American presidential elections are usually followed by at least a short season of quiescence, as a weary electorate turns with relief to more parochial concerns. If the elected president is a new one, he is rewarded with a honeymoon of a perhaps few months’ duration.
In 2012 this catharsis has not occurred. The political temperature has not dropped since November 6. As the fiscal cliff approaches and the debate over gun regulation intensifies, the nation’s nerves appear, if anything, even more frayed than they already were. It seems safe to assume that the era of good feelings for which many Americans yearn is not about to transpire in the months ahead. Politically, the year 2013 looks likely to resemble 2009 or 2011.
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” In the election of 2012, American conservatives lost control of the present and, thereby, both the past and the immediate future. They did so in part by losing a battle not just of parties but of narratives: history lessons that seek to explain how America got into its present predicament and how it might extricate itself. The recent election became in considerable measure a contest between two kinds of populism with deep roots in our history: left-wing populism, pitting the impoverished “people” against “corporations” and the “rich”; and right-wing populism, pitting citizens in the private economic sector against an elitist and intrusive government. One form of populism looks for inspiration to the Progressives, the New Deal, and the heyday of trade unionism. The other version takes its inspiration and rhetorical cues from the American Founders of 1776 and 1787. On November 6 the left-wing variant seemed more broadly persuasive.
But perhaps only momentarily. One can imagine any number of events in 2013 — in Iran, the European Union, the Far East, Wall Street, or Washington — that could scramble the world economy and reconfigure the ongoing battle of narratives. Still, conservatives cannot count on this happening. In 2013 they must — and I expect will — continue the painful task of reassessing in depth what William F. Buckley, more than 50 years ago, called “the failure of the conservative demonstration.”
If conservatives want 2013 to unfold more happily than 2012, they will have to refine their narrative and remember the bracing advice of the computer scientist Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
Well, I’ve just re-read my predictions for 2012, and — these are frugal times — I can use quite a few of them again . . .
Let’s start with the euro. Last year I wrote that the euro would “stagger on for at least another year,” and I’ll repeat that for 2013, except that I think that it will do so more sure-footedly than in 2012 thanks to the interventions of the European Central Bank. I went on to say that the biggest risks to the single currency were (1) a major Greek bank run setting off a chain reaction elsewhere, (2) major social disorder in one of the PIIGS, and (3) a voter revolt in one of the lender countries. Despite large outflows from the banking systems in some of the PIIGS, the actions of the ECB have meant that (1) is now highly unlikely. So far as (3) is concerned, “northern” voters will continue to be outraged by the bailouts, but not quite enough so. That leaves the danger of (2), major social disorder in one of the PIIGS. That’s a threat that has not gone away.
Other predictions for last year included the possibility of an Argentine economic crisis (complete with saber-rattling over the Falklands). The country’s economic situation has indeed taken a sharp turn for the worse — as has the banditry of the Kirchner regime — and a major economic crunch (complete with yet more saber-rattling) could well be expected in 2013. If we want to throw in a fresh economic crisis for the new year, let’s add France to the mix, heading for the rocks under the direction of the thuggish President Hollande, an old-school socialist of traditional vindictiveness — and traditional destructiveness.
Back to 2012: “Brace yourselves for growing but ‘completely unexpected’ Islamist success in many of the lands of the Arab Spring. The Israelis and Palestinians will come no nearer to genuine peace, but Iran will come even closer to nuclear weapons.” Yup, that’ll work for 2013 too.
Turning to the U.S., this prediction from last year can be recycled, regardless of the excitements over the fiscal cliff: “No serious progress will be made in the direction of replacing the current federal tax system with one that is simpler, flatter, friendlier to thrift, and more equitably balanced between taxation on income and taxation on consumption. Too many taboos (on both left and right) stand in the way, reinforced by legions of legislators with tax loopholes to sell.”
And this can be reused too, although the headline numbers ought to look better in 2013 than 2012: “So far as unemployment is concerned, the picture will continue to be dismal. Any improvements in the headline numbers will have to be seen in the context of the long-term decline of the percentage of Americans holding jobs, a decline that will continue to be of little apparent concern to those (such as advocates of mass immigration) who continue to hymn the benefits of a rising population.” Incidentally, when it comes to the question of immigration, the GOP, having “learned” from its 2012 defeat, may well be tempted to yield quite a lot of ground. What it will not do — despite the fact that inequality will be a major feature of the 2013 political debate — is make the essential point that mass immigration has been (and will continue to be) one of the most significant agents of inequality that there is.
To conclude with something from the world of showbiz, there will be Oscar buzz over Lincoln, but none over Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Madness.
— Andrew Stuttaford writes from New York.
In foreign affairs, Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, either covertly or overtly. The United States will sit on the sidelines.
Here at home, the Supreme Court will strike down California’s ban on gay marriage.
In pop culture, viewers will finally start to turn off reality shows — real reality is more real. “Call Me Maybe” will not be the song of summer 2013. Thank God.
— John Yoo is a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.