A century ago, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western front. An armistice halted the "war to end all wars," at least for two decades. Unfortunately, as I described in A Handful of Bullets -- How the Murder of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace, from that chaos arose Four New Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
It is these horsemen that continue to threaten society and in many ways visibly galloped through the American elections last week, casting long shadows on politics, not only here but internationally as well.
Of the horsemen -- failed and failing government; economic despair, disparity and dislocation; ideological extremism; and environmental catastrophe -- it is the first that is the most dangerous to society and mankind. It is failed and failing government that has crippled German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The same applies to Brexit and Theresa May's tenuous hold on power. And the global ascent of autocratic leaders represents the failures of government, many liberal democracies.
Donald Trump's ascent to the presidency was in part based on the anger and outrage of many Americans about the failure of government to govern. Change, no matter how disruptive or destructive was hoped for as a more favorable option than the status quo. In the process, American politics have become even more polarized.
Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and added several governorships to its side. Despite gaining only 48 percent of the senatorial vote, Republicans maintained a majority in the upper house, possibly gaining three seats. What does this mean for the future and 2020?
Democrats are understandably claiming a major victory and even a wave. Republicans were relieved that the electoral results failed to produce a blue landslide. Yet, the major winner was Trump, rather than his party, which is succeeding by governing through this polarization of politics.
In a sense, the House of Representatives can be considered the avatar of the popular vote. The Senate likewise is the avatar for the Electoral College. In 2016, Trump lost the former, won the latter, and is president. In 2020, barring one or more crises, this pattern could be repeated.
Of course, Trump is of an age when health could intervene. Special Counsel Robert Mueller could produce a smoking howitzer. The economy could implode. With so many flashpoints abroad, a major conflict could erupt.
That said, and unless the Democrats can find a competitive presidential candidate, the 2018 elections paint a brighter future picture for the White House than for the Republican or Democratic parties. Indeed, it may be to the president's advantage that the Democrats won the House because it can became the target for Trump's ire when government continues to fail to deliver.
The president's favorability rating is in the mid to high 40s, possibly sufficient to ensure victory in the Electoral College in two years. Given a larger Senate majority, the president may feel more protected against potential impeachment proceedings. Hence, the chances are good that the president will be even more aggressive in pushing his policies and in using executive orders to govern while the Congress remains paralyzed over partisan politics.
The route to World War I had been characterized as "sleepwalking" to disaster in which the political leaders of the major powers failed to recognize the warning signs leading to war. The danger to American politics today is not that the nation is "sleepwalking" toward crisis.
Our eyes should be wide open as to where we are headed. The Mueller investigation, the appointment of an acting attorney general, calling the media "enemies of the state," and the schisms between left and right could provoke a constitutional crisis. Twenty-one trillion dollars of national debt cannot be ignored forever. Tariff wars are unwinnable. Declaring China and Russia potential enemies that must be deterred and if necessary "defeated" in the event of war raises and not lowers the temperature.
This is not 1918 or even 1914. But with America First, nationalism and policies that reject multilateralism and globalism, the president is systematically deconstructing and dismantling the foundations on which global stability and security have rested for seven decades. Similarly, by attacking the basic institutions at home such as a free press and his own government and by demeaning and disrespecting those who disagree with him, the president is unraveling the fabric of American society.
This is not sleepwalking to danger. Instead, this is disaster by presidential prerogative -- a difference perhaps with little effective distinction from 1914. But this is still a trajectory with warning signs flashing bright red that Americans can only ignore at their peril.