"History is seasonal, and winter is coming," Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote in their 1997 book that predicted cataclysmic events for the United States 20 years on. While experts debate if the United States is close to the 'tipping point,' China seems to be in no doubt. The dragon is waiting for its 'season' to unfold.
The possibility of the disintegration of the United States is no longer an unspeakable absurdity. Of course, no one expects the biggest superpower to unravel as a result of the machinations of a hostile external force (China). But an implosion triggered by the tremendous social and political upheaval the nation is going through is looking more possible than ever in the 250-year history of the country.
What is China's Role in This?
The US-China relations have never been more adversarial. It's an open secret that Beijing's ambition is nothing less than world domination. It's waiting in the wings for the current superpower to wane and wither away so that it can assume control. The social unrest and deep divisions along race and political lines will only worsen around the time of the November election, which is expected to be possibly the most divisive election ever in US history. If the US descends into chaos, China will be happy to accelerate the process. Geopolitical observers say that China can accelerate the US 'disintegration' by dealing it the financial misery it can no longer deal with.
China's Nuclear Option of 'Weaponizing' Massive US Debt
And what if China decides to weaponize more than $1 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds it holds to exacerbate the US vulnerabilities? If China does utilize this 'nuclear option,' it will hit the U.S. dollar, unravel the fabled American financial system, trigger a global sell-off that will ultimately undermine the standing of the dollar as the global reserve currency.
Of course, such a drastic measure will also have a knockdown effect on China as a steep drop in US bonds will eat into the value of the Treasury holdings it built over decades. That has been the major reason why China did not resort to US bonds sell-off as the rivals squared off in the past over trade imbalances. However, Beijing might simply overlook that danger when it's in the war mode.
Timing of Chinese Aggression in Ladakh
What happened in eastern Ladakh on Tuesday reveals China's playbook. India said three of its soldiers were killed by the Chinese army that infiltrated into the Indian territory. China obviously chose an opportune moment to strike India. The U.S., which is way too preoccupied with its own domestic problems, will not be able to help India. Nepal, which used to be an Indian ally, openly defied India last week when it approved a new map that claims Indian territory as its own.
If the US plunges into any sort of serious political or social crisis around the November elections, China will be ready to reap the spoils. The sweeping momentum of the Black Lives Matter protests has prepared the ground for radical changes in the country. No one knows where it will lead further. Among the statues of Confederate leaders that were felled was also the statue of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and the third president. It's not just the plainly 'vile' Confederate leaders, a whole bunch of icons are on shaky pedestals in the present-day United States.
Crisis Around 2020 Presidential Election?
No one is prepared enough for the surprises the 2020 presidential election can spring. Not at least Joe Biden, who hopes to unseat President Donald Trump. Biden has said multiple times that Trump is hell-bent on stealing the election. He even spoke bluntly about the US military forcibly removing Trump from the White House. [Trump, on his part, was gracious enough to say he would 'peacefully' leave the White House if he loses. Who knows, maybe he's so sure that he won't?]
No one can be blamed if Biden's language evokes a faint resemblance to the events in Moscow in August 1991 when the disintegration of the USSR was taking place.
'The Fourth Turning'
In their book The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny' Neil Howe and William Strauss explain that every superpower will go through four turnings points in its history -- growth, maturation, entropy and rebirth. The book warned that momentous changes would happen around 2020, a prophecy that now looks reasonably well-called given the U.S. social unrest that brings a serious political turmoil tantalizingly close to reality.
Terminal velocity -- America on Brink of Collapse?
University of Cambridge researcher Luke Kemp used the term 'terminal velocity' to explain how societies collapse. The United States currently meets all the criteria in this calculus -- unwieldy complexity, great social and economic inequality, highly-strung body politic and large scale weaponization. A rupture and fall from the height the country has scaled will have terminal velocity. In other words, the fall will be fatal.
"The U.S. is at risk of a downfall over the coming decade," Kemp wrote years ago. "There are early warning signals and the different contributors to collapse are rising."
'Abrupt End of US as a Unitary Polity'
The year 2020 will see the culmination of the crisis that began in 2007, experts have said. Harvard professor Niall Fergusson observed that the financial crisis of 2007-08 was a crucial chapter in the history of the current world order. The crisis accelerated a fundamental shift in the balance of power, wherein the U.S. started losing its grip on power while China started absorbing a greater share of it. In an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs, Fergusson said the US may meet an 'abrupt end as a unitary polity' owing to the unique sets of crisis it would face.
US Debt and National Security
Ferguson observes that empires like the USSR and the Roman empire collapsed quickly when they reached a point where they could no longer meet the cost of defending themselves. A crisis arises when a stupendous rise in private debt is worsened by an equally berserk expansion of public debt. "By combating our crisis of private debt with an extraordinary expansion of public debt, we inevitably are going to reduce the resources available for national security in the years ahead," Ferguson said.
The total US federal debt has gone past $26 trillion while the total domestic debt rose to $55.9 trillion as per the latest data.
Will the Center Hold?
Both the coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd protests showcased ample instances of federal-state discord in the United States. The federal government wanted less lockdown but the states wanted more. The Centre wanted more policing to quell the social uprising but the states voted for disbanding the police.
The November elections will worsen the drift. If Trump wins, a massive number of people in Blue states will feel betrayed, because the stakes are already too high. Similarly, a Biden victory will make the sense of disenfranchisement deeper in Red states. People will finally, bitterly, realize that democracy and universal franchise can't offer a sense of justice and fairness in equal measure to one and all.
"Great civilizations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives." -- Arnold Toynbee, 'A Study of History.