The new Congress, the shutdown and jittery markets have set the nation on the path of uncertainties. We are faced not with simple misfortunes or a predictable economic downturn. This crisis is somehow different since we face the unknown. It is the cause of great anxiety.
It is a bit like running in the dark. Both good and bad things might happen along the way. However, the only certainty is that of uncertainty. And this prevents us from taking measures or running risks since we cannot see the path ahead.
An Alarming Uncertainty
What makes all this so alarming is that we are a nation that has always sought to minimize the inconvenience of uncertainty. Indeed, throughout our history, we have a way of organizing things so that everything is calculated, insured and redundant. We try to implement contingency planning and forecasting to avoid disaster—usually with great success.
The present uncertainty implies something is wrong with the fundamentals. Things seem to be operating against the internal logic of how they normally work. There seems to be no Plan B, C or D in place. Indeed, since everything is so erratic, just rolling with the punches is as close to a Plan B as we can get.
Thus, we are entering into an era of uncertainty unlike any before. Three principal areas of uncertainty are immediately apparent.
The first is a legislative uncertainty. Like all parliaments and legislatures, the purpose of the U.S. Congress is to make laws as a means of ordering society for virtuous life in common. However, our 116th Congress’s purpose appears to be the creation of confusion and disorder.
The antagonism of the Left is particularly divisive and aggressive. Democrat control of the House threatens to turn legislation into a stalemate. There is a desire for division, not unity. There is talk of impeachment and indictments. The brash and heady attitude of many new House members creates the impression that hatred and ideology have overridden all other considerations and replaced rational debate.
Worst of all, there seems to be no reasonable way out of this impasse. The only certainty about this Congress is that it will not do much except create uncertainty.
Uncertain Executive Action
Uncertainty is not limited to legislative action. We also face executive uncertainties since this atmosphere of stalemate is deliberately averse to leadership and direction. In this new climate, the rash of resignations, policy changes and cabinet shifts are perceived as erratic. There is uneasiness in public opinion.
The budget shutdown adds to the impression of a crisis. Partisan politics on the Left has thwarted executive power and forced governance by executive order or measures that sidestep routine procedures. It might even lead to the dramatic declaration of a state of national emergency.
This reflects a worldwide management style that no longer considers the long term but caters to the immediate and makes planning impossible.
Economic Uncertainties in Times of Prosperity
Economic uncertainty is the final field of concern. This would seem to be the most unlikely area since the economy is prospering by most metrics. Unemployment is down to record levels. Productivity is improving. The present Administration has taken many good measures to remove socialist regulations and cut excessive taxes that stifle economic growth. The economy has responded accordingly.
And yet, in spite of the economic good news, uncertainties in other fields will inevitably impact the economy. The governmental impasse creates uncertainty in markets. When there is no logic in the direction of events, much of the business sector cuts back expansion and risk-taking.
This uncertainty already is manifesting itself in the stock market where jitters are sending investors on a rollercoaster ride of wild gyrations. Corporate debt levels are at record levels. The worrisome government debt has increased over $1 trillion this past year alone. Debt levels should decrease in times of prosperity not increase. All that normally happens is not happening, which means anything can happen in 2019.
No Obvious Solutions in Sight
What makes the overall solution so disconcerting is that there seem to be no immediate or obvious solutions on the horizon. We cannot rely on things that might have worked in the past.
It would be naïve to say that both Left and Right are equally at fault for the political crisis. Although the Left will deny it, its activists are by far the most destabilizing element in the debate. The liberal media are particularly biased and help fuel the irrational rhetoric and frenzied resistance to even the most moderate of administration proposals. In a world increasingly governed by feelings and emotions, the Left easily manipulates the narrative so that the mere perception of crisis is enough to create uncertainty and anxiety.
What afflicts the nation is not a technical, economic or organizational problem. Things are unpredictable because we no longer respect the rules that govern them. To the degree that things are allowed to work according to their nature, they are predictable. In human actions, this involves moral decisions that are defined by objective norms of right and wrong that create order.
A Need for Order
Order is that state of things where everything functions according to its nature and end. As Saint Thomas Aquinas notes, “nature is the cause of order” and “whatever does not possess order is not according to nature.”
Thus, everyone needs some semblance of order to function properly. As with a compass, order is the means by which we get our bearings, and we take predictable actions. As Russell Kirk states, “Order is the first need of the soul.” It is also the first need of the nation lest society decay into chaos. Freedom, justice, law, or virtue are all very important, but order is the first and most basic need.
We have reached a tipping point where many things are now working contrary to their nature. Consequently, it is only natural that things are unpredictable. Without order, uncertainty will indeed reign. However, we might find consolation in the fact that the positions of those who defend order are more attractive in times of disorder.
Thus, anything can happen in America in 2019—wars, economic crashes or instability. We will be running in the dark until we return to order.