leaders. Why? Frustrated, angry, people turn to demagogues. They realise, maybe, they’ve gone too far. A less bad but still pretty bad leader replaces the demagogue – a leader that doesn’t fix anything. Frustration and fury mount all over again, and there’s a new demagogue. It’s a cycle of abuse. A broken social contract becomes an antisocial contract in this way – because no one offers a better one.

It’s a pattern we’ve seen in many parts of the world: Latin America, North Africa, Eastern Europe. What is new is to see it in the USA. And yet, make no mistake, Trumpism is just the beginning of this vicious cycle of abuse, disappointment, rage. A broken social contract is becoming an antisocial contract.

Because a broken social contract is like a failing heart. It is something that must be surgically removed and replaced with something that works if a society is to survive. Until it is, a society will keep having heart attacks until it is dead.


July 2017