Our Present Revolution and Opportunity
Trump’s election heralds the beginning of the Fourth American Revolution, an epic epoch that in time will be seen to be as momentous as the great Homeric ages of the American Revolution, the Crisis of the Union, and the Great Depression.
We are seeing multiple cycles converge- the fall of the old elite, the decay of our political economy and social contract, dramatic social unrest at home, a restructuring of the constitutional order, a reshuffling of our geopolitical situation- simultaneously.
The old neoliberal-cosmopolitan consensus that rose fully in the Democratic Party, whose economic priests overtook the Republican Party, has now been repudiated twice- first by Trump’s smashing of the Republican field, second by Trump’s defeat of the poster-child of the Establishment, Hillary Clinton. Sure, Ryan and McConnell think they can control it; but the Jacksonians and their leaders are now firmly in charge, and the consolidation of a new elite has not yet occurred.
Meanwhile, the free trade/low taxes/open borders/small safety net economic world is crumbling under the weight of the populist surge. The heavily pro-finance elitist economics that has dominated policymaking since Jimmy Carter is now on the retreat, the Republican majority in Congress notwithstanding. Something taking into account technological and global realities while restoring a significant degree of public-private regulation, collaboration, and investment appears imminent. The invisible hand has waved its last.
At home, the American people are as divided as ever before. I argue that it’s primarily along ideological and class lines, first and foremost, but at other levels there are very real racial and ethnic and religious divides and prejudices, and they’ve been resulting in mass protest and low-level violence, and other general unrest, for years now. No one knows what it means to be an American anymore.
Perhaps most dramatic, if least visible, has been the change in our constitutional order- the unprecedented power of the administrative apparatus of the Executive Branch in comparison to the Legislative Branch and the state governments. Congress is now less than a rubber stamp, more like a venting ground for grievances. The last few Presidents have been Caesars, and there’s no reason the next one won’t be.
Abroad, the new world order has been replaced by something newer, and history has returned- great powers prowl the borders of our domain, ungoverned and chaotic regions dot the Earth, and sparks fly as nations’ wills clash in every theater of the world. American hegemonic foreign policy is unsustainable, as is liberal internationalism; these are dark international times that will require statecraft of the first order, and most likely a strong defense establishment too.
The world of 2038 will look as different from the world of 2016 as the world of 1796 looked to the world of 1772, as different as the world of 1876 looked to the world of 1854, as different as the world of 1947 looked to the world of 1929. It will only be moreso in America.
It will be so much moreso in America that the institutions of our Republic will undergo, as I have argued, this “Fourth American Revolution.” We will spend the next two decades inhabiting that tumultuous time, recasting the Republic and hopefully building it into something that can work for a few decades beyond its consummation.
The old paradigms of political life of the last four decades or so, and especially the last twenty-five years, are dated; and paradoxically, to prepare for the future, we must look back to the further past. I’ve argued that Richard Nixon provides a model, and more broadly that the Hamiltonian tradition (which by my reading went through Nixon) ought to be resurrected. But regardless, the unique historic moment we briefly inhabited is over, and in these new times of tension, it’s time to get back into reality, and think new (old) thoughts for that reality.
Donald Trump, it seems to me, is uniquely unfit to steer the world’s mightiest nation through these difficult times. Aside from being just about the most divisive successful candidate of the last century, he has no practical experience in governance or foreign affairs and by all measures appears to be a failure in business, and thus economics. He’s the epitome of the American salesman, and his ascendance to the highest office in the land, aside from revealing the frustration of the electorate with the elites, should say something about the superficiality of contemporary American politics as well. His authoritarian bravado mixed with an increasingly Caesarist Presidency forebodes ill for American constitutionalism. I understand why my fellow Americans elevated him to the highest office in the land, for the elites had failed them; I only wish they hadn’t so elevated him.
In any case, Trump’s victory over Clinton merely expedited the inevitable, the fall of the neoliberal-cosmopolitan elite and the onset of the Revolution. He won’t be our Washington, Lincoln, or FDR figure. He’s just a symptom of greater trends.
Trump will more likely than not look something like Herbert Hoover- he won’t be particularly competent, he will sense some of the right directions and lash out towards them, his incompetence will reward him with resignation, impeachment, or electoral defeat. Here’s to hoping at that point someone with a broader, more inclusive and more long-term vision will rise to the Caesarist Presidency, someone with a father’s heart and a statesman’s hand to guide the nation through domestic division and international storms, someone who can play the lawgiver, the peacemaker, the storyteller, for the American people of our era and all eras yet to come.
In any case, our duty- the duty of those of us young patriots who have pledged ourselves and our services to the Republic, the Constitution, and the American people- is to prepare the way for such a statesman or stateswoman and, should they not rise to the fore, fight like hell to do what they would do. We must find the answers- temporary though they may be- to the problems of now, in assembling a political coalition, refining the balance of powers in our constitutional system, shaping our political economy and our social contract, bringing to power a new elite capable of serving both the state and the people rather than its own ideals and ambitions, steering the ship of state through the tormented strategic waters it cannot escape. In all areas- economics, government administration and finance, constitutionalism, society and culture, politics, foreign affairs, more- there is so much to do for scholar-soldier-statesmen of our generation. So much opportunity to be the young Federalists, the young Unionists, the young New Dealers, working to reform and re-forge the institutions of the Republic and make it last the tests of our time, make it work for all its citizens. We have entered the Fourth Revolution- It’s an opportunity we must not fail.
Not every generation is so cursed and so blessed with such an opportunity.