The process that brought Donald Trump to the White House very likely began in the 1970s, according to Peter Turchin.
Turchin is a historian who started out as a biologist. He found that the same sort of mathematical models he used to plot movements in biological populations could also be used to gain insights into human history.
He is possibly best known for his book, “War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires,” which tracks how people’s “asabiyya” or ability to work cooperatively increases or decreases with the presence or absence of a perceived threat.
Turchin has been tracking 30 or 40 indicators such as popular well-being, income and wealth inequality, social cooperation and its inverse, polarization and conflict.
He compares the level of political instability now in the U.S. with that existing during the late Roman Republic, the French Wars of Religion and the American Civil War.
An important element in political instability is what Turchin calls “elite overproduction.”
By elite overproduction he means, as economic inequality increases, the number of wealthy people also increases far beyond the number of elite positions open to them.
According to Turchin, from 1830 to 1860 the number of New Yorkers and Bostonians with fortunes of at least $100,000 (they would be multimillionaires today) increased fivefold.
Many of them (and their sons) wanted to get into politics but the federal government was dominated by Southern elites.
Things got so tense that many congressmen went to work armed. Turchin quotes one senator as saying, “The only persons who do not have a revolver and a knife are those who have two revolvers.”
Slavery became the divisive issue and led, along with other factors, to the American Civil War.
Abolishing slavery didn’t necessarily require hundreds of thousands of deaths, however. Turchin points out that Russia abolished serfdom at about the same time without any civil war – the Russian Revolution came 50 years later.
Catastrophe is not preordained, he says. Social instability can result in the overthrow of the old regime, a series of civil wars, or meaningful reform.
During the early 20th Century in the U.S, the Progressive Era introduced changes that benefited society as a whole, and these were cemented by the New Deal.
Since the 1970s, however, those reforms have been slowly eroded.
Donald Trump promises to “Make America Great Again.” It might be useful if he uses Turchin’s analysis to achieve that goal.
Otherwise, we can expect social instability in the U.S. to increase – and Canada is too close to avoid being carried into whatever maelstrom develops.