It’s quite clear now that America is in the initial stages of collapse. Let me be clear about what that means.
It doesn’t mean that the rapture happens tomorrow, that people turn into Morlocks, and so on. It doesn’t mean you should build a bunker or pack a bug out bag (they’re not gonna help you, anyways). Life will go on.
Collapse means that America is broken in nearly every conceivable way. Go ahead, and pick an “indicator”, as the Vox types like to call it — any simple fact of social reality. Here are three of my favorites, because they determine people’s quality of life. Life expectancy, income, trust. All three are falling now.
You can try the flip side, too. Go ahead and name a way, a human dimension, in which America is improving. Can you find one? I’ll bet that if you can, it’s either trivial, easily debunked, or insignificant. Like, I don’t know, people can hail Ubers more quickly.
That is what collapse is. A society gets broken until it is broken in nearly every conceivable way. Not “until it reaches the point that “it can no longer go on” — it has already stopped being one.
In that sense, collapse is like a heart attack brought about by years of lethargy, not a wall suddenly crumbling. It means that the body social stops functioning, not just that it “falls apart”.
Let’s draw out four quick lessons.
Removing him from office will slow the rate of collapse, but not removing him won’t prevent collapse. America has deep, profound, foundational, institutional and structural problems. Inequality is too high, the average person is trapped in a life that holds little possibility, and there is no agenda or vision for a better future. One bad leader didn’t make all of this true — decades of neglect did. Thus, the challenge is undoing those decades of neglect.
The roots of American collapse run deep into the soil of hate. What was “neglected”? America neglected to invest in itself. While the rest of the rich world built public healthcare, transport, education, and so on, in the 1950s and 60s, America was still segregated by race. So American collapse isn’t just about what is going wrong today. It is about why everything is going wrong today. In the simplest analysis, Americans today, unlike nearly any other country in the word, deny one another basically good lives. You may think that is new, but it is not. They always have — that is what slavery and segregation were, weren’t they? The deep antipathy to public goods, healthare, education, and so on, in America is the result of a legacy of hate.And that legacy is what stopped America from investing in itself, ever, and still does today — hence collapse.
American collapse can be staved off — but only by a series of minor miracles. What would it take to really stop collapse? It would take at least three things. First, a Marshall Plan, to spark a stagnant economy, to rebuild pretty much everything in sight. Second, a new social contract, a la FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, to restore trust in, between, among society. But who will craft these? Certainly not today’s leaders. Therefore, third, a generation of newer, better leaders.
To me those three things together are a series of minor miracles. Yes, America can be “saved”. But let’s not kid ourselves about the scale and scope of the challenge.
Life will go on. Just not very nicely. Life doesn’t stop because societies collapse. Life just keep going. What collapse really means is that life gets worse and worse. Inexorably, like the frog in the pot. Take the example of life expectancy. It’s already falling. As millions of Americans lose healthcare, what’s going to happen? It’s going to fall further, faster, obviously. That’s what collapse means at a personal level. Life itself dwindles day by day. People live shorter, meaner, dumber, nastier lives.
And, as ever, dumber, meaner, nastier people don’t undo the mechanisms of their collapse. They only ever tug the strings faster and harder.