America’s Cycles of Change

Cycles of Change: Excerpt #1

Tue, 10 November 2015
Cycles of Change: The Three Great Cycles of American History & the Coming Crises That Will Lead to the Fourth

A thunderstorm of political change is exploding over the United States of America. The destruction of the World Trade Towers and the murder of 3,000 Americans were the flash of lightning heralding its coming. The great financial and economic crisis that started seven years later, in September 2008, confirmed its arrival.

I wrote the first draft of this book in 2000. Its thesis has since been rejected by 140 different publishers. Writing after the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, I predicted that any U.S. invasion of Iraq would ultimately fail; that President George W. Bush’s nearly-zero interest rates would lead to a disastrous collapse of Wall Street and the housing market; and that the Republicans would be disastrously rejected at the polls in the 2008 election. After 2003, I further predicted that the U.S. efforts to establish a stable, pro-American democracy in Iraq were certain to fail; that U.S. efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan would fail totally; and that U.S. efforts to promote democracy (too fast, too soon) throughout the Middle East would backfire disastrously everywhere they were tried and instead create a ferocious anti-American Muslim fundamentalist backlash across the region.

Clinton-era liberals and George W. Bush neo-conservatives alike regarded me as a troublemaker and a crackpot. They all eagerly supported and implemented the disastrous policies that I predicted would fail – and fail they did – at the cost of thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan lives. None of the people who implemented those policies has ever had to answer or pay any price for the appalling human suffering that their arrogance, ignorance and gross incompetence has caused.

I made those predictions not blindly or instinctively: They were all natural extrapolations from the historical model presented in this book. It is not a fantasy: It is a recurring political pattern that has now been amply documented over six consecutive eras and three great cycles of American history starting in 1788.

Writing the first draft back in 2000, when all looked superficially like the optimistic ‘city on a hill’ rhetoric that pervaded the nostalgic Reagan era, this coming crisis seemed inconceivable to everyone else in America. In the 1850s, it would similarly have seemed sheer delusional madness that the peaceful, lush green fields of Virginia would become the slaughterhouse for half a million American boys in less than a decade. In 1928, it similarly appeared inconceivable that the mighty booming national economy – which had generated more wealth for more people more quickly than other society in the history of the world –  would go spiraling down to destitution and ruin for scores of millions of people in less than two years. Yet these things happened.

In both the 1850s and the 1920s, the writing was already on the wall. But no one wanted to read it. That is also the case today. And I could read that writing 14 years ago. This book explains how to read those lessons of history and fate. The warning signs have now become so numerous that they are impossible to miss.

 As I revise this now in September 2014, Republicans and Democrats alike are confident that the rising political and economic storm threatening the United States of America will harmlessly subside. They are wrong: Economic crisis and – far worse – even possible thermonuclear destruction – are coming on the United States: They are coming soon. The survivors of that horror will face unprecedented crises, experience unimaginable horrors. The new America that will emerge from those ashes will be very different from anything we have seen – at least for hundreds of years. There is far more – and far worse – to come.

President Barack Obama proved unable in his first term in office to reverse the hemorrhaging of American jobs, the collapse of old, traditional American industries, or to tame the record annual government budget deficit he inherited from President George W. Bush. On the contrary, his annual budget deficits are two and a half times bigger than Bush’s were. Obama inherited continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both those wars, conditions got worse, not better, during his term of office. It was true he withdrew U.S. forces from direct combat in Iraq, but as a result terrorism in that unhappy country reemerged as a scourge killing thousands of people a year. The mainstream U.S. media comfortably ignored it.

Obama also plunged further into the Afghan war, in particular, rather than removing the U.S. armed forces from it.

Americans seemed oblivious to the threat, that the more they used their conventional armed forces around the world, the more they ran the risk of provoking a direct reaction that could result in more terrorism or, far worse, biological or nuclear attack on their own shores.

Things will get far, far worse before they begin to get better. The prevailing ideas that shaped every era of America always became stronger, more reckless and more oblivious to risk and disaster as they approached their apogee. What has happened before will happen again. The ideas and certainties that have guided America since the days of Ronald Reagan are now dangerously out of touch with reality. Catastrophe approaches. It will be the worst in American history. But it will not be the end of the world. A new America will rise from the ashes of the old, just as has happened many times before.

This book documents six successive eras of U.S. history. It explains how they rose and why they ended. This analysis predicts that the current confluence of crises threatening America will be even greater in duration and extent to the Civil War and the Great Depression, its two forebears in the grand cyclic pattern of United States history.

The Wall Street meltdown of September 2008 and Obama’s victory in the presidential election two months later heralded the coming of the crisis. Those events liquidated the era of Republican conservative dominance that shaped America for the previous 40 years starting with the election of President Richard Nixon in 1968. A new political orthodoxy will eventually emerge, along with new economic interests and philosophical ideas that will dominate the new era. But these forces will likely not take their clear and lasting forms until as late as 2028.

What can clearly be said now is that the dreams of traditional Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush Republicans – that they will be voted back into power in 2016 with their ideas, policies and behavior unchanged – are simply delusional. In November 2012, the American people decisively rejected GOP candidate Mitt Romney of Massachusetts in November 2012 by a margin of five million votes. Even if Romney had somehow managed to win, his efforts to revive and continue the minimum government, free trade, anti-industrial policies of the Reagan and Clinton eras would certainly have failed miserably.

From supply side economics and open borders to global interventionism and far-flung ideological crusades for democracy, the Era of Reagan, and George W. Bush, is gone for good. It is not coming back. Every attempt to bring it back will unleash failure, fiasco and catastrophe. The bungling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars served due notice of that.

Obama’s extremely disappointing record during his first term strongly suggests he will go down in history as a failed president. He is so far failing to master the challenges facing him: They are getting far worse. If these trends continue, the coming new era of U.S. politics will be defined not by Obama’s achievements, but by an angry, nationwide reaction against his failures. The emergence of the Tea Party movement in 2009 fizzled in the farcical Republican presidential race and debates. But it was also a warning precursor of the tidal wave of furious, nationalist and populist rage that could quickly come.

This book is not simplistic or deterministic prediction. It recognizes that the future is still open and indeterminate. But it also recognizes that, based on the patterns of the previous major cyclical crises in U.S. history – the Civil War and the Great Depression –the political philosophies leaders and policies of the new era will be shaped by a furious reaction against the failures of the previous generation.

It is startling to recall that only a decade ago, President George W. Bush and his chief political strategist Karl Rove were still confident they could revive and restructure the Reagan coalition they inherited in order to dominate American politics for the next generation. But the looming problems generated by their economic and Iraq policies   instead provoked the very systemic crisis of American politics, economics and society they were determined to avert.

The new populism could lead to a far more centralized even repressive form of the U.S. federal government. Or it may instead lead to a far weaker Union with states, cities and local authorities enjoying far greater autonomy than have since before the Civil War. But one thing is clear: The worse the national economic crisis gets, the more people are thrown out of work and the more they lose their homes, the more radical and angry that reaction is going to be. That reaction may well leave the South and West of the United States far more hostile to federal government oversight and intervention than they have been at least since the Gilded Age and – possibly – since before the Civil War.

Of course, if Washington and/or New York are destroyed in any thermonuclear attack, the federal government of the United States will be annihilated and the states and regions of the country will be thrown on to their own resources to an extent no governor or state legislator currently imagines.

However,  the main reason why the forces of political and social upheaval will sweep the United States in the next two presidential elections, regardless of what President Obama does or does not do in his remaining time in office, is that it is time for them to do so. The interaction of the fixed national election timetables for the U.S. executive branch, the presidency, and both chambers of Congress, with the natural generational rhythms of change of human society make this inevitable.

It is inevitable, not because of some crackpot calculations based on astrology or Biblical numerology, but because of the clear and repeated pattern of American political history through six successive cycles over the past 224 years. This pattern goes back to the framing of the United States Constitution and the first national election within the timetables and framework that still function today.

Since the election of George Washington, the first president of the United States, in 1788, American politics have been shaped by a sequence of six consecutive dominant political and economic orthodoxies. Each of them has lasted between 32 to 44 years. President George W. Bush was reelected to his second term with more votes than any other individual has ever won in American history. Yet in November 2004, I predicted that the consequences of his policies ensured that full-scale crisis and the start of a wrenching long-lasting political realignment could not be deferred beyond the end of his second term.

President Barack Obama, in a sweeping repudiation of Bush, was elected with even more votes. More Americans voted for their first black president than for any other candidate in their long, proud and free political history. But after less than four years, Obama, while certainly not catastrophic, was a busted flush. He had failed to make any significant headway into the jobless crisis gathering like a gigantic dark storm across the heartland of the North American continent.

The great American political scientist Samuel Lubell identified the fact of this political cycle in 1952. Lubell’s work is now largely forgotten. The far less sophisticated, indeed simplistic ‘reform versus reaction’ cyclic model of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has taken center stage for most of the decades since. However, this work will rehabilitate Lubell’s model and demonstrate how it has continued to function and shape American politics and society over the following six decades.

Why 32-40 years per cycle? Writing thirty years after Lubell, the American neo-Marxist historians D.M. Gordon, Richard Edwards and Michael Reich argued that the social structure of accumulation in a free market economy reached crisis point every 35 to 40 years. Therefore financial and legal institutions and the laws governing them had to be radically revised after each cycle in order to revive the working rhythms of capital accumulation.

This has certainly not been a fashionable view over the past 30 years of dominant triumphal conservatism in American politics, particularly since the Soviet Union, that greatest testament to Karl Marx’s wildly ambitious and disastrous theories, collapsed at the end of 1991. But it seems as good a rational explanation as any other available.

It also has two highly intriguing parallels. The first is the 50-52 year Kondratieff long-range economic cycle that the late Soviet economist Nikolai Kondratieff developed in the 1930s. It cost him his life. He was one of the many millions to be slaughtered by Stalin. His crime in the Kremlin’s eyes was not that he foretold the inevitable crisis of capitalism, but that capitalism would rebound from that crisis – and from future ones as well.

The other suggestive parallel is the Jubilee, or Yovel, cycle of the ancient Hebrews enacted in the Book of Deuteronomy. This is remarkably social democratic and frankly economic in its intended purpose. At the end of 50 years, all land that has been bought – or rather, leased – from its original owners during the previous 49 years is to revert to its original owners or their descendants. No more radical way of dissolving vast conglomerates of capital accumulation without recourse to lawless revolution or outright expropriation of property has yet to be devised. None of the Protestant fundamentalist preachers and writers who enthusiastically supported the Reagan-Bush II-Romney conservatives ever extended their respect for the Bible to advocate implementing its fundamental social law to prevent the rich from getting too rich and the poor from getting too poor.

There is another explanation for the pattern that is primarily psychological rather than material. It harkens back to the concepts of the great British historian Arnold Toynbee rather than Lubell or Schlesinger. Each of the six eras of U.S. political history since 1788 was shaped by the successful response to a great crisis or challenge. So great was the crisis in each case that it shaped for the rest of their lives all those old enough to have experienced it.

 There could be no reform of the welfare system or any move to privatize the Social Security system of the United States as long as significant numbers of people who remembered the horrors of the Great Depression were still alive and in dominant political positions. Conservative ideas and philosophies have dominated the last 30 and more years of national American life because the memories of scores of millions who remembered the upheaval and chaos of the late 1960s were still so strong.

Dominant ideas and interests refuse to leave room for more innovative approaches. They stay in the saddle until they are forced out. And they are only forced out of power and the commanding heights of public opinion when they have become so outdated and out of touch with a rapidly changing world that their obsolescence is finally evident to most, though never to all.

Of the six successive eras traced in this book three were dominated by the Democratic Party and three by the Republican Party. Each of these eras has been dominated by politicians, vested interests and intellectual ideas that were particularly associated with – and dominant within – a different specific region of the nation.

Each era has been heralded or established by a visionary, ‘prophetic’ political figure. Each of them has seen one dominating president who set the national agenda for the next quarter century to three decades of American political life, and who usually set most of its social tone and mythic structure. Usually, the dominant president is also the prophetic and inspiring one.