The Calm Before The Storm?

If you are an aficionado of very old movies with very bad screenwriting, you have likely seen some character squint out at the distant horizon and say the following: “It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”  This generally foreshadows an imminent attack or mayhem that puts everyone in that cinematic adventure at mortal risk.

I am starting to feel just like that character—and I’m not an actor.  Although we seem to be living in a comparatively calm moment as we struggle to shake off our largely self-inflicted Covid-19 disaster, there are warning signs that an explosion might be right on our doorstep.  

We have an immigration crisis that seems to have confused and paralyzed a Biden administration that is only now discovering strict border enforcement might be a worthwhile endeavor after all.  The Governors of two of our largest states, California and New York, are facing forced removal from their offices.  Gasoline prices are rising like a helium balloon on a clear, blue day.  Our worldwide supply chain is stretched and struggling, and the prices for many essential commodities and basic foodstuffs are escalating almost by the hour.  

Take a deep breath. There’s even more.

Fentanyl is flowing into our nation like a fast-moving river, spreading death and misery across America.  Homicides and other violent crimes are setting records in many of our larger cities, and this as well as other intractable problems are driving a major urban exodus that is turning our downtowns into ghost towns from coast to coast.  Stocks and housing are riding incredible speculative bubbles fueled by bizarre Federal Reserve monetary policies that seem designed to incentivize unwise financial risks.  The likelihood that many American workers may never (or perhaps only rarely) see the inside of an actual office again could be the starting gun for a breathtaking commercial real estate collapse that will strain our country’s financial systems to—or beyond—the breaking point.

Add to all of this the ever upward arc of government debt and spending that is leading to more tax increases, fees, and sneaky extractions of money from our pockets to pay for all the supposedly free goodies used to placate us, and it is not unreasonable to wonder if today’s peace is simply the calm before the inevitable storm.

If a catastrophe is to come, there are likely four distinct events that might set it off, and each could easily combine with one or more of the others to multiply our country’s woes.

Although one might not presume this is the case from watching CNN or reading The New York Times, investigations into allegations of fraud and malfeasance during the 2020 election are continuing in many states, and court rulings and legislative inquiries are raising many red flags. 

These may not, when eventually concluded, end up providing clear evidence of the flagrant and extensive wrongdoing alleged by former-President Trump and his allies, but a positive outcome for Republicans in even one swing state will provide the fuel for a Special Prosecutor and a slow, steady drip of rumors and revelations that will corrode both the credibility and influence of the Biden administration.  This could set the stage for electoral challenges that would escalate to an unprecedented and dangerous Constitutional crisis.  Perhaps it is not yet time to take down the razor wire around the United States Capitol Building.

In addition, the trial of Derek Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers accused of causing the death of George Floyd last May, which led to months of nationwide rioting and looting in its wake, is set to start in the next few weeks.  

This will prompt an interesting legal question: Are the evidentiary standards needed to convict someone on Twitter still different from those necessary to convict someone in a courtroom?  Defense attorneys will certainly highlight Mr. Floyd’s serious pre-existing medical conditions and the fatal concentration of Fentanyl swimming in his bloodstream in order to absolve their clients of guilt, which is certain to infuriate activists demanding reforms to policing in America.  Whatever the verdicts of the trials of these four officers, they will likely reopen old wounds and reignite urban violence.  Unfortunately, President Biden’s reaction to any widespread looting and rioting will be severely circumscribed by the loud and influential Progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which will see protests—even the most destructive—as a blow for elusive racial justice.  If President Biden is forced to rely on his bully pulpit to quell unrest, Americans may soon learn just how effective platitudes are at stopping an arsonist.

Moreover, the aggressive—and shockingly incoherent—foreign policy moves of the Biden administration’s State Department team in these first critical months make one wonder if America’s armed forces are going to be involved in an all-out war sooner than we might like to think.

Global hotspots abound: China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are certain to test the resolve of President Biden compared to his predecessor.  Watching his new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, be humiliated by China’s representatives during last week’s bilateral talks in Alaska was not a confidence builder for either Americans or America’s allies.  If Biden bumbles into an armed conflict or, even worse, retreats from one that he must have in order to forestall further aggression, our nation’s safety and credibility could soon be in question.  During four years of the supposedly dangerous Presidency of Donald Trump, America avoided any new wars.  Will President Biden be able to make the same claim in 2024?

Finally, even the mere mention of 2024 leads to one concluding inquiry: Will Joe Biden still be the President of the United States at that time?  Open questions about both President Biden’s physical frailty and mental acuity now seem to arise almost daily, and his reluctance—some might say refusal—to make an address to Congress or even take unscripted questions from reporters are obvious and legitimate concerns.  

If Vice-President Harris is pushed precipitously into the Oval Office with her limited political skills, which seem to stop right at the border of California, one can only imagine the problems that might result if a national crisis—or several simultaneous crises—were at hand.  Moreover, on-the-job training for a Commander-in-Chief can have many frightening consequences, so we can only hope that Ms. Harris is already being thoroughly prepared for the challenges of a possible succession to the top job.  Regardless, the pressing issues raised by a possible change to a new Chief Executive could, in and of themselves, make all other problems seem minuscule by comparison.

The next few years in America will be extraordinarily challenging, and we can only guess at what we might face.  However, it requires little guesswork to see that the apparent calm we now enjoy will be brief—and it is only the most naive among us who presume that our nation’s many problems magically disappeared on January 20th.