Abstract: A “red wave” midterm election seems about to occur. Notwithstanding the apparent (relatively) recent precedent of the 1994 midterms, the eight weeks from Tuesday 8 November 2022 to Tuesday 3 January 2023 may become the most challenging period to date in the entire history of the American constitutional order, not excepting the “Secession Winter” following Tuesday 6 November 1860. A broadly similar situation would almost certainly exist if the relative positions of the major political parties in the US were reversed. Even with alarming possibilities in view, this post is intended to promote constructive apprehension, not mere fearfulness.
Like all good students at our eponymous institution, you get the theoretical elements first, then more practical aspects, and falsifiable predictions at the end.
Low Discount Parameters and Game-Theoretic Cooperation
Axelrod (pp 183-4):
“From the point of view of the public, a politician facing an end of career can be dangerous because of the increased temptation to seek private goals rather than maintain a pattern of cooperation with the electorate for the attainment of mutually rewarding goals.
“Since the turnover of political leaders is a necessary part of democratic control, the problem must be solved another way. Here, political parties are useful because they can be held accountable by the public for the acts of their elected members. The voters and the parties are in a long-term relationship, and this gives the parties an incentive to select candidates who will not abuse their responsibilities. And if a leader is discovered giving in to temptation, the voters can take this into account in evaluating the other candidates of the same party in the next election.”
In normal circumstances this would work. By definition, a Crisis Era, explained below, is not normal. (A more cynical formulation might be that the Boomers [and I am one] have figured out how to screw it up.)
Our immediate situation is one in which, in game-theory parlance, the discount parameter w which quantifies the likelihood of future interaction is plummeting. A relatively large number of incumbent officeholders are about to be defeated by a combination of redistricting from the 2020 census and significant discontent amongst the electorate over perceived, highly unproductive, disruption—not to say institutional failure—over the past two years. Note that much of this, and I contend most of it, would be happening if Trump were in his second term, such that a blue wave would be imminent. It’s bad timing for the Democrats.
Stimulus ≠ Response
“Take x a random or nonrandom variable, and f(x) the exposure, payoff, the effect of x on you, the end bottom line (x is often in higher dimensions but let’s assume to simplify that it is a simple one-dimensional variable).
“Practitioners and risk-takers often observe the following disconnect: people (non-practitioners) talking x (with the implication that practitioners should care about x in running their affairs) while practitioners think about f(x), nothing but f(x). Sometimes people mention f(x) as utility but miss the full payoff. And the confusion is at two levels: one, simple confusion; second, in the decision-science literature, seeing the difference and not realizing that action on f(x) is easier than action on x.
“When it comes to probability, the more nonlinear f, the less the probabilities of x matter compared to those of f. Moral of the story: focus on f, which we can alter, rather than on the measurement of the elusive properties of x.
“What is crucial, our limitations of knowledge apply to x, not necessarily to f(x). We have no control over x, some control over f(x). In some cases very, very large control over f(x).
“The danger with the treatment of the Black Swan problem is as follows: people focus on x (‘predicting x’). My point is that, although we do not understand x, we can deal with it by working on f which we can understand, while others work on predicting x which we can’t because small probabilities are incomputable, particularly in thick-tailed domains. F(x) is how the end result affects you.
“… we do not need to understand x as much as our exposure to the risks. Simply the statistical properties of x are swamped by those of f. The point of Antifragile is that exposure is more important than the naive notion of “knowledge”; that is, understanding x.
“The more nonlinear f the less the probabilities of x matter in the probability distribution of the final package f.
“Our great-grandmothers did understand thick tails. These are not so scary; we figured out how to survive by making rational decisions based on deep statistical properties.”
Of course, in today’s world, the great x, faddishly obsessed over by the bien-pensants, is parts per million of atmospheric CO₂; but there are others—the Right has seized on the number of apprehensions at the (ahem, southern) border, and we were subjected to a couple of years of hysterical media reports of … less-than-meaningful … raw case rates of COVID-19.
Exit question: How can you, personally, act on f(x)?—but my larger point was neatly phrased by Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
Section 5: Powers and Duties of Congress
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Section 8: Powers of Congress
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings;
The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.
The above excerpts very effectively specify the place and time for the 118th Congress to begin. As I noted in Tiananmen OSINT, “the great disadvantage to would-be commemorators, and advantage to the Chinese government, is the fixed date of the anniversary.” In our situation, that becomes the great advantage to those who would disrupt the seating of the winners of the November election. Advances in transport (discussed below) have reduced the travel time from the hinterlands to DC from a couple of months to a single day, but our legal arrangements have not kept pace. All other things being equal, the winners of Tuesday could be in the Cannon, Longworth, or Rayburn buildings well before the end of the week. But we continue to interpose an interval from the 18th century.
Biddleian Capability Magnification
As I noted in my review of Nonstate Warfare, referring back to Biddle’s earlier Military Power, the timespan between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War saw a combined increase in the effectiveness of individual-service weapons by four orders of magnitude, when rate of fire, range, and accuracy are all taken into account.
In the two and a third centuries since the 80-something members of the 1st United States Congress met at 26 Wall Street in New York City, the Congress itself has grown by over 6x, its staff and facilities have grown … substantially, the US itself is commensurately more populous (and has quadrupled in area), and our economy is over four thousand times larger.
But beyond the sheer scale of the country and its public institutions, communications and transport are stunningly faster and cheaper than they were in the late 18th century. No member of Congress is as much as 24 hours’ travel time from their home district, and all can be in real-time, synchronous conversation with their district offices (or a constituent) in a matter of seconds.
Rather more to the point, however, ten million people now reside within a two-hour drive of Capitol Hill, and organizing a Nivenian flash mob is a matter of spending a few minutes with a handheld device connected to social media.
In 1789, delegates had to travel for weeks to convene and could no more communicate with their districts than they could flap their arms and fly there. The number of people within a few hours’ travel time of lower Manhattan was in the low tens of thousands, and informing those people of a planned gathering would have taken days, at least (and lots of legwork).
In the 2020s, “far more open, direct challenges to Westphalian-Weberian states” have become possible, not only by quasi-military gangs as in Haiti, but by any sufficiently motivated group of people spread over an area of, at least, tens of thousands of square miles.
Capability is not intent. Unfortunately, intent is readily available.
“Historically, aging Idealists have been attracted to words like ‘exterminate’ and ‘eradicate,’ words of apocalyptic finality. Add in the fiery passion of the more evangelical last-wavers, sharpen everyone’s moral conviction, reduce everyone’s level of tolerance, subtract the active presence of any adult Adaptives—and that is the leadership awaiting America, circa 2020. It is easy to picture aging Boomers as noble, self-sacrificing patriarchs—but just as easy to see these righteous Old Aquarians as the worst nightmare that could ever happen to the world. Other generations of spiritualist elders have had visions of apocalypse; this one will have the methods.”
— William Strauss and Neil Howe, GENERATIONS (written 1990)
Those who find Strauss and Howe’s four-part temperament cycle a bit overwrought may instead consult Xenakis, whose model is one of simple population turnover (I provide some numbers below). The simple, terrible reality is that no one born in the US from about 1943 on has the crisis-management ability of those who preceded us. No amount of raw talent, education, and prior accomplishment can substitute for their irreplaceable experience. We were bound to sink below some critical threshold eventually; judging by events, that threshold was reached by 2008. We are nearly a decade and a half into our own Crisis Era, and its end is not in sight.
A bit of searching finds the following differences between 1994 and 2022:
|Generation||1994 Electorate||2022 Electorate|
|Silent||44 million||13 million|
|Boomer||58 million||65 million|
|GenX||61 million||81 million|
Since the red wave of ’94: the Greatest Generation has all but vanished; the Silent have shrunk by 70%; the Boomers have actually increased somewhat, presumably by immigration; the remainder of GenX has aged into the electorate; the Millennials have all reached voting age; and the Homelanders (an Adaptive/Artist genertation like the Silent) have begun to appear, although in all likelihood few will vote—notoriously, the 26th Amendment has had little influence on elections … “subtract the active presence of any adult Adaptives,” indeed.
This will be, effectively, a GenX election, aided and abetted by disgruntled Boomers and Millennials.
As implied by my first visual in this post, I’m going with PredictIt, which is to say a 53–47 Senate and a significant GOP House majority. Plenty of people smarter than me have already pointed out that the ’24 Senate map is even bleaker for Democrats. A 60-seat GOP majority seems feasible. Combined with the perception of a lost Supreme Court thanks to Dobbs (and Bruen), likely rulings against affirmative action in Students for Fair Admissions, and similarly disastrous prospects for the White House in two years, I expect something like panic to set in on the Left. We’re talking about people with a deeply teleological commitment to “progress,” as they define it; those who stand in the way are to be swept aside, by any means necessary. They already believe that Bush 43 stole both the 2000 and 2004 elections and that Trump was “installed” by Putin, in futile defiance of ineluctable “progress.”
This is where I note that the continued functioning of a representative democracy rests entirely on the willingness of the losers to accept the result, and that in combination with the past few decades of demographic turnover and the “latent ruthlessness” of the Boomers (another Strauss & Howe phrase), that collective willingness is about to be pushed to its greatest limit since 1860.
The Next Eight Weeks
If I’m right, we’re about to get eight weeks of “reporting” about how the election wasn’t “democratic” and strongly hinting, if not openly suggesting, that no reaction to it, however violent, is inappropriate. —Which is to say, an attempt at a repeat of the “long hot summer” of 2020. Rioting being a much less comfortable activity when it’s 40°F or colder instead of 80°F, this might not catch on. But the tacit, or not-so-tacit, encouragement of it by ostensibly responsible commentators will be something to note.
The Logistics of Disruption
Our soi-disant Fourth Estate has spent the past two years promoting the notion that a bunch of LARPing clowns actually came close to crashing the system on Wednesday 6 January 2021, and while that notion has not caught on outside of the politically-correct subculture, its relentless repetition has introduced some sense of its general feasibility into the American psyche. As mentioned above, a low-eight-digit number of people live within a two-hour drive of Capitol Hill. The simultaneous appearance of one in ten thousand of them would be sufficient to render the Constitutionally required inauguration of the 118th Congress a logistical impossibility. Summoning such a gathering will, also as mentioned, be a trivial exercise in early 2023.
Risk Management, or the Lack Thereof
The response to the “threat” of January 6th was so overwrought—tens of thousands of troops, walls, razor wire—that even the very Democratic mayor of DC complained about its suppression of ordinary tourism. One of the main things to watch for during the remainder of the year, and quite possibly the most consequential thing, will be a similar effort … or its absence. If mainstream commentators decry the 118th Congress as illegitimate and invoke the usual litany (voter suppression/intimidation/gerrymandering/Russians!) in support, and hint—or openly advocate—its disruption, and the DC establishment does not provide extra security, then our best hope may be for a blizzard on Monday night, January 2nd.
I do not bid you despair … but to ponder the truth in these words.
Markets as Predictors
Here’s the Wilshire 5000, the broadest index of the US stock market.
It’s had a bad year, including its worst first half since 1970. The question is, is it predicting a garden-variety recession, or something worse? And how will it perform through year-end? I, for one, will be watching it carefully.
The Best-Case Scenario
- Complaining by the losers does not escalate to a mass lynching in early January. Legislative power is peacefully, if resentfully, transferred on the Constitutionally-prescribed date.
- The Administration’s legislative agenda, assuming it even has one, is DOA. Gridlock is the order of the day.
- Vengeful congressional “investigations” ensue, some of them potentially useful, but all of them aimed at maximizing GOP advantage in ’24 rather than at any real problem resolution, much less the pursuit of justice.
- Mainstream media characterize this as “witch hunts” and “McCarthyism.” A few commentators possibly rediscover Strauss and Howe and draw the analogy to the Salem Witch Trials (part of the “Glorious Revolution Crisis” of the late 17th century).
- Executive-branch orders and indictments are deployed to fight a rear-guard action against opposition subcultures, as we have seen with suburban school district patrons accused of “terrorism.”
- Easily preventable foreign conflicts are allowed to fester due to the inward focus of US politics. Nuclear and bioweapon proliferation accelerate.
- Both the “near problem” (Caribbean Rim) and “far problem” (China) worsen noticeably. The major parties in the US blame one another.
- The 2024 election presents the same risk of rejection, violent disruption, and constitutional crisis.
For all this, the lives of a large fraction of Americans, especially in the heartland, are relatively undisturbed in any practical way, and the logistics of everyday life remain functional. —To check this one, keep an eye on insurance rates, which is to say, f(x).