Monday, February 27, 2017

Can Capitalism Save America?

It helps to remember that DJ T-Rump is not in charge.  He is a showman, not a true leader.  Things he says are contradicted with impunity by his direct reports in their public comments and their discussions with leaders outside the U.S. The people making the real decisions are those he has brought in as cabinet members and advisers.

His chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is a particularly intriguing example since his worldview is strongly influenced by the same theory I have referenced several times in this blog - the secular cycle of history as explained in The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. In a Washington Post article that points out Bannon's affinity to this construct, Howe includes a very succinct explanation of the book's main idea.

The Fourth Turning is geared to the cycle of changing generations as each couple of decades pass. The four cyclic turnings are all driven by the recurring generational archetypes that repeat in what Strauss and Howe claimed to be a discernable pattern. "The Nomads" (Generation X) are now in charge of the machinery of operating the nation while "the Prophets" (Baby Boomers) take their last hurrah with Trumpism and a whole range of dissenting movements. Long-ignored Gen-Xers are not terribly concerned with pleasing their elders. They will only subject themselves to the direction set by Baby Boomer elders when it makes sense for them.
By Marc Escanuelas

For the Gen-Xers standing at the controls, rules are made to be broken. If they see that breaking away from the U.S.A. is a better option than maintaining allegiance, they will veer their states toward secession, (though it certainly helps to have opposition Boomer elders like Jerry Brown in charge of your state when you choose that course). In his WaPo article, Howe writes that in our fourth turning crisis, "rising regionalism ... could lead to the fragmentation of major political entities..." A fourth turning can end in glory or debasement. Sad to say, I foresee the more apocalyptic outcome of this fourth turning.
My view is that rather than capitalism rectifying the mistakes of our elder generations, the forces at play in this round appear to exceed capitalism's capacity for lifting our nation to its former heights. Financial catastrophe, militarism, terrorism, peak oil, and Gaia are all breathing down our necks. It is beyond me how we can expect to be in a 20-year "high" a decade from now, united or not. In a more global view, I see c.2030 as the tipping point to the Age of Limits.
A documentary film by Bannon, "Generation Zero," takes the viewer through the U.S.'s most recent secular cycle. It is clear from this film that he and I look at the world through a similar lens. What's more, Bannon and I were both junior officers on ships in the Indian Ocean in preparation for Operation Eagle Claw - the failed 1980 Iran hostage rescue mission. For both he and I, that failure has been a source of long-lasting sorrow (though our ships had departed the area a month before the mission flew). That experience has led us to take offenses by the Iranian government more personally than the average American. In my case, being retired, there is little I can do now, but for National Security Councilman Bannon, sweet revenge is within reach.

Watching "Generation Zero" was better than listening to a lecture, since the endless string of narrators were accompanied by catchy video stills and clips, but Bannon's metronymic presentation feels like watching an hour-and-a-half long professional ping-pong game. The film gets into the aspects most relevant to our current struggles at about 1 hr. 22 min. The upshot of the film is that our fourth turning crisis will require a cleansing of the excess baggage that prevents the capitalist state from fulfilling the American dream. Howe calls it "the creative destruction of public institutions, something every society periodically requires to clear out what is obsolete." Bannon calls it "the deconstruction of the administrative state."

"Generation Zero" ends with a 1796 quote from Edmund Burke that resonates with the idea of a fractured nation coming out of our fourth turning:
Though plunged in an abyss of disaster, some states have suddenly emerged. They have begun a new course, and in the depths of their calamity, and on the very ruins of their country, have laid the foundation of a towering and durable greatness.
I don't know if, after our current fourth turning, there is any prospect of towering and durable greatness or if we will even still be a country.

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