What Now?

by James Howard Kunstler, November 16, 2016

Not to put too fine a point on it, America coughed up Hillary Clinton like a hairball last week — the catch being it then had to swallow the Cheeto-colored bolus called Donald Trump. It was worth it to see the fog of Hillary-smuggery lift across the cable TV networks since the “I’m With Her / It’s Her Turn” fog was a cover for the looting operation that the permanent Washington DC establishment had turned into, including the Clinton Foundation.

Obviously, the nation is reeling from this emetic, struggling to process the meaning of it all. The big “tell” for me came at a moment in last week’s Slate Political Gabfest, a leftish-oriented podcast, when moderator David Plotz asked his sidekicks John Dickerson (of CBS News) and Emily Bazelon (of The NY Times) what the Democratic Party might do to regain legitimacy after this electoral disaster. Dead silence on the air. Nothing came to mind.

Something came to my mind as a long-time disaffected (registered) Democrat: jettison the stupid identity politics and get back to reality. Alas, that may be too much to ask. For now, the party lies in ruins without a single figure of stature to represent a coherent set of ideas other than boosting the self-esteem of its favor-seeking constituent groups. Here’s my idea: how about forming a credible opposition to the so-called Deep State, the matrix of racketeering and empire-building that has drained the life out of this polity. That was impossible with the racketeer-in-chief leading the blue electoral ticket, but now the dynamic stands naked and obvious, answering the question: what to do next?

Another catch, of course, is that opposing the Deep State of Rackets is pretty much what Mr. Trump has promised to do, if “draining the swamp” means anything. He never quite articulated it clearly beyond that metaphor, but you can bet that’s what the DC establishment is so alarmed about. Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail is now being hailed in the media as a kind of genius. To me, it still seems oafish to an extreme, and it remains to be seen how such a blunderer might finesse our escape from the empire of rackets and the racket of empire. He begins to look like a man in a tunnel staring down the harsh light of the onrushing gravy train.

Mr. Trump might not know it yet, but his chief task will be managing contraction. It would appear to be problematic, since his chief promise — “to make America great again” — is based on restarting the epic expansions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Well, things have changed. This is no longer a virgin continent filled with motherlodes, untapped oil bonanzas, and fabulous soils begging to be exploited. In fact, we’re close to being played out where those resources are concerned. And the techno-industrial economy engineered out of those assets is wobbling badly.

There is a Great Wish that this system might be replaced just-in-time with some as-yet-unrealized Green Alt Economy of solar-charged driverless electric cars — but, of course, the unchallenged pathetic idiocy of the assumed car dependence at the center of this fantasy ought to tell you how exactly unreal it is. The contraction we face has mandates of its own, and it doesn’t include the continuation of Happy Motoring on any terms. I’m quite certain that the Trump forces haven’t even imagined it.

I would propose three meta-matters in consideration of how America might survive the disorders of the Long Emergency: the financialization of the economy, the burdens of empire, and the fiasco of our suburban living arrangement.

The financialization of the economy is already playing into its disastrous climax as I write, with bond markets tanking all over the planet. What this means is that the long-ignored chickens of risk associated with debt are coming home to roost. As they do, they are going to shit over everything on the financial landscape. Industrial societies have been borrowing from the future to a grotesque degree for decades, pretending that these debts were assets rather than liabilities. That perception is about to change, and with it an enormous amount of presumed notional wealth is going to disappear. That will manifest in rising bond yields (and falling bond values), cratering currencies, panicked capital flows, banking emergencies, and weird action in markets. If that seems too metaphysical, you can also think of it as contracting economies and the withering of global trade relations. There’s also the chance it will express itself in kinetic conflict, i.e., war.

My sense of things is that this meta-predicament alone could overwhelm the Trump government from the very start. We could have problems with money orders of magnitude worse than anything FDR faced in 1933, with bank closures, the seizing of accounts, and the paralysis of everyday business. That would easily lead to civil disorders, a breakdown in law, and the immiseration of most Americans. It could also lead to previously-unimagined political outcomes, such as a discontinuity of government. This is connected with the second meta-problem, the burdens of empire.

The USA is squandering its vitality trying to maintain a half-assed global empire of supposed interests, economic, ideological, and existential. Lately, this hapless project has only resulted in wars with no end in places we don’t belong. It includes reckless experiments such as the promotion of regime change (Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Egypt, Syria), and senseless, provocative exercises such as the use of NATO forces to run war games near Russia’s border. The monetary cost of all this is off the hook, of course, redounding to the financial mess. Reigning in these imperial impulses could be on the Trump agenda, but his own gold-plated imperial pretensions suggest that he might actually make the situation worse by conflating a reduction of our empire with a loss of the very “greatness” he wants to reclaim. As it happens, America may be forced by economic circumstances to yield the burdens of empire. The world is about to become a bigger place again as globalism winds down and the larger nations establish more realistic spheres of influence. We better get with the program.

Thirdly comes the question of how Americans inhabit the terrain: the suburban fiasco and all its accessories and furnishings. You can just stick a fork in that. The great project awaiting this country is how we might redistribute our people into re-scaled walkable communities with re-localized economies, including re-scaled agriculture. It’s going to happen whether we like it or not. It’s only a matter of how disorderly the process may be. Obviously all the suburban crapola out there also represents a tremendous load of presumed wealth. The vested “value” in suburban houses alone is the underlayment of structured finance. There is almost no conscious political awareness in any party — including the Greens — as to how we might attempt to work this out.

But, for example, and for a start, Mr. Trump might consider the effect that national chain “Big Box” shopping has had on Main Street America. It literally destroyed local commercial economies all over the land, and with it numberless vocational niches and social roles in communities. He can’t sign an edict against the Big Box empire, but his people might start imagining the process of rebuilding local networks of commerce and actively de-incentivizing the Big Box business model. That model has many other ways to fail, incidentally, and already is failing to some degree between the impoverishment of its customers and the growing problems with global supply lines. But anything that might lubricate the transition would be better than the stark collapse of the current arrangement.

The chatter this week has been all about the upcoming “infrastructure” orgy that Trump will undertake. That depends first of all on how badly the financial sector cracks up. I hope we do not squander more of our dwindling capital on the accessories of car dependence, because that addiction is on the way out. One thing Mr. Trump might get behind is restoring the passenger railroads of America so that we can at least get around the continental nation when the Happy Motoring fiesta grinds to a halt. It would put an awful lot of people to work on something with real long-term benefit — it ties into the restoration of Main Street towns and their economies — and it is a do-able project that might give us the needed encouragement to get on with the many other necessary projects awaiting our attention.

In case you were wondering, I was not jumping up and down cheering the Trump victory, amazing as it was. I figured the good news was that Hillary lost and the bad news was that Trump won. Now, we just have to roll with it.

(Support Kunstler’s writing by visiting his Patreon Page: https://www.patreon.com/JamesHowardKunstler?ty=h)

8 Responses to What Now?

  1. Jim Updegraff Reply

    November 18, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    The usual gloom and doom – It takes him five time as many words to make the same point most people can make in 100 words.

  2. BB Grace Reply

    November 19, 2016 at 8:29 am

    re: “Mr. Trump might not know it yet, but his chief task will be managing contraction. It would appear to be problematic, since his chief promise — “to make America great again” — is based on restarting the epic expansions of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

    President elect Trump “make America great again” is not based on 18th and 19th century imperialistic ideas. Trump represents those who have been censored from MSM during the implementation of globalization/ UN Agendas which he opposed during his campaign.

    Trump is not of the censored voices, rather, Trump’s campaign was MSM’s reflection of the censored voices and why Trump was so offensive, and why so many people have no idea what Trump is about (the folks Trump was campaigning “for” have been censored for 2 decades, and that especially includes liberal MSM), which again puts MSM ultimately in control.

    The “Alt-Right” (The people who have issues against the UN Agendas) was virtually blown up Oct 1st after a long cyber war. Assange representing wiki leaks, Anonymous representing an army of whistleblowers, are all long time “Alt-Right” community, “Spoilers”, truthers” Hackers, conspiracy theorists, the basket of deplorables is a huge basket of many issues, good issues, good people, but censored.

    Anyways, Trump does not have an imperialist agenda but quite the opposite. It’s up to CA, OR and WA to remain in the Union or dump Trump.

    Trump doesn’t get a free ride by many who voted with him. I agree with Mr. Updegraff that Trump has employed this opportunity to purchase the US presidency in the name of restoring US Independence into a kingdom, where he is rejecting pay, benefits, or living in the WH. I can go on and on with mounting issues against what Trump is doing and not. Real whistle blowers don’t wait for a check and instructions from Soros.

    I find that president elect Trump provides California and the west coast an opportunity to self determination.

    You may not agree with my perspective, so please know it is not to offend anyone, it is merely a perspective. CA should discuss CAL EXIT.

    Does CA want to be it’s own nation? Hillary for President or does CA want to be a state of communist China, Xi Jinping for president?

    Trump and CA have no bonds. How many folks voted for Trump in CA? 1%? Most voted with Trump against globalization.

    Ca is in a great position now to progress, dump trump and make Hillary president. I can’t think of a better candidate to remove CA from the Union and reestablish under communist China? But hey.. maybe this is a job for Jill Stein? Maybe it’s time for Hillary and Stein to have a debate, which would be far more appealing to the population than what a bummer Trump and his deplorables are.

  3. Susie de Castro Reply

    November 19, 2016 at 11:57 am

    To BB

    “I find that president elect D.Trump provides California and the west coast an opportunity to self determination”

    BB, seems to me, the term self-determination and D.Trump (ism) don’t go together – a contradiction in terms. Self-determination means offering freedom and independence, and all I see, thus far, is a strong desire to restrict hard won civil and humanitarian rights (The cast of “Hamilton” addressed Mike Pence about the fear people have).

  4. BB Grace Reply

    November 19, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    To Susie de Castro

    self-de·ter·mi·na·tion

    noun

    noun: self-determination
    the process by which a country determines its own statehood and forms its own allegiances and government.
    “the changes cannot be made until the country’s right to self-determination is recognized”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination

    Trump was selected. Most of the eastern states are privately owned. The west is mostly federal government owned, and Trump showed no interest in the west.

    He wants to be the president of “all Americans”, so, perhaps it’s best for CA to remove itself from the Union and become China? Become it’s own State. Clinton has plenty of experience with regime change. Trump and the red states would all approve. Schwartzenegger was talking about selling CA to China in 2010 so it’s not a new idea, just one whose time has come perhaps?

    $22 Billion in California Homes Sold to Chinese All-Cash Buyers …
    finance.townhall.com/…/22-billion-in-california-homes-sold-to-chinese-allcash-buyer…

    Jul 10, 2014 – All cash buyers from China are bidding up the price of mansions, defined as anything with two stories. Bloomberg reports Chinese Cash-Bearing Buyers Drive U.S. Foreign Sales Jump. … Chinese bought 32 percent of homes sold to foreign buyers in the state, double the share sold to …

    CHINA TO BUY CALIFORNIA? | Weekly World News
    weeklyworldnews.com/politics/23083/china-to-buy-california/
    Oct 12, 2010 – How is California going to get the cash it needs to survive? China. … or all – of California and lawmakers want to sell the state to them, that’s …

    Hotel del Coronado Sold to Chinese in $6.5B Package – Breitbart
    http://www.breitbart.com/california/…/sd-hotel-del-coronado-sold-to-chinese-in-6-5b-packa...
    Mar 14, 2016 – Hotel del Coronado Sold to Chinese in $6.5B Package. … The 16 properties include 7 in California, including the Loews Santa Monica Beach, …

    80% Of All New Home Buyers In Irvine Are Chinese | Zero Hedge
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-09-30/80-all-new-home-buyers-irvine-are-chinese
    Sep 30, 2015 – Chinese bought 32% of homes sold to foreign buyers in California, double the share sold to Canadians, according to an April 2014 survey by …

    The Biggest American Companies Now Owned by the Chinese – Fortune
    fortune.com/2016/03/…/the-biggest-american-companies-now-owned-by-the-chinese/
    Mar 18, 2016 – Recently, Chinese firms have been on a buying spree. … worry that Shuanghui might use Smithfield as a channel to sell its products in the U.S.”.

    Chinese Firm Buys Hotel del Coronado: Report | NBC 7 San Diego
    http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Hotel-del-Coronado-Sold-China-371973692.html
    Mar 14, 2016 – Blackstone Group has agreed to sell Strategic Hotels & Resorts to a Chinese … They include Ritz-Carlton locations in California, the Fairmont …

    Chinese Got Long Beach! – Daily Republican Newspaper
    http://www.dailyrepublican.com/chinesegot.html
    Mar 7, 1997 – That resulted in the loss to Long Beach, California of 17,500 military and … Chinese cargo container shipping interest got a too-good deal on a …

    The fear within people was fabricated through censorship and propaganda to divide people. If you buy MSM I’m sorry.

  5. Susie de Castro Reply

    November 19, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    D. Trump’s response (this morning) to the cast of “Hamilton” shows a rude and ill-tempered dictator.

    “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

  6. Joan Hansen Reply

    November 20, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I am very disturbed by the reaction of the Democrats. Sore looser. Get over it and support your government. Stop acting like spoiled children, stop trying to change the Constitution. Our Founders were smarter than you. We must be a UNITED STATES.

    • LouisBedrock Reply

      November 20, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      What?
      You don’t agree that it was all Susan Sarandon’s fault?

  7. Susie de Castro Reply

    November 20, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Today:
    Trump Tweets: Whining about Hamilton: 4 Whining about NY Times: 7 Whining about SNL: 10+ Condemning the 500+ hate crimes done in his name: 0

    DJT: “I watched parts of NBCSNL last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show -nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”

    ABFoundation: “Equal time? Election is over. There is no more equal time. Now U try 2 b Pres + ppl respond. That’s pretty much it.”

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