Frankly, I think the debacle we witnessed this week will have a major impact on the country’s psyche and the way the world views us. I have been talking and writing for quite some time about Neil Howe’s The Fourth Turning, George Friedman’s The Storm Before the Calm, and most recently Peter Turchin’s theories about societal dynamics and how societies tear themselves apart. I have my own concept of The Great Reset. I have long thought the 2020s will be tumultuous. What we are seeing may just be the beginning of woes.
It’s hard to express the emotions I feel right now. From an economic and investment standpoint, which is the purview of this letter, recent events may be less significant than the impact of the incoming Biden administration. It is not yet clear to me how that will play out.
To really grasp that will require some time and thought. Shooting from the hip today would be a huge disservice to you, and disingenuous for me. Frankly, your portfolio should be invested in such a way that whatever the outcome you have the potential to maintain if not grow your investments.
I know that is not sufficient for many of you. My good friend George Friedman’s first note simply said, “There are moments in history best grasped by silence. Silence is the best I can do now.”
There are others who have more eloquently said what I feel and are more qualified to do so. Let me offer a few links that express some of the emotions I feel, even though I know they have inconsistent conclusions as to what should happen.
My country has been attacked, there is a deep political divide but at the same time we are still family who share the same country. We have been through such times before, with much loss and sorrow, but the Republic survives. I have no reason to think this time will be different.
But meanwhile, here are three perspectives that, in different ways, helped me process what is happening.
- Peggy Noonan, probably the greatest essayist of our generation, in an elegant and passionate column describes the need to bring justice to those who stormed the capital.
- George Friedman, a Hungarian immigrant who has been passionately involved in the American experiment for all of his adult life, tries to express his own emotions in his latest essay.
- And finally, Trump’s Rebellion Against Reality is Yuval Levin’s historical analysis of the dysfunctions that brought us here.
I also think today’s Wall Street Journal lead editorial is on target. When the WSJ editorial board calls for a sitting president to resign, no further comment is needed. It should give you reason to pause and reflect.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself running the gamut of emotions then trying to take a deep breath and reflect. Each of the above expresses some of what I feel.
Now, on to my forecast for a Year of the Gripping Hand.
One reason humans love to divide everything in half is the two-handed design of our bodies. Thinking in pairs is a simple, intuitive mental shortcut. Harry Truman famously asked for a one-handed economist so he could stop hearing, “On the one hand, but then on the other hand…” But what if we had three hands?
That’s exactly the kind of strange scenario science fiction writers love. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle related one in their 1974 book The Mote in God’s Eye. The story features an alien species with three arms—two “normal” hands and a stronger, but less dexterous one called the “gripping hand.” So when humans might describe a question as “On the one hand/on the other hand,” these aliens would add a third alternative, “On the gripping hand.” The strong gripping hand was their most powerful alternative.
That seems simple but it opens up a profoundly different thought process, one the authors explored in a later sequel, The Gripping Hand. Today I will do the same in a smaller way. Every January I give you my yearly forecast, but this time two hands simply can’t capture the nature of the forces we face.
On one hand, we have some extraordinarily good reasons for optimism. On the other hand are several potentially severe problems. On the far stronger gripping hand, we have the coronavirus that last year overwhelmed everything else. And could do so again, if we let it.
Trump’s Rebellion Against Reality (Yuval Levin, Dispatch, Jan 7, 2021)