Everybody knows how polarized and divisive America now is in both culture and politics. Is there anything we can do about it? How will it end? My next several posts will deal with this hugely serious national problem.
As one glaring example, we all know how polarized Congress is. But state government is also highly polarized. In 30 states, Republicans control both legislative chambers (including Nebraska which is unicameral). In 18 states both chambers are controlled by Democrats. Only 2 states, Minnesota and Virginia (after the 2021 elections) have divided legislative control.
My views are largely based on two books which I have been reading lately. One is “The Storm Before the Calm” by the geopolitical analyst, George Friedman. The other one is “Divided We Fall” by David French, the editor of the newsletter “Dispatch.”
- Friedman sees American history as described by two different cycles: institutional cycles occurring every eighty years or so and driven so far by the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. The next institutional cycle will likely begin in the mid-2020s. There are also socioeconomic cycles that have an approximately fifty-year lifespan. The first began with George Washington and ended with John Quincy Adams. The second began with Andrew Jackson and ended with Ulysses S. Grant. The third began with Rutherford Hayes and ended with Herbert Hoover. The fourth began with FDR and ended with Jimmy Carter. The fifth began with Ronald Reagan and may end with the president elected in 1924 or 1928.
- The institutional cycles describe how the United States shifts the way its political institutions work. The first cycle started with the adoption of the Constitution in 1788 and the Revolutionary War. It established the federal government but left its relation to the states unclear. The second cycle emerged from the Civil War and established the authority of the federal government over the states. The third cycle emerged from WWII and dramatically expanded the authority of the federal government not only over the states but also over the economy and society as a whole.
- Every fifty years or so America goes through a socioeconomic crisis where previous policies stop working, causing significant harm instead. George Washington got things going with the original 13 colonies. Andrew Jackson, elected in 1828, was the first president from west of the Appalachians where new lands needed to be settled. Rutherford Hayes, elected in 1876, presided over the developing Industrial Revolution, and he backed the dollar with gold which led to massive new investment. FDR, elected in 1932, introduced the new deal which led to our recovery from the depression. Ronald Reagan solved the problem of capital shortage leftover from the Roosevelt cycle by shifting the tax structure, leading to massive economic growth.
- For the first time in American history the current eighty-year institutional and fifty- year socioeconomic cycles are both ending at approximately the same time in the mid to late 2020s. “Donald Trump’s election was the first indication that the Reagan cycle is coming to an end. . . . Many see this as a sign that the country is coming apart, but in truth, it is simply evidence of a rapidly evolving country passing through an orderly change. . . . The problem of the third institutional cycle is that the door was opened for massive federal oversight of American life, without defining limits and without establishing an institutional structure capable of managing its vast authority.” The crisis of the 2020s is the tremendous clash caused by both cycles having to readjust themselves at the same time.
Conclusion. Mr. George Friedman’s cyclic description of American history is factually well-founded and leads to several predictions as to how our current highly fractured politics will play out in the coming years. Stay tuned for the next installment!