How the United States Will Fall
This is part of a series exploring the probable fracture of the United States. Previous posts explored how empires fall, how the internet changes things, political polarization, and the changing nature of sovereignty.
Part 2: Citizenship and The Internet
Part 3: Polarization and Sovereignty
Part 4: How the United States Will Fall (this one)
The United States is approaching a point of no return. The various forces building up will inevitably cause the country to change. The situation cannot sustain itself — trends within the United States and outside forces acting upon them have destabilized the status quo of the nation. If you buy the logic that we’re sitting just before a massive change-state on the timeline of the US, then the real question is, what causes the boil-over to occur? How does it all go down?
To answer that we have to identify the various ways a country can cease to be a country, and then become some other country or countries.
Each of these options come in a wide variety of flavors and levels of violence based on an abundance of situations. I argue that option four is the most likely for the United States and, further, that it will be a breakup of the friendly-ish kind. Further, I believe, and will explore more in the future, that this fracture may serve as a catalyst for global fracturing of all large nation-states. The forces acting on the United States are not unique to the US, but merely acute.
The United States could collapse. This would most likely be a massive financial collapse. Imagine 2008, but much worse. If the world ceased to believe in the financial viability of the US, we’d be in serious trouble. The dollar would collapse, bonds worth nothing, mass unemployment, the stock market would tank. There could arrive a point where the US needs to be rescued by the rest of the world, but as we saw in 2008 their economies are closely tied to ours. This would throw the world into a global recession. Potentially there’d be no one to bail out the US.
This is a possibility, but thankfully one that’s held at bay by the global interests of everyone else, including China.
A revolution is what started the United States, so it would be a fitting end. But it’s not likely to happen. For a revolution to occur you need one of two things:
- the majority of the population to be against the current government and willing to revolt
- a small faction that holds all the power
For the former, the likely lines upon which a revolution would occur in the US are political. Despite the massive polarization in the US there’s almost always balance; neither Red nor Blue America is significantly larger than the other.
Another common revolution line is along socio-economic lines. This one might be more likely to cause a revolution than political ideology. The United States has the highest inequality of the G7 nations, and the share of wealth of the rich has increased sharply relative to the middle and lower income brackets. The rich now hold all the wealth in the US while the middle income group is trending towards the low income (Source: Pew Research). Theoretically, there could be a populist revolt that unites America’s poor and middle-class to overthrow the corporate-political alliance and start a new United States for the people. That probability is low, however, given the massive polarization we’re already experiencing.
It seems unlikely that a majority of the population will rise up against the government, so now let’s examine whether a small faction that holds outsized power could successfully pull off a revolution. We’ve got two scenarios here:
This is definitely a common enough occurrence in history that it could theoretically occur here. There were whispers of this at the end of former President Trump’s time in office.
Is this likely? Once again, not very. If it did occur, it would immediately cause massive secessions as states of opposite parties deemed the new government invalid and split off. This is a reasonably likely catalyst for a definitive secession, but unlikely to form a successful new government.
Gun owners’ revolt
Just what the 2nd amendment was created for: a massive people’s militia of gun owners overthrow the government and instate a new government. This is openly discussed in conservative spaces on social media and memes regularly circulate. The only thing I don’t see likely here is that a bunch of amateur gun owners could successfully overthrow the US military, wreak havoc sure. Successful revolution? Not gonna happen.
Political system revolution
Could we completely overhaul our systems and save the US? Could we see a new democratic system rise up that allows more fair representation? Four viable parties? It’s possible.
As we briefly discussed in the polarization section, there’s nothing constitutionally stopping the United States from switching to proportional representation and allowing viable third parties to play the game — you’d just have to get past those pesky Republicans and Democrats, get them to sacrifice some of their own power for the good of the nation. Easy enough, right?
The only way I see some third party emerging is within a one party-state. The need for two parties within a one party-state could cause a new party to arise within that state, begin to gather steam, and go from there. The sad part, however, is that without an overhaul to our voting system and really the whole political machine, this emerging third party will likely overtake and erase one of the two dominant parties now, or get absorbed into the two.
Along a long enough time horizon we’d be back to two parties, polarization, and gridlock. Back to square one.
In the scariest of the four scenarios we have annihilation — we humans blow the whole world up — or the US is destroyed.
There are plenty of nuclear powers out there that the US is not exactly on friendly terms with. The one principle holding us back from this is mutually assured destruction. If Russia or China launch nukes at us, we’ll nuke them, everyone dies. That’s not a win for them, so they don’t do it. The entire cold “war” was “fought” because of this.
Assuming every country eliminated nukes, we’d still have two things going for the US:
- the size and technical prowess of the US military
- supranational organizations and global treaties
Were China to engage in a traditional military war with the United States in an effort to take over and annex the US, they’d be up against not only the United States military, but all its allies.
The likelihood of a foreign country taking over the United States is negligible. The likelihood of nuclear annihilation is higher, but still quite low.
If you want to dig in further on a Chinese-American WWIII here’s an interesting read that makes the same argument I am here, but with a ton of detail (Source: National Interest).
This is the primary threat to the continued existence of the United States as we know it now. The US will fall apart. The why we’ve already discussed, now let’s look at how it could go down. There are really only two scenarios here along somewhat of a spectrum. We could have another civil war or we have a friendly break-up—an amicable divorce if you will.
The possibility is always there. We had one just 156 years ago, and that same fault line still exists today. We’re not a nation fully healed.
Could we see another civil war?
A Red vs. Blue civil war? It’s possible we could see one attempted, but unlikely to succeed. For one, the lines aren’t that clear cut — even within Red states, there are liberals and vice versa. Though we see some occasional scary images like the Confederate battle flag flying in the Capitol or a congressman posting Civil War memes on Facebook, this is mostly posturing.
Political violence in the US is not without precedent, and we’ve seen it recently in Portland, Kenosha, and various other skirmishes.
This is a genuine concern, but for a full-blown civil war you need clear-cut battle lines, state governments on board, and enough Americans with enough hatred in their hearts to kill their fellow countrymen. Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t see this happening.
That’s where we come to the most probable scenario, and maybe the preferred one:
The divides within our country, the gridlock, the effects of the internet, the rising importance of supranational organizations — all of that leads to the United States ending. But most Californians don’t want Floridians dead and vice-versa. They just want control over their own neck of the woods.
There are no legal parameters within the constitution for secession, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The government and constitution, after all, are only reflections of the people and their desires.
Do people want a secession? Not everyone, but there has been a rising amount of Americans that do want a secession, not surprisingly in the conservative South, but also in coastal California and other parts of the US (Source: The Hill).
Here’s what I think will happen
Making predictions like this are best left to delusional people, or safely behind science fiction. But hey, let’s roll the delusional dice and make some semi-educated guesses.
First, as the name of this essay series suggests, we’ll likely see a fracture — not war, collapse, or revolution.
So who makes the first move?
I think we might shockingly see a liberal secession first. California has already had some ballot measures proposed in the past. One could conceivably make it on the ballot and get passed. That would throw the US into uncharted territory. Of course, an actual secession is not currently “legal” but I could see a couple of different ways this plays out.
California could throw its economic power and influence behind the will of its people and apply enough pressure to make it happen. No war, no bullets — California starts withholding tax dollars, refusing to participate in Washington DC, petitions to the United Nations, and so on. After enough time, tension, and stock market chaos, The US might cave.
It’s also possible that one secession movement triggers others, so we see the United States in a state of chaos, with now multiple secession motions in play. This could push the scenario over the edge. If no one in power thinks reunification and healing is viable, then the only option is to allow the secessions to take place. A ton of negotiations and redrawing of lines happens and we end with somewhere between five and 20+ countries where we previously had one.
What happens next
I don’t think the United States is alone in the forces acting upon it. Every large nation competing in the global market is vulnerable to these conditions. We live in a new world with new means of communication, finance, values, and realities.
What happens after the fracture of the United States?
Some interesting scenarios worth thinking about:
The Great Reshuffling
If the United States fractures into many countries, undoubtedly there will be major ideological differences among these countries. We will probably see more people vote with their feet and move to countries that better align with their values. When you hear of Texas liberals leaving because of the recent abortion laws that passed or conservative Californians leaving for greener pastures in the South this is the foreshadowing of the Great Reshuffle.
The era of city-states
We could see the continued fracture of countries into smaller and smaller pieces until we arrive at the smallest viable form of country — a city-state. This would lead to a massive increase in total countries on earth, potentially thousands.
The era of United Nations
We might see the United Nations or some new supranational organization rise to immense importance and dominance, taking the place of the former United States as the world super-power, but with less sovereignty over its individual members. This scenario is not mutually exclusive of others.
We might move past the concept of citizenship. This is harder to imagine, but in the future, we could have two or three organizations that we have allegiance to, separate from geographic territories. How that would pan out is still in the realm of sci-fi and visionary crypto-fans, but certainly feasible. See the Network State.
No one knows exactly what the future holds for the US as a sovereign country, or how exactly the country may end, if at all. What we do know is that the trends are unsustainable and something will happen in the near future — sooner than most are willing to imagine.
It’ll feel natural in retrospect, as history always does. Eventually, we’ll be living in a new world situation. As we grow old we’ll remember the United States, we’ll sit over a cup of coffee and remember the old days, we’ll say, “that was kind of weird, wasn’t it? The US. What were we thinking trying to organize so many people within one country? Everything’s so much better now.”