A few interesting things have happened recently that have reinforced a truth that I think we’re refusing to look at.
The first in the midterm elections, which by now have been diagnosed, x-rayed, autopsied, and put to rest. There’s no need to go over it all again, just to touch on a few relevant points:
• Even given the significant and real Democratic gains, a president as unpopular as Donald Trump should not have held on as well as he did;
• On the other hand, a president in an economy doing as well as it is should not be as unpopular as Donald Trump;
• On the other hand, with America on the brink of multiple trade wars with both long established allies and powerful foes alike, the economy should not be doing nearly as well as it is;
• On the other hand, with America’s traditional place in world affairs abdicated, the Pax Americana clearly ending, and our major alliances shattered with shocking speed for no clear purpose (including with the two countries that we border), it’s kind of amazing that we’re still focused on the economy at all.
Which leads me to the other milestone that happened recently: A month prior to the midterms, the People’s Republic of China officially lasted longer than the Soviet Union. And it shows no signs of collapsing any moment now.
This was not supposed to happen. Many observers (myself included) believed that the extreme repression of the Communist Chinese Party would make it impossible to create long term stability, and eventually, inevitably, it would topple just like the U.S.S.R. I still believe that, honestly, but every day that goes by makes my analysis look that much more wrong.
What does this all add up to? Very simply: The world has changed enough, and fundamentally enough, that conventional wisdom no longer applies. In matters ranging from the economy to geopolitics, we no longer understand how the world works. The rules have changed — if there are any — and we need to figure them out all over again.
What this means is that none of us should be complacent: We cannot take anything for granted. That includes everything from how demographic groups will vote (note the Democratic panic at realizing that Hispanic voters are not as anti-Trump as they “should” be) to the assumption of continued American military superiority (recent government reports say that we are shockingly — shockingly — unprepared for cyber warfare, and our military equipment is easily hackable). We need to pay attention, question assumptions, and re-evaluate the patterns and habits of the world with an open mind.
Which is, not incidentally, an extremely difficult thing to do in a time of habitual and extreme partisanship.
Which does not mean that the partisans are all wrong. On the contrary, Steve Bannon’s bet on Donald Trump paid off handsomely (until Bannon was kicked to the curb) and the Democratic partisans who produced the most diverse slate of candidates in our history, and insisted they could win, were also right. Indeed, what seems to have happened is precisely that the kind of partisans who spent decades in the wilderness were the first to recognize that “conventional wisdom” was no longer in force. The sensible people who knew how the world works were the last to know, precisely because they’d always been right before, and so stopped paying attention to new evidence that contradicted their success.
Nor can one say that what this means is that the “centrists” need to start paying attention to new evidence and figure out how the world works now. They do, to be sure — but the whole point is that categories like “centrist” may no longer be viable. Where is the center now? The whole point of a realignment is that the previous categories are simply no longer relevant.
Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first — a serious concern right now — the next era of humanity will be dominated by the people who first figure out how the world works and how to use that information. Not everything we knew is now wrong, but some of it definitely is, and there’s no way to know which parts unless we start asking good questions and stay open to the answers. And right now a lot of truly terrible, terrible, people have a head start.
Benjamin Wachs archives his work at www.FascinatingStranger.com. com. Email him at Benjamin@FascinatingStranger.com.