Predictions are largely projections of our hopes and fears, a friend of mine has reminded me. He’s right that they are largely projections, but I believe my predictions for 2019 are also observations based on evidence and experience interpreting trends I know something about. For what they are worth, here are my SIX GRIM PREDICTIONS FOR 2019.
1. The coronation of the King of Thailand on May 4-6, together with national elections and the ratification of a new constitution will consolidate the power of the military-royal alliance. It will give the King the most power a king has had in Thailand in nearly a century, since the end of the absolute monarchy. Some scholars say this is a virtual restoration of the sort of power once vested in the monarchy backed by an army under his personal control.
2. The US government will enter a time of crisis recalling the debacles of Nixon-Watergate, Warren G. Harding-Teapot Dome bribery scandal, and Andrew Johnson’s 1868 impeachment trial decided by a single vote by the junior senator from Johnson’s home state of Tennessee. Donald Trump is losing support he needs to stay on top. His plan in becoming President was to amass a personal fortune, and the GOP’s plan in boosting him was to erase as much government interference in big business as possible. They were counting on rapid action (especially Supreme Court appointments) before the great majority gets its counter-action coordinated. Time is running out on Trump and his dwindling backers. Trump is speeding up the clock by his bizarre antics and his public attacks on his critics, even those within his own inner circle.
3. It is really just abortion that holds the Christian Right together as a nationalistic force in the USA. Without abortion the coalition between right-wing Protestants and Roman Catholics would dissolve. Behind all the rhetoric and flag-waving is the plan to make abortions a crime. But behind that is the millennia-long struggle to repress sex. Abortion, by itself alone, is a contest between those compelled by the emotional notion that innocent children are being slaughtered, and the analytical argument that aborted embryos and fetuses are not yet children in any rational sense. Emotion always wins in contests of this sort. But when the matter expands to include the whole array of sexual freedom, action swings back and forth. Abortion has been politicized, but the longer-term outcome depends on the pendulum more than the politicians. 2019 will feature a major re-eruption of abortion battles but the swing on the broader question is away from the radical right in Europe and America.
4. China will not overtake the USA as the world’s major money merchant … this year. However, the USA has misplayed its hand too many times to recover. When China gains control, the blow to the US standard of living will be astounding. Of the great income producers (mining, manufacturing, and marketing), marketing is the easiest. Of the things to market, as the merchants of Venice discovered, money is the easiest – and banks are the money markets. My grim prediction for 2019 is that the USA will pass a tipping point from which it will not recover. This may not be the onset of another economic depression, but it could be a big policy blunder such as letting the national debt escalate to the point that borrowers of US dollars disappear and creditors begin to collect US gold, or failure (again) to hold financial magnates accountable at some critical juncture.
5. As for Christianity, 2019 will bring still more shift from the northern to the southern hemisphere. Euro-American hegemony of world-wide Christianity is at an end. The Pope is from South America, African Anglicans can compel the Anglican-Episcopal alliance to do what it wants, at least on some issues. Christianity has chosen sex and gender as its special target and has backed cultural repression of LGBT people, as well as outright persecution and prosecution. The few Christian groups and denominations that have resisted have been fractured, and are failing to stem waves of disenchantment with organized religion north of the equator. In 2019 the United Methodist Church will have its turn. It will be the year they make the choice of which side to take. In fact, a General Conference has been called for February 23-36 in St Louis to consider “human sexuality” and coincidentally whether to tolerate threats from Methodists from the southern hemisphere.
6. Higher education is in jeopardy. Its value measured in terms of “cost v. worth” is questionable. Already, valuable alternatives are developing as employment opportunities for graduates shrink. Here in Thailand the vast majority of college and university graduates do not retain positions more than five years related to their undergraduate fields of study. The exceptions may be health sciences and engineering. And even those who do work at jobs for which their degrees prepared them, have positions for which they could have been trained more quickly and cheaply than by university education. The more higher education becomes about training skilled workers for service positions so they can be factors of production, the less higher education will be thought to be necessary. In the USA a rebellion is developing against the modern indentured servitude that immense, career-long student debt imposes on students who now find jobs in their field are low-paying or unavailable. For decades the goal of higher education was the production of a valuable national human resource pool of independent thinkers. Today, not only is independent thinking considered unnecessary, it has been rendered largely impossible by post-modernism wherein the voice of the individual is indistinguishable from the voice of the group. In Thailand the problem is exacerbated by the unmitigated over-supply of university “seats” available due to unremitting construction of universities and falling birthrates (6.2 children per mother in the 1960s down to 1.5 in 2017). Last year there were 300,000 seats available for which just 230,000 students applied. The number of students at private universities in Thailand is down by 70% nation-wide. This decade, 2016-2026, will see accelerated decline of the perceived importance of higher education compared to expanded options, just as the half century, 1966-2016, saw a devaluation of education so that a bachelor’s degree acquires for graduates what a high school diploma used to provide. 2019 will see several closures or mergers of high-profile institutions of higher education.
I commit these 6 grim predictions to print so they can be reviewed this time next year. I rest my prophetic reputation on them.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.