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u.s. decline | united states | crisis

[George Friedman. The Storm Before the Calm. America's Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond. Doubleday. New York, 2020. 235 pp.]

review / E. Villa Corta, E. J. Blasco

The Storm Before the Calm. America's Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond.The degree scroll of the new book by George Friedman, the driving force behind the geopolitical analysis and intelligence agency Stratfor and later creator of Geopolitical Futures, does not refer reference letter to the global crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic. When he speaks of the crises of the 2020s, which Friedman has been anticipating for some time in his commentaries and now explains at length in this book, he is referring to deep and long-lasting historical movements, in this case confined to the United States.

Beyond the current pandemic, therefore, which is somewhat circumstantial and not addressed in the text (its composition is previous), Friedman predicts that the US will reinvent itself at the end of this decade. Like a machine that, almost automatically, incorporates substantial changes and corrections every certain period of time, the US is preparing for a new leap. There will be a prolonged crisis, but the US will emerge triumphant, Friedman predicts. US decline? Quite the opposite.

Unlike Friedman's previous books, such as The Next Hundred Years or Flashpoints, this time Friedman moves away from Friedman's global geopolitical analysis to focus on the US. In his reflection on American history, Friedman sees a succession of cycles of roughly equal length. The current ones are already in their final stages, and the reinstatement of both will coincide in the late 2020s, in a process of crisis and subsequent resurgence of the country. In the institutional field, the 80-year cycle that began after the end of World War II is coming to an end (the previous one had lasted since the end of the Civil War in 1865); in the socio-economic field, the 50-year cycle that began with Ronald Reagan in 1980 is coming to an end (the previous one had lasted since the end of the Great Recession and the arrival of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House).

Friedman does not see Donald Trump as the catalyst for change (his effort has simply been to recover the status created by Reagan for the class average working class, affected by unemployment and loss of purchasing power), nor does he believe that whoever replaces him in the coming years will be the catalyst. Rather, he places the turnaround around 2028. The change, which is taking place in a time of great turmoil, will have to do with the end of the technocracy that dominates American political and institutional life and with the creative disruption of new technologies. The author wants to denote the US's skill ability to overcome adversity and take advantage of "chaos" in order to achieve fruitful growth.

Friedman divides the book into three parts: the creation of the nation as we know it, the cycles we have gone through, and the prognosis for the one to come. In this last part he presents the challenges or adversities that the country will have to face.

As for the creation of the country, the author reasons about the subject government created in the United States, the territory in which the country is located and the American people. This last aspect is perhaps the most interesting. He defines the American people as a purely artificial construct. This leads him to see the US as a machine that automatically fine-tunes its functioning from time to time. As an "invented" country, the US reinvents itself when its cycles run out of steam.

Friedman presents the training of the American people through three overlapping types: the cowboy, the inventor and the warrior. To the cowboy, who seeks to start something completely new and in an "American" way, we owe especially America's unique social construct. To the inventor belongs the drive for technological progress and economic prosperity. And the warrior condition has been present from the beginning.

The second part of the book deals with the aforementioned question of cycles. Friedman considers that US growth has been cyclical, a process in which the country reinvents itself from time to time in order to continue progressing. After reviewing the periods so far, he locates the next big change in the US in the decade that has just begun. He warns that the gestation of the next stage will be complicated by the accumulation of events from past cycles. One of the issues that the country will have to resolve concerns the paradox between the desire to internationalise democracy and human rights and that of maintaining its national security: "liberating the world" or securing its position in the international sphere.

The present moment of change, in which agreement with the author the institutional and the socio-economic cycle will collide, is a time of deep crisis, but will be followed by a long period of calm. Friedman believes that the first "tremors" of the crisis were felt in the 2016 elections, which showed a radical polarisation of US society. The country will have to reform not only its complex institutional system, but also various socio-economic aspects.

This last part of the book - devoted to solving problems such as the student debt crisis, the use of social networks, new social constructions or the difficulty in the sector educational- is probably the most important. If the mechanicity and automatism in the succession of cycles determined by Friedman, or even their very existence, are questionable (other analyses could lead other authors to consider different stages), the real problems that the country is currently facing are easily observable. So the presentation of proposals for their resolution is of undoubted value.

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