Looking back from the year 2050

[What follows is not a prediction, nor is it a program that I advocate.  It is a thought experiment. I attempt to answer the question: If the USA in the year 2050 is on a better path, what might have been the reason?]

Back in the early 2020s, things seemed hopeless to thoughtful Americans. Their government was controlled by oligarchs favorable to big business monopolies and by militarists committed to maintaining U.S. dominance by any means necessary.

Material living standards were falling.  Addiction and mental illness were increasing.  So-called “deaths of despair” – suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver disease – were increasing.

The manufacturing economy was being hollowed out. The political system was unresponsive to public needs or the public will.  Few expected the next generation to be better off than the present generation.

What Americans back then had no way of foreseeing was the religious movement we now call the Third Great Awakening.  It took a religious movement to transform lives and thereby transform the nation.

Historically, in the English-speaking world, this has always been the case.  Periods of moral and social decay evoke religious revivals in response.

So it was with the rise of Puritanism and Methodism in 17th and 19th century Britain and the first and second Great Awakenings in the early 18th and 19th century USA.

The core values of the Third Great Awakening were (1) putting the needs children, mothers and families first, (2) help in overcoming addiction of all kinds and rehabilitation generally and (3) sympathy for the poor and suspicion of holders of great wealth.

It was a combination of Pentecostal spirituality, Mormon emphasis on community, family and self-reliance, Twelve Step rehabilitation and Latin American-style liberation theology.  It was strict (though forgiving) in terms of personal conduct, but embraced a no-frills Christian theology that made it compatible with diverse denominations.

The core supporters of the Awakening movement were African-Americans, Hispanics and Bible Belt whites, but the movement appealed to people in every niche of American life.

The rise of the movement took place against the background of the Greater Great Depression of the late 2020s.  Governments and corporations went bankrupt and ceased to function.  This time the banks were “too big to bail.”

Confidence in major American institutions had been falling all through the early 21st century.  As they ceased to function, they lost all moral authority.

 Americans were forced to self-organize to cope with the emergency.  They joined together through their local religious congregations, and also through newly-formed labor and community organizations.

About this time the Jeffrey Epstein client files were published by Wikileaks.  They revealed how many high-level politicians, business executives and celebrities had sex with under-age, exploited young girls, and also how Epstein was part of a network of sex traffickers that had continued to function.

This resulted in a great backlash and a drive to track down and punish the guilty—many of whom were also guilty of financial fraud and war crimes.  Financial, political and sexual corruption became conflated in the public mind.  

Some people called what followed a witch hunt, but it weakened, discredited and, to an extent, emptied out the power structure.  New institutions and movements arose to fill the vacuum.

The United States around this time had given up trying to dominate the world militarily.  This was mainly because it was unaffordable, but the withdrawal was sparked by the Military Chernobyl incident, which happened just as the U.S. military was planning to use tactical nuclear weapons against Russian forces in Poland and Rumania.

Back in 1980, an accident caused a Titan missile to partially launch and then crash, but the warhead fortunately did not detonate.  This time a similar accident happened, and the warhead did detonate, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties and a dangerously radioactive blast site.  

The result was a backlash against nuclear weapons, which were a keystone against American military power.

The USA in 2050 is a patchwork of local communities, each trying to cope as best as they can.  Authority has devolved not only onto local governments, but to church congregations, union locals, and volunteer organizations.

When businesses went bankrupt or federal agencies closed, the local people joined together to keep them open and operating.  

Alexis de Toqueville in the 1830s remarked on the ability of Americans to join together for the common good in the name of enlightened self-interest.  We have manifested the ability once again, helped by the new religious movement and the revival of the labor movement.

All during the early 21st century, American workers had been trying to organize.  Notably, many of the union leaders  were black, Hispanic and female, representing the multi-racial work force.  There were many sparks, but it took the collapse of national authority to allow them to catch fire.

Compared to 30 or 40 years before, Americans on average are poorer in material goods.  We live more like the characters in the Little House on the Prairie books than Americans in 2020.

On the other hand, the industrial collapse had meant that the USA meets its target for greenhouse gas emissions.  

There is virtually no unemployment.  Every able-bodied person, and many who were handicapped, found work in coping with the many climate-induced weather emergencies – floods, droughts, hurricanes and tidal waves.  Since greenhouse gas emissions are cumulative, these emergencies are not expected to diminish anytime soon.

Education is focused on acquiring survival skills, such as basic literacy and numeracy,  gardening, home maintenance, first aid and so on.  There is some emphasis on religious studies and moral eduction.   Old-time liberal education is in eclipse, and so are queer studies, black studies, feminist studies and the like.  

The collapse of the U.S. dollar meant that Americans had to become more self-sufficient, so there was some revival of manufacturing industry, mainly to serve the domestic market, but the weaker currency also gave Americans some advantage in exports.

The World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and all the other international financial institutions that had been propped up by the United States—they all have failed or ceased to matter.  

OPEC-Plus and various Chinese-led institutions, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement, are the dominant international organizations, although virtually all nations seek a greater degree of national self-sufficiency.  

OPEC-Plus minimizes oil and gas production in order to make fossil fuels last, and invests profits in green technologies, which they hope will support industrial economics when the oil and gas ran out.

The USA receives infrastructure loans from China under its Belt and Roads Initiative, which most Americans find humiliating, but increases our resolve to achieve economic independence.

Two important scientific breakthroughs should be noted.  One is the omnivirus drug, a generalized medicine for virus disease equivalent to penicillin for bacterial disease.  The other is a safe, efficient and cheap method of reprocessing nuclear weapons explosives into nuclear fuel for electric power plants.

The USA in the 2050s will face many problems.  Our position in the world is much diminished.  But, for now, unifying forces are stronger than the forces of division.  Americans have been cured of the illusions of 30 years before.  The world hasn’t ended yet and neither has the American nation.

Image via Lombardi Letter.

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