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Futures of American Governance

After last Thursday’s US presidential debate, the election now looms for many as the future governance issue to focus on.  To be sure, the election will play a role in shaping the futures of governance in the US.  It is not, however, the only factor.  In reality, global competitors, domestic culture, and the vagaries of technological innovation will all play roles.

election campaign

This election might turn out to be a watershed in our history.  It might be merely another incremental step on a much longer path.


Given the range of structural forces at work, as well as randomness and luck, there are many possible futures for governance in the US.


Using the 4 Steps to the Future model, here are four scenarios about the futures of American governance to consider.  These are excellent springboards for discussions with your team about the next decade.


We (the People) Wobble, But We Don’t Fall Down (A): Politicians continue to skew to extremes, while elites continue to wage a culture war.  Popular fatigue with hyper tribalism supports counter reactions of moderates, while many governments and agencies prove more resilient than expected.  By 2034, while the surface of politics is louder and worse, the actual functioning of governance hasn’t shifted much.


Bounded Polarization (B): Americans continue their emotional slide apart from one another, exacerbated by a politically polarized Gen Z now entrenched as adult voters.  An economic upturn, fueled in part by earlier investments in reshoring and reinvesting, ameliorates growing anxiety and tensions.  Daily politics ends up somewhat worse than today, with the economy providing new benefits and hope.


Anocratic Road (C): The erosion of political norms and the increasing politicization of institutions define the next several years.  More and more officials across the US become activist, while public trust in government (and elites) flatlines and feeds apathy.  More illiberal norms become institutionalized, burying Constitutional traditions as factions compete to control the organs of government, Roman style.


Scared Straight (D): Learning no lessons from recent elections, the two national parties remain committed to strategies that divide America and provide no compelling vision to unite voters.  By 2028, the growing popular discontent explodes in an unexpected wave of local governance innovations built on new technologies and a surprisingly powerful third-party movement.  Faced with this grassroots crisis, the dominant parties accept the need for reforms.


What’s missing?  What other drivers should be woven into these scenarios?  These scenarios can be the starting point for further discussion about what the possible futures are for US governance.


Reach out to us to learn how we can assist your team with running these explorations.


For more on the 4 Steps to the Future model, visit here or order it on Amazon.

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