By James Howard Kunstler
Don’t be fooled by the idiotic exertions of the Red team and the Blue team. They’re just playing a game of “Capture the Flag” on the deck of the Titanic. The ship is the techno-industrial economy. It’s going down because it has taken on too much water (debt), and the bilge pump (the oil industry) is losing its mojo.
Neither faction understands what is happening, though they each have an elaborate delusional narrative to spin in the absence of any credible plan for adapting the life of our nation to the precipitating realities. The Blues and Reds are mirrors of each other’s illusions, and rage follows when illusions die, so watch out. Both factions are ready to blow up the country before they come to terms with what is coming down.
What’s coming down is the fruit of the gross mismanagement of our society since it became clear in the 1970s that we couldn’t keep living the way we do indefinitely — that is, in a 24/7 blue-light-special demolition derby. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with accounting fraud, but in the end it is an affront to reality, and reality has a way of dealing with punks like us. Reality has a magic trick of its own: it can make the mirage of false prosperity evaporate.
That’s exactly what’s going to happen and it will happen because finance is the least grounded, most abstract, of the many systems we depend on. It runs on the sheer faith that parties can trust each other to meet obligations. When that conceit crumbles, and banks can’t trust other banks, credit relations seize up, money vanishes, and stuff stops working. You can’t get any cash out of the ATM. The trucker with a load of avocados won’t make delivery to the supermarket because he knows he won’t be paid. The avocado grower will have to watch the rest of his crop rot. The supermarket shelves empty out. And you won’t have any guacamole.
There are too many fault lines in the mighty edifice of our accounting fraud for the global banking system to keep limping along, to keep pretending it can meet its obligations. These fault lines run through the bond markets, the stock markets, the banks themselves at all levels, the government offices that pretend to regulate spending, the offices that affect to report economic data, the offices that neglect to regulate criminal misconduct, the corporate boards and C-suites, the insurance companies, the pension funds, the guarantors of mortgages, car loans, and college loans, and the ratings agencies. The pervasive accounting fraud bleeds a criminal ethic into formerly legitimate enterprises like medicine and higher education, which become mere rackets, extracting maximum profits while skimping on delivery of the goods.
All this is going to overwhelm Trump soon, and he will flounder trying to deal with a gargantuan mess. It will surely derail his wish to make America great again — a la 1962, with factories humming, and highways yet to build, and adventures in outer space, and a comforting sense of superiority over all the sad old battered empires abroad. I maintain it could get so bad so fast that Trump will be removed by a cadre of generals and intelligence officers who can’t stand to watch someone acting like Captain Queeg in the pilot house.
That itself might be salutary, since only some kind of extreme shock is likely to roust the Blue and Red factions from their trenches of dumb narrative. If the Democratic Party had put one-fiftieth of the effort it squanders on transgender bathroom privileges into policy for mitigating our tragic misinvestments in suburban sprawl, we might have gotten a head-start toward a plausible future. Instead, the Democratic Party has turned into a brats-only nursery school, with the kiddies fighting over who gets to play with the Legos. The Republican Party is Norma Desmond’s house in Sunset Boulevard, starring Donald Trump as Max the Butler, working extra-hard to keep the illusions of yesteryear going.
All of this nonsense is a distraction from the task at hand: figuring out how to live in the post techno-industrial world. That world is not going to operate the ways we’re used to. It will crush our assumptions and expectations. Lying about everything won’t be an option. We won’t have the extra resources to cover up our dishonesty. Our money better be sound or it will be laughed at, and then you’ll starve or freeze to death. You’d better hope the rule of law endures and work on keeping it alive where you live. And nobody will get special brownie points for the glory of sexual confusion.
I look for the financial fireworks to start around March – April, as the irresolvable debt ceiling debate in congress grinds into a bitter stalemate, and it becomes obvious that there will be no voucher for the great infrastructure spending orgy that Trump’s MAGA is based on. Elections in France and the Netherlands have the potential to shake apart the European Union, and with that the footing of European banks. Pretty soon, everybody in all parties and factions will be asking: “Where did the glittering promises of Modernity go…?” As we slip-side into the first stages of a world made by hand.