End of the year reviews, along with predictions for the coming year, are a staple around this time. But, as Yogi Berra wisely said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
I took a look at what I wrote last year, and a lot of it held up reasonably well. (You can be the judge). I argued that the system and its managers are not doing a great job, the coronavirus crisis exposed their incompetence and malevolence, and that bad economics and crime would be major factors in marring the year ahead. Specifically, “a crisis of authority and legitimacy is emerging from failures in the most fundamental tasks of a society: the provision for basic needs, physical security, and a fair and accepted means of making decisions and picking leaders.”
The year 2021, in many respects, was a less dramatic, slow motion encore performance of 2020, complete with renewed COVID restrictions, sustained high levels of violent crime, and with media and Big Tech going even deeper down the censorship rabbit hole.
Change is afoot. Certain trends in motion for the last two years have been overplayed, such as de-incarceration and COVID panic. Something new will take their place.
Also, the managerial class appears less certain of itself, shocked by the dramatic fall in Biden’s and the Democrats’ popularity and his failures to deliver on his own stated terms. This seems to explain the recent diffidence on COVID restrictions, which were one of the defining features of 2020-2021 America.
For the next three years, events outside of anyone’s control and off of our collective radar loom large. While the details may be unknown, it’s worth hazarding a guess about the general subject matter.
Most presidents have to deal with a foreign policy crisis of one kind or another. This is what may be deemed one of Donald Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns.” It is possible such a crisis will emerge in Taiwan or Ukraine, but something important and consequential could just as easily happen in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, or South Korea.
Any major development would be a serious stress test of Biden and the federal government. The military has shifted focus to one kind of conflict—great power competition—after having again been bested and demoralized by a long brushfire war. This change of focus may prove short-sighted.
Great power wars are unusual, especially in the age of nuclear weapons, whereas smaller conflicts occur fairly regularly. Very little about Biden’s national security team or the top leadership of the military inspires much confidence that another Grenada, Panama, or Lebanon-type incident will turn out for the best. And great power competition or not, it is more likely that China or some other foreign competitor will test America’s mettle in a theater like this by using proxies, rather than tackling us head-on.
Perhaps Biden’s lethargy and the general American mood will keep us out of such conflicts. Responding to the recent flare up of tension with Russia and Ukraine, Biden has said that he would not send troops. This is not such a bad thing, even if it is done for the wrong reasons, because an American empire no longer benefits actual Americans.
But it would be nice if we still had the ability to project power and thwart those who mean us harm. We may need to do so.
The Great Re-Sort
There has been a lot of talk about the Great Reset, as if 2019 were some benighted dark age. But thanks to the anomaly of a conservative Democrat representing Trump-loving West Virginia, this vague scheme of rearranging society has lost steam. Truly, it never really had much of a constituency.
Yet a real trend is underway that will have important consequences: the Great Re-Sort, the mass movement of people from blue to red states. Retirements, strict COVID rules, high crime and high taxes all played a part, amplifying trends that have been underway since the 1980s. “Work from home” undid some embedded work habits, opening new areas to white-collar workers previously tied to offices in coastal, cosmopolitan cities. Thus, Nashville and Miami and Austin are all booming, as are small towns throughout the country.
This movement will reduce the economic and political influence of the blue states, spread some wealth to less prosperous communities, and likely create new hubs based on industry and other affiliations.
Unfortunately, influence is a two-way street. Low population areas like Montana could see their culture change very quickly. More populous “purple” states like Florida could find themselves turning blue, as happened to Arizona.
While the internal migrants know enough to leave, cause and effect often eludes them. Thus some of the migrants complain about the culture and habits of the place they’re going to, even though they deem it more desirable than their former homes in New York or California. Rather than understanding or assimilating, they act like locusts, destroying one place and then moving on to destroy another.
Is COVID Played Out?
Another thing to expect in 2022 is some COVID revisionism. There have already been some hints of the managing-expectations variety, including Biden’s dramatic announcement that there is “no federal solution” to the recent surge of cases due to the Omicron variant.
Now, of course, it is unfair to judge Biden or any politician on the basis of the spread of a disease, just as it made no sense to blame George W. Bush for Hurricane Katrina. And, as I recently argued, Omicron may be a good news story. But Biden cynically blamed Trump for COVID deaths, even when he had little in the way of specific criticisms of Trump’s policy. Now the emptiness of his rhetoric and his promise to “shut down the virus” is evident.
It is possible we will see a relaxation in mandates and even a change of heart regarding the vaccines themselves, which may have a few surprises in store that can only be observed through longitudinal study. Biden’s kind words for Trump’s development of the vaccine appear to be crafted not merely to encourage Trump supporters to get the vaccine, but, just as likely, to preemptively pass the buck for what comes next.
In short, the regime appears to be on the cusp of adopting a more mature, balanced approach to COVID, but the exact reason for their change of heart regarding masks, lockdowns, and vaccines remains to be seen.
What Goes Up . . .
Another thing that always makes a mess of our plans is the economy. George H.W. Bush was riding high after the Gulf War victory, only to be undone by the 1992 recession.
Presently the economy and financial markets appear to have diverged. The stock market has boomed, lifting wealth for anyone with exposure to it. And wages are up too, at least in nominal terms—I recently drove by a McDonald’s offering $14.50 per hour, even though the minimum wage here in Florida is $7.25. At the same time, unemployment is at an all-time low.
Yet, in spite of that good news, when I go to Publix it more and more resembles a Soviet store, with empty shelves and items unpredictably missing, prices for what remains almost twice what they were a year or two ago. Ford’s website is still listing 2021 models, when automakers routinely used to list next year’s models starting in the fall. Something remains broken.
It is hard to believe that the rivers of money floating around have not led to some mal-investment and bubbles, whether in particular companies, asset sectors, or otherwise. In 2020, we had a swift and deep recession followed by a swift recovery, which has now overshot the mark with inflation.
Without knowing anything in particular, recessions tend to follow booms, and this is the most inflationary boom since the 1970s.
Not Civil War, But Malaise
While various observers on both the Right and Left have suggested the high tension of the Trump years might mean a civil war, it appears more likely that the future will look like the past, only worse.
Biden’s inefficacy has made him loathed and mocked, but he is not particularly frightening. In fact, his impotence and obvious mental decline render him more pathetic than anything else. It’s hard to believe we are stuck with this guy for three more years, just as it’s hard to believe he will make it that far.
He is virtually in hiding, rarely leaving the Capitol area, other than to take weekends in Delaware. There, he can break away from reporters, discretely obtain whatever medical concoction is keeping him going, and avoid the White House visitors’ log, as he meets with the committee of “wise men” advising him.
Biden has governed the way he was elected. His victory in a crowded field was the product of the DNC’s machinations to get everyone in line to defeat Bernie. The general election was also a committee product, namely the bipartisan schemes of leading figures in politics, business, and the media to remove Trump and what he represented from power. In the general election, they changed the rules, extended the voting season, collected ballots by hook or by crook, and coordinated these activities to make sure Biden limped across the finish line.
The various organs of power painted themselves into a corner with the Biden-Harris combo, and they know their party will get trounced in the 2022 congressional races, and likely the next presidential election as well, if either of the principals on the current ticket run. The powerful also know that the hope of finding a Biden alternative depends on him remaining in power for three years and somehow getting Harris to step down, neither of which outcomes is a guarantee.
So, perhaps it’s a little facile, but I predict the unpredictable. A lot of factors outside of anyone’s ability to make predictions will have a disproportionate impact on the course of 2022. Rather than a continuation of the trends of 2020-2021, it seems more likely something entirely new and different will emerge, and its source will come from outside the system, its leaders, and their plans.