Skip to main content

Nearly a half century ago, L. S. Stavrionos published The Promise of the Coming Dark Age (1976). The general argument was that things weren’t looking good, but that, as things fell apart we would have opportunities to build a better society and a better world.


It was just beginning.

In the past half century we have seen a steady deterioration not only of American society, but of the global institutions that built the prosperity of the post-World War II years. Here, the vast majority of the population found their standard of living stagnating over decades while income and wealth came to be over more concentrated in the hands of the top one percent. That undermined the stability of the economy by robbing the majority of purchasing power. It also corroded the integrity of our democracy itself, as finally recognized by the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision that prohibited the states from limiting spending on political campaigns, because spending money is a form of speech. Corporations were deemed to have the same rights of free speech as individual citizens.

Abroad, we see the erosion of the noble experiment of the European Union, with Brexit on one side and emerging authoritarian populists on the other. We see populist nationalism ascendant in the world’s most populous democracy, India, and in many other countries.

The sickness of our political system, of which Trump is a symptom, long predates the pandemic, but it is not hard to imagine that our democracy will collapse completely under the strain.

Indeed, Donald Trump is the most prominent case of authoritarian populism, and an inspiration to others like Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

We are now living through the conjunction of a stunningly incompetent leader (Trump) and a global pandemic (COVID19) that is sweeping the world and affecting the US more than any other country. Not only are we suffering hundreds of thousands (potentially millions) of people infected and tens of thousands of deaths, but we are also suffering an economic collapse brought on by attempts to contain the contagion. As businesses small and large have either shut down completely or curtailed operations, millions of people find themselves unemployed. The unemployment rate has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The economic collapse is likely to last much longer than the pandemic. Local retail businesses, mostly precarious in the best of times, will in many cases never come back. Big corporations like Boeing and the major airlines will find that people are more reluctant to spend money on travel than they were. As people spend less on travel, major energy companies will be severely stressed. Governments at all levels, having spent what they had to in order to confront the pandemic, will find that tax revenues are down. Government spending will decrease. The health care sector, under incredible strain during the pandemic, will also find its financial situation severely challenging. We may have trouble maintaining even the problematic levels of health care that we had before the pandemic. We will likely have high unemployment and stagnation for decades. Schools and colleges will have get by on less, if they survive at all. Our transportation and information infrastructure will decline. Having been forced back to a more local existence by the virus, we may never get back to the global integration we had. Global trade will not likely recover to the levels we saw before the pandemic.

The sickness of our political system, of which Trump is a symptom, long predates the pandemic, but it is not hard to imagine that our democracy will collapse completely under the strain. Trump may well be the first of many demagogues, of both left and right.

Eventually (how many generations?), our surviving descendants will start to pick up the pieces. They will start with one advantage: the global economic collapse will have bought some time to figure out how to stop climate change. They will rebuild on the rubble of our industrial economy, they will imagine anew a political order that could possibly avoid some of our mistakes. They will probably want to keep everything small, under local control. They’ll no doubt want to keep a tight leash on accumulation of excess wealth. They’ll rediscover and retrieve those elements of our cultural heritage that they find meaningful and useful.

There have been Dark Ages before. The Mycenaean civilization of Homer collapsed, but was followed centuries later by Classical Greece. The Roman Empire fell apart, but its pieces rebuilt the civilization of Western Europe. The Valley of Mexico saw a succession of brilliant civilizations, each built on the ashes of its precursor. China’s history is a long series of Dark Ages punctuated by brilliant civilizations.

impeachment unavoidable

Why should we be any different?

John Peeler