At this time last year, I made the worthless prediction that 2018 would be The Bad Year. Was it? No, it was not. That means that we may still have The Bad Year to look forward to.
Before we go any farther here, it is “important” (this is only important if you value my opinion, which many of you cretins don’t, but I guess we’ve come too far to argue about it now, haven’t we?) to understand what I mean by The Bad Year. I do not mean a year in which some bad things happen to all of us (I am speaking about America in particular), or some absolutely terrible things happen to some people. As you all know, many legitimately bad things happened this year. Children in cages, or dying after crossing our southern border. The broad-scale erosion of the legitimacy of our political institutions. Increasing power in the hands of a few bad corporations. Hurricanes, wildfires, and more carbon emissions. Nazis in the streets, Nazis on TV, Nazis in the White House. Yes, there were many bad things in 2018. Even more than usual. But not enough to make 2018 the big one.
There are two big risks for America—two things that would make trouble much deeper and longer and more existential than the individual tragedies that beset us in the normal course of each year. One is a serious recession. It didn’t happen this year, although the manic fluctuations of the stock market and the December decline in stock prices and the fizzling out of the ill-advised Republican tax cut stimulus and the still-looming trade war and the large percentage of long-term unemployed lurking in the low unemployment figure, along with the government’s general hostility to organized labor and friendliness to industry monopolization and indifference to economic inequality, mean that the ground is very fertile indeed for a recession in 2019. Although of course I am not in the business of making predictions.
The other terrifying risk is war. Yes, war is always terrifying. But in the context of a Donald Trump presidency, war is something that A) could quite plausibly be started for some of the dumbest reasons that you can imagine, up to and including “want to distract from an embarrassing gaffe” or “was goaded into it by a guest on Fox & Friends,” and B) could quite plausibly result in the use of nuclear weapons, because the commander-in-chief of our military is a man with no scruples or empathy or sense of history or sense of proportion or readily apparent checks on his very worst, most stupid, and most evil impulses. It is trivially easy to imagine how a trifling insult or any number of bad domestic circumstances could translate into an order for aggressive military action that then spiraled into something much uglier than Donald Trump, an idiot and a narcissist, could ever imagine.
A recession or a war would not be just another bad thing to add to the annual list of bad things. Either of them would have an intensifying effect that would make our already broken domestic politics much, much worse. And much darker. Do you think the far-right Trump base—maybe 30 percent or so of Americans—is bad now? Imagine how that base would swell and get more vociferously angry if the unemployment rate doubled, or tripled. Imagine how much more the middle 40 percent of the political spectrum would capitulate to the raw id of Trump if they could sink into the comfortable rationalization that a wartime president must be supported no matter what. Consider Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and then think about how he would conduct a war. Consider Donald Trump’s scapegoating racism and xenophobia, and then consider what he would do to brown people if a substantially greater portion of his base could not find work. These are very scary things. It is no exaggeration to say that many lives would be destroyed in either situation—not due to the disaster itself, but due to what the disaster would prompt our current government to do in response.
It is not ridiculous to imagine the return of internment camps in response to a deep recession in which white America focused the blame on immigration. It is not ridiculous to imagine a minor incident spiraling into a nuclear war, given who is in charge. These things are not implausible. They may be outlier risks, but they are real risks. Most world leaders who are as profoundly flawed as Donald Trump have at least led nations of limited power. The reigns of comparably bad leaders who were in charge of nations that were true powers on the world stage did not, historically, turn out well.
So will 2019 be The Bad Year? The year in which economic breakdown or global instability lead our nation into the abyss so rapidly that everyone will still be blinking in confusion as the tanks roll through the streets? I don’t fucking know. All specific predictions about the future are worthless. General predictions about the future, however, can sometimes have value. And generally speaking, it will be a miracle if we all get through the next two years alive.
Happy new year. Take shelter.