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Prediction: The Vancouver Canucks Will Make the Playoffs Next Year

Anyone who bets on sports is an idiot. An individual player’s performance can be affected by many things: an injury, an accident, an illness, depression, loss of confidence, practice, an addiction, divorce, a fight with a girlfriend, a death in the family. Not to mention luck. The difference between a goal and a goalpost is less than an inch. Multiply that by the couple of dozen players on an NHL team, and the variables are enormous. Then add team dynamics into the mix: coaching, personality clashes, compatibility of playing styles, trades, scheduling, etc.

So why do I think the Vancouver Canucks will make the playoffs next year? The Canucks finished dead last in the North (Canadian) Division this year. Why would I expect them to do better next year?

There are several reasons. First, it is unlikely that their top offensive player, Elias Pettersson will miss most of the next season due to an injury as he did this year. The Canucks finished the year with half of their forwards injured. That is unlikely to happen next year.

Second, the Canucks will not likely be struck down with COVID-19 next year. Almost the entire team became sick mid-season. The lingering effects of the disease and the brutally compressed schedule that followed devastated their chances of success.

Third, the Canucks have some good young players likely to join the team next year, including Vasili Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone.

But the most compelling reason the Canucks will make the playoffs next year is that they will be in the Pacific Division next year, not the Canadian Division. (The divisions were temporarily realigned this year due to COVID.) There are eight teams in the Pacific Division, and four will make the playoffs. Only seven teams had worse records than the Canucks this year, but three of them are in the Pacific Division. The California teams—San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks—are struggling to rebuild while saddled with bad contracts (large contracts being paid to declining veterans). One or more of them could rebuild enough to have a successful season next year, but the odds are that it will take longer than that.

The Calgary Flames, whose players did not have COVID, finished only five points ahead of Vancouver and are facing a rebuild after another disappointing season.

The expansion Seattle Kraken are also in the Pacific Division. Expansion teams usually do not do well. General managers of other teams will be better prepared and will likely handle the expansion draft better than they did the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft a few years ago. Seattle’s draft choices are unlikely to produce at a higher level than expected, as Vegas’s did. Seattle is therefore unlikely to repeat the instant success Vegas enjoyed.

The Edmonton Oilers are the seventh team in the Pacific Division, a team with two superstars and some obvious weaknesses. Vancouver won three of nine games against Edmonton this past year. I do not expect the Canucks to pass Edmonton in the standings next year, but they will at least get some points out of the games. The Vegas Golden Knights are expected to win the division.   

The bottom line is that there are five teams that the Vancouver Canucks have a decent chance of surpassing next year, and they only have to outplay four of them. That is why I am confident that the Vancouver Canucks will make the NHL playoffs next year. But I wouldn’t bet on it.


Protestors and Activists

TV news tells us what we need to know:

• “Protestors block logging operation for six months.”

• “Climate activists shut down bridge.”

• “Protestors blockade pipeline construction.

But the news does NOT always tell us what we WANT to know.

For instance, one of the things I would like to know and the news media never tell us is: Who are these protestors and activists? Another is: How do they have all that free time to do what they are doing?

They obviously don’t have jobs. Can you imagine telling your employer: “I’m sorry, but I can’t come to work today. I need to go and block traffic” or “I won’t be here for the next six months. I need to blockade a logging road”? I am sure that your employer would be understanding. In fact, he is likely to give you even more time off work to continue your protests. Like, permanently.

Yet these protestors and activists don’t seem to be starving. Somebody must be providing them with food. Somebody must also be giving them money for travel and transportation, clothes and accommodation, signs and other protest materials.

I suppose I could do what the news media don’t do—engage in some investigative journalism and find out who these people are. But that would be an invasion of privacy. They seem to be all about getting into somebody else’s business, but they don’t want anybody poking around in their business. If we actually found out who they were, I wonder how they would feel about someone else blockading their driveway. Or having a sit-in in their living room. Or preventing them from doing whatever it is they want to do. I suppose we could do all of that, but I for one don’t have enough spare time.  

Instead of research, I think I will do what they often seem to do, speculate and make bold claims without offering any evidence. Based on my observations of what I have seen on TV, this is what I have concluded.

I considered the possibility that they are all rich. But frankly they don’t look rich. They don’t dress well enough.

I noticed that some of them are old. These protestors are likely on pensions, so they no longer need to work.

But most of them are not old. Most of them are young.

Some of them say that they are students, although what they are supposed to be studying is not clear. Nor is it clear how they can afford to skip class. I was a student once and earned a few degrees along the way. It is a long, hard grind requiring dedication and work.        

I suspect that some of them are rich kids, or rather the children of rich parents. That would make some of them the sons and daughters of the industrialists who own the logging companies and oil companies and automobile companies. In that case, they would really be protesting their own parents, perhaps out of guilt for their privileged social status or perhaps because they are angry that their parents were too busy making money to devote time to them. But how is that anyone else’s problem?

A few might be politicians or university professors, people with secure government incomes, being paid by the public to disrupt the public. If all of the logging companies and oil companies shut down, they expect to continue to be paid.

Some of them claim to be professional activists. That is, they are paid by social action groups. That begs the question of who is funding the social action groups. Some of the donors are no doubt well-meaning, ordinary people. Some of the donors are likely wealthy people with inherited money whose livelihoods do not depend on economic activity. And some of the donors do not bear scrutiny. There is evidence that American oil companies fund protest campaigns against Canadian oil companies and American forestry companies fund protest campaigns against Canadian forestry companies.

Another thing I don’t understand is why the police and governments allow protestors to disrupt traffic and businesses. If I piled some debris on the highway, the police and highways department would remove it, and I would likely be fined or arrested. If I tried to stop other people from doing their jobs, I would quickly be taken away. But protestors are allowed to inconvenience and harm other people because, well, because they are protestors. It is another example of their privileged position. 

It is not so much that I question the values they are standing up for as the free time that they have to devote to it.

Perhaps most of all I object to the media calling these protestors activists. It is a misnomer. The fact is that these protestors aren’t actually active. They don’t do anything. They don’t discover more efficient and less damaging ways to produce energy. They don’t abstain from using fossil fuels, plastics, wood, and other environmentally unfriendly items. They don’t run for election so they can engage in public debates and attempt to change public opinion, gain power, and change the laws. Their blockades don’t save energy, just waste more of it as vehicles idle for hours in traffic jams. The recent image of protestors campaigning against logging on Vancouver Island while burning wood to keep warm comes to mind.

No, activists don’t act. They protest in an effort to get somebody else to act. Often their goal is to force governments to force other people to act. They don’t work, just prevent other people from working. They don’t personally fund green projects, just block other projects.

I don’t personally know any activists. But I know a lot of active people. I know people who work two jobs to support their families. I know single mothers who raise their own children, work full-time, and further their education, all at the same time. I know people who have worked full-time for 45 years or more. I know a lot of productive people like that. But they are all far too busy to be activists.

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Getting to the Bottom of Things

Raising sons can be challenging. Consider the following conversation.

The mother says, “I have just been folding the laundry.”

The seven-year-old shrugs. This is a topic that clearly holds no interest for him.

The mother continues, “Can you explain why your little brother changed his underwear nine times last week and you only changed yours twice?”

Another shrug. “Nobody checked them, so I just kept wearing the same ones.”

This is not a good answer from someone whose favorite word is “fart.” (He is, after all, a seven-year-old boy.) The mother moves into lecture mode. “You need to be more responsible. Nobody should have to check your underwear. It is your responsibility to change your own underwear. Your little brother changes his underwear more often than you do.”

Another shrug. “That’s because he has more accidents than I do.”

It is hard to argue against logic. The mother changes the topic. “And can you explain why the two of you only wore three socks between you last week?”

Another shrug.

“And why none of them match?”

The seven-year-old has no answer. There are some things in life that must remain a mystery. Many of them have to do with parenting.


Erratic and Ineffectual

Recent events have confirmed my assessment that Donald Trump is dangerous because he is erratic but not so dangerous because he is ineffectual. He talks a lot (a lot!), but he doesn’t do much. He doesn’t follow through. He has been far more focused on tweeting on Twitter than on issuing orders to the administrators under his nominal command.

Donald Trump received more than 74 million votes in 2020 (Joe Biden received over 81 million), but the vast majority of Republican voters refused to follow him in denying his election loss. As commander-in-chief, Trump could have ordered the American military to stage a coup, but he did not even attempt this, and there is no evidence that the armed forces would have obeyed if he had. The judges he had appointed refused to overturn the election. Republican politicians, including Vice-President Mike Pence, senators, and congressmen, abandoned him. The governors and administrators in Republican states refused to change election counts for him.

In the end, Trump’s incendiary words incited a mob of a few hundred people to storm the Capitol building. But they had no organization, no plan, and no significant weaponry. They caused some damage but only succeeded in discrediting Trump and his followers. Hitler’s brownshirts would have been much more ruthless and effective. They would have seized and kept control of government buildings. They would have intimidated judges, election officials, and politicians, and would have killed those they could not intimidate.

In the end, Donald Trump will be remembered as an erratic and bombastic president whose boasting and clumsy efforts at propaganda were undermined by incompetence and an inability to follow through. Americans should be grateful he did not do more damage.

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Church, State, and the Pandemic

I will state at the outset that during the current surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in our geographic area where worship services have been suspended by health authorities, I am convinced that churches should not be meeting. That is, I don’t believe the minority idea, more common in US churches than Canadian churches, that churches should continue to meet because “God’s laws take precedence over human laws” and “Christians should obey God rather than the government.”

I absolutely believe that Christians are commanded by God to obey governmental authorities (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17) but that if there is ever a conflict between God’s commands and a government’s laws, Christians should obey God rather than the government (Acts 5:29). However, the idea that Christians should continue to meet during the pandemic is too simplistic an application of the general rule. I have great respect and admiration for Christians who are willing to risk their lives for their faith. But that is not all that is involved in this situation. Because Christians who get infected can endanger others by passing on COVID-19, they should refrain from unnecessarily attending events where they could contract the disease. In this case, not attending church is obeying God’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). It is not a question of whether to obey God’s law or human law but a question of how best to obey God’s law.

So, Christians should do their part and avoid large gatherings just like everyone else. Just like everyone else. And there is the problem. Governments are also partly to blame for some churches disobeying the rules by holding church services. If governments had forbidden all gatherings, then of course churches should not meet. But inconsistencies in the rules create confusion and frustration. After all, the ways that Canadian Christian churches in our area have been meeting in recent months—with precautions such as keeping meeting sizes small, wearing masks, practising social distancing, and even having drive-in services—have been very effective. Governments have not offered evidence of widespread outbreaks of the disease due to church services, at least in our area. Churches can rightly question why they are forbidden from meeting when, in some cases, bars, movie theatres, ski resorts, shopping malls, and schools (whose safety protocols are much lower than churches’ protocols) continue to operate. More to the point, churches can rightly question why they are forbidden to have services when legislatures continue to meet, politicians violate their own restrictions for photo ops, and some governments have even conducted election campaigns in the middle of the pandemic. Governments seem to be saying that governments and some other activities are essential and churches are not. In other words, the attitude of at least some governments is that human laws take precedence over God’s laws, that the state is more important than the church. These governments are implying that the church and religion are not important and can be dispensed with whenever the government decides to ban them.

While obeying the law, churches should be demanding that governments give them clear reasons for ordering churches to close, that governments apply the same rules to everyone, that governments and politicians obey their own rules, and that churches be allowed to re-open as soon as practicable.

I am still convinced that God’s command to love our neighbour means that churches in our area should not be meeting at the present time. Christians should obey all reasonable government laws, including health regulations. Christians should set a good example.

But—and this is a very important “but”—churches should also be wary. The precedent of governments ordering churches to close is a very dangerous one. Churches and Christians should not let the current health crisis blind them to the principle that God’s laws should always take precedence over human laws, that Christians should obey God rather than other human beings. They should understand that their primary purpose for not meeting during the current crisis is obeying God’s command to love their neighbour and God’s command to submit to government authorities when appropriate.

It is useful to consider that in communist China, in Muslim countries, and in other countries with totalitarian regimes, Christianity and churches are not usually forbidden or outlawed in an absolute sense. These countries claim to retain a semblance of freedom. But churches are constricted by zoning regulations, fire regulations, health and safety requirements, and municipal bylaws. Christians are accused of human rights violations, anti-government agitation, disloyalty, treason, blasphemy, and numerous other crimes, often on trumped-up charges with no evidence of wrongdoing. Totalitarian governments do not mind if churches exist as long as they accept that the government is the ultimate authority and that churches operate only by permission of the state. But that is what true Christians cannot accept, and that is why totalitarian governments (dating back to the Roman Empire) persecute them. In these countries, churches are slowly strangled by a myriad of regulations until they finally cease to function, suffering death by a thousand cuts. Christians and churches here should be on guard against something similar happening to us.

If I were a church leader in the current situation, I would not be holding church services. But I would remain vigilant, I would be voicing my concerns to governments, and I would insist that, if there is a conflict, I will obey God rather than humans and their governments.

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Fake News

Donald Trump is a buffoon who lives in a world fabricated out of his own delusions. He is able to dismiss any unpleasant reality as “fake news.” A racist police officer shooting an innocent black man? Fake news. Economic problems? Fake news. A pandemic raging across the country? Fake news. Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden? Fake news. Clearly he is foolish and dangerous.

But what about all of the people, including some evangelical Christians, who voted for him? Why would so many of them believe his outrageous claims of “fake news”? Are they also delusional?

There is another aspect to the situation. Consider that the media in the United States—television and movies—are largely produced in New York and Los Angeles, two urban areas of the country that vote heavily Democrat. They present an incomplete picture of American life. In the comedies and dramas they broadcast, all of the characters have multiple sex partners both and after marriage, if they get married at all. It is the norm, at least for the people who make the shows. The idea that two virgins could marry and remain faithful to each other throughout life is inconceivable to them (even though many people in other parts of the country have done it and still do it). About 30 percent of Americans faithfully attend church every week, but almost no one on television and in the movies does. When ministers and priests are portrayed, they are invariably presented as ineffectual fops, sexual abusers, domestic abusers, hypocrites, racists, hateful bigots, and murderers. Pro-life advocates are usually presented as extremists who bomb abortion clinics, murder abortionists, oppress women, and have no love for children after they are born. Meanwhile, mobsters, pimps, hit men, drug dealers, shady lawyers, money-driven advertising executives, and power-hungry politicians are portrayed as heroes, pursuing just another lifestyle choice. Late night talk shows ridicule Christians, Republicans, and middle Americans. But the TV networks say there is no problem because in their newscasts they can be trusted to present the truth in a fair and impartial way.

But they don’t. It has been observed that Walter Cronkite used to tell people what happened and modern newscasters tell people what to think about it. The news media don’t generally lie, but they not infrequently present a somewhat distorted view of reality through what they choose to report and how they report it. They tend to have a secular, liberal bias. It is no wonder, then, that many middle Americans distrust the media and have tuned out.

In reaction, those who do not feel represented in the mainstream media have created their own media sources, presenting alternative news with their own and opposite biases.

If we wonder how two groups of Americans could perceive reality in such different ways, the answer is that they are perceiving the world through the lens of different news media. They aren’t talking to each other or listening to each other. The bias, on both sides, exists both in what “news” is selected to be presented and in how it is presented. And the “information” passed around on social media, of course, is frequently far more biased, extreme, hateful, and downright dishonest. There is a culture war raging in the United Sates, and, as has been observed by the ancient Greek writer Aeschylus and many later observers, the first casualty in any war is truth.

This also explains why Canadians, who get their news from mainstream American media, cannot understand how anyone could vote for Donald Trump. They have no means to access what Trump supporters are thinking, except through the distorted lens of the mainstream media.

Perhaps the media conglomerates in the United States should pause their daily and nightly attacks on Donald Trump and his followers long enough to look in the mirror. Perhaps they should examine how well they have fulfilled their own responsibilities. Perhaps they should ponder the role that they have played in creating  the strange phenomenon known as President Donald Trump.

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Financial Folly

Imagine that you earn $33,000 a year. It is a moderate income. But you like to spend money, and so you habitually spend about $2,000 more each year than you bring in in income. Five years ago, you were $50,000 in debt. As a result of your recent overspending, you are now $60,000 in debt.

But then, this year, you get sick, and you cannot work as much. Your income drops below $30,000. You have some additional expenses in order to deal with the effects of the sickness, but you decide to respond to the situation by spending more than $70,000 this year. That is $40,000 more than your income this year. In fact, it is considerably more than twice your income for the year. You are not sure of the exact amount because you have been too busy to make a household budget for the year.

As a result, your debt has risen to well over $100,000. Interest rates have been very low in recent years, but you have still been spending $2,000 or more every year just to pay the interest on your debt. Now, even though interest rates have dropped even lower, you have doubled your debt, and that means you might soon be paying much more just to cover the interest. If interest rates rise to what they were a couple of years ago, your interest payments could consume 15% to 20% of your income. If interest rates rise even more, the interest charges would consume an even larger portion of your income. You are in a very vulnerable position.

Already, your bank is becoming hesitant to lend you more money, and if it does, it might charge you a higher interest rate. You could turn to other lenders, but they would charge you even more. If that happens, you would likely be unable to pay all of your bills. You could lose your car or be evicted from your residence. You could be facing serious suffering. And there would be no easy way out.

Even worse, included in your current spending are some long-range commitments. You have made agreements to continue to spend at levels higher than your income even beyond this year. And you are even making plans to do some additional spending. As a result, it will be very difficult for you to lower your spending to a level even close to the level of your income, let alone making any effort to pay off your accumulated debt. You are in deep financial trouble.

You might ask: What kind of incompetent idiot would practice such an irresponsible approach to financial management?

The Canadian government under Justin Trudeau, of course. Except that instead of an annual income of $33,000, the government had an annual income of $330 billion. And instead of spending $40,000 more than its income this year, the government is spending an estimated $400 billion more than its income, more than twice as much as it is bringing in. And instead of a debt of over $100,000, the government has accumulated a debt of over $1 trillion. But the ratios and the incredible level of mismanagement are the same.

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Teams with Superstars Are Less Likely to Win

The hoopla over this year’s NHL draft lottery highlights once again the value of an NHL superstar. The New York Rangers won the lottery and thus the “Lafreniere Cup” That is, the Rangers get to make the first selection among this year’s crop of young hockey players. They are expected to choose high-scoring left winger Alexis Lafreniere, reputed to be the best young prospect. The expectation is that this will turn the Rangers into “a contender” a team with a good chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

This highlights the value of the NHL superstar. Every NHL general manager, it seems, wants to build his team around at least one superstar, a “generational player,” a $12 million man.

With a salary cap of $81.5 million and a roster of 23 players for each team, the average NHL player is paid about $3.5 million per season.

NHL forwards are especially evaluated according to offensive production (goals plus assists). So, a player being paid $1 million is counted on to produce only about 10 points a season, a $3 million player is expected to produce about 30 points, a $6 million player should produce 60 points a season, a $9 million player should produce 90 points a season, and a $12 million player, the true superstar, should produce about 120 points.

This often works out in a very general way. Connor McDavid, the NHL’s highest paid player at $12.5 million, produced 116 points in 78 games in the 2018-2019 season. (A full season is 82 games, but McDavid missed 4 games due to injury.) In the COVID-shortened 2019-2020 season, McDavid had 97 points in 64 games, the equivalent of 124 points in an 82-game season.

When down by a goal late in a game, a team’s general manager and coach would surely like to have one or more of these superstars to put onto the ice.

There are two flaws with this approach. The first is that offensive production is only one aspect of determining a forward’s value. We also need to ask: Is the $12 million player twice as good defensively as a $6 million player? The answer is: Not usually. Also, does the $12 million player get injured only half as often?

The other flaw is that hockey is a team game. Because of the salary cap, the more $12 million players a team has, the more $1 million and $2 million players it is likely to have.

I wrote an article on this issue last year, pointing out that of the 12 highest paid players in the league, only five made the playoffs and none made the Stanley Cup final. That is, having a superstar seems to make a team less likely to win.

The results were even more stark in 2019-2020:

• Edmonton oilers had the highest paid player (Connor McDavid). The team finished 12th in the regular season, but lost in the qualifying round and did not make the playoffs.  

• The New York Rangers had the second highest paid player (Artemi Panarin). The team finished 18th in the regular season, was swept in three straight games in the qualifying round, and did not make the playoffs.

• The Toronto Maple Leafs had the third, sixth, and seventh highest paid players (Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner). The team finished 13th in the regular season, but lost in the qualifying round and did not make the playoffs.  

• The San Jose Sharks had the fourth highest paid player (Erik Karlsson). The team finished 29th (out of 31 teams in the league) in the regular season and did not make the playoffs.  

• The Los Angeles Kings had the fifth and eleventh highest paid players (Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar). The team finished 28th in the regular season and did not make the playoffs.  

• The Chicago Blackhawks had the eighth and tenth highest paid players (Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane). The team finished 23rd in the regular season, won its qualifying round in an upset to make the playoffs, but lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

• The Montreal Canadiens had the ninth highest paid player (Carey Price). The team finished 24th in the regular season, won its qualifying round in an upset to make the playoffs, but lost in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

• The Buffalo Sabres had the twelfth highest paid player (Jack Eichel). The team finished 25th in the regular season and did not make the playoffs.

• The Florida Panthers had the thirteenth highest paid player (Sergei Bobrovsky). The team finished 15th in the regular season, but lost in the qualifying round and did not make the playoffs.      

The bottom line is that 10 of the 13 highest paid players in the league played on teams that did not make the playoffs, an astounding statistic considering that slightly more than half of the teams currently make the playoffs. The other three highly paid players were on the two teams that had the worst records of all playoff teams. They made the playoffs as a result of unexpected upsets in the qualifying round, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. This means that none of the highest paid players advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs and that together the 13 highest paid players managed to win a grand total of three playoff games.    

There is a lesson here for other teams contemplating declaring their rising young stars to be superstars and offering them salaries of over $10 million. (Obvious examples are the Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.) The same lesson applies to teams contemplating signing free agents from other teams to similar contracts. The lesson is—don’t do it. The obvious conclusion is that at least some of the teams mentioned above failed to excel, not in spite of having a superstar, but because of it.

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After Trump

Whether he is eventually impeached, is defeated in an election, completes the maximum two terms, or is abducted by aliens—there will come a time when Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States. At that point, what will happen? Will the nation return to the state of idyllic perfection that existed before Trump was elected, as many of Trump’s opponents suggest?

Here is the reality. After Trump:

1. US society will be deeply divided. Donald Trump did not create the massive social, political, and cultural chasms that currently divide the nation. Trump certainly exacerbated those divisions and exploited them for his own political gain, but he did not create them. Before blaming everything on Trump, his opponents should consider how they have also contributed to the divisions, which in part led people to vote for Trump in the first place. They should also consider what their vicious personal attacks on Trump and all who voted for him are still contributing to the divisions. Labeling all Trump voters as racists, morons, and criminals is hardly going to contribute to the healing of the nation or to convince Trump voters to vote for his opponent. Trump labels any negative publicity “fake news,” but this resonated because voters were already distrustful of biased and even untruthful news coverage on all sides. It is said that the first casualty in any war is truth, and the culture wars in the US have left many Americans disillusioned and distrustful, unsure of what or who to believe.

2. The immigration crisis will remain. That there are tens of millions of illegal immigrants in the US—without rights, security, health care, social service benefits, education, or marketable skills—is a humanitarian tragedy. Those who claim to support them often use them as a source of cheap, under-the-table labor. The unscrupulous exploit them in worse ways. Trump’s “wall,” if it was more impregnable than is currently the case, would leave a seething mass of desperate people clamoring at the gates. As it is, his porous wall allows people into the country but shunts them into detention centers. But throwing open the gates and allowing a further flood of immigrants could overwhelm social support systems and create further strains on the American social fabric. Naïve optimism will not pay the enormous costs required. There is no easy solution to this issue.

3. The US will continue to deal with racism. Racism is a feature of every society on earth. The US has a particularly virulent strain of it in the form of white supremacy, embodied most clearly in the Ku Klux Klan. There is a very understandable collateral strain among the black population of fear, mistrust, and hatred of whites. It takes a long time to bring healing after centuries of injustice. The United States is a multiracial society, and there are numerous other racial tensions that are less focused and less virulent but still real. It must be said that there has been considerable progress in reducing racism in the US over the past 70 years. As is the case with the social, political, and cultural divisions, Donald Trump did not create racism in the US, although he has encouraged it and made use of it for his own benefit. Still, when Trump is gone, racism will remain.  

4. The US will have a very dysfunctional political system. The US prides itself on being the bastion of freedom and democracy and a model for other nations. The reality is far from the ideal. A significant percentage of American citizens are not registered to vote, and yet, since the 1970s, almost half of registered voters have failed to vote in presidential elections. (The percentage has ranged from 49% to 58%.) The turnout is much lower among “visible minorities” and lower income groups. It takes millions of dollars to run for Congress and hundreds of millions to run for president. The dictum that anyone can grow up to be president is nonsense. Successful candidates owe their election to wealthy donors and organizations (such as the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, corporations, and unions). After the election, these donors often expect to be repaid for their donations by favorable legislation and government contracts. This system also tends to favor those who have spent a long time currying favor with those who have the money, which explains why so many senior citizens run for president. Furthermore, power in the US government is divided among the president, Senate, and House of Representatives, not to mention states and cities. At the federal level, it is often easier to block things from being done than to do them. The result is that decisions are often determined by backroom deals.

5. The US government will run massive deficits. The US government, no matter which party is in power, has run a deficit every year since 2001, and the annual deficit was over $1 trillion a year before COVID-19. It is difficult to find any current political candidate supporting a return to balanced budgets.

6. The US will be a very violent society. The number of mass shootings in the US is far greater than that of almost any other nation on earth. Fearful, heavily-armed, trigger-happy police officers encounter fearful, heavily-armed, trigger-happy citizens every night and every day, not to mention fearful, heavily armed, trigger-happy citizens encountering each other. The problem is not just guns, even though the nation is awash in automatic weaponry. The problem lies deep in American culture. The US spends far more on its military than any other nation on earth. From the American Revolution and the Civil War to John Wayne, Rambo, and John Wick, Americans have habitually seen force and violence as a primary tool to achieve social goals. There is no evidence that will change anytime soon.

7. COVID-19 will be a serious problem. Since the social, political, and cultural chasms and the dysfunctional political system will still be in place, the disjointed and inconsistent response to the pandemic will also remain. While Trump has encouraged it, the fiercely independent spirit that las led so many Americans to resist lockdowns, masks, and other health measures did not start with Trump. There might be a better and more coherent approach to the pandemic at the federal level when Donald Trump is no longer president, but it is unlikely to achieve the level of health and safety achieved in many other countries. The United States is a very troubled and broken society, and its problems run far deeper than any one politician.

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After The Plague

Cataclysmic historical events are often followed by massive social changes. The effects of such events are complex, varied, and unpredictable. As well, these effects interact with the effects of a host of other events and developments, so that the direct causes of change can never be determined. Consider the following.

The Black Death

The Black Death or bubonic plague arrived in Italy from Asia in October 1347. Over the next five years, the disease killed about 20 million Europeans, about a third of Europe’s population. The worldwide death toll has been estimated to have been 70 million or more. Significant outbreaks of the disease happened again and again in Europe over the next two or three centuries.

The impacts of the Black Death in Europe are particularly well documented. One of the most obvious results of the Black Death was great fear and a morbid fascination with death. One of the common themes of art in that period was the “La Danse Macabre” or “The Dance of Death”—depictions of skeletons marching toward the grave.

This focus on death in turn had various offshoots. One of these was the search for scapegoats. People feared that the plague was caused by evil people poisoning the water supply or casting spells. The “witch hunts’’ of this era are well known, but the victims included Jews, minority Christian groups, and virtually anybody who fell under suspicion. The Inquisition, a process established by Roman Catholic bishops to check on the spiritual welfare of their dioceses, became a vehicle of oppression wielded by political and religious rulers. Those suspected of evil intent were often tortured until they confessed. They routinely admitted to fantastic tales of witchcraft and black magic, with most of the details being suggested by the interrogators. There were still some practitioners of ancient pagan religions in Europe, but most of the confessions were pure fiction, made up by people who had never dabbled in witchcraft but who were willing to say anything to satisfy their torturers. The suspects were then usually executed in horrible fashion. Mobs of fearful citizens also took vengeance on suspected enemies without any pretense of due process.

But not all of the consequences were bad. Cataclysmic disasters often clear the path for reconstruction of something better. In the face of death, many Europeans became dissatisfied with the means to salvation then being offered by a corrupt Roman Catholic Church—which in practice often consisted of nothing more than performing superficial rituals or paying money. The search for certainty of salvation and a more meaningful connection to God was a significant contributor to the rapid spread of the Protestant Reformation (which in turn also led to significant reforms in the Roman Catholic Church).

There were also socio-economic consequences. The rapid decrease in population meant that marginal farmland was abandoned, so per acre crop yields increased—there was more food. The shortage of workers gave the lowest classes more leverage, leading to the breakdown of feudalism. Many serfs (essentially slaves) became freedmen and were able to negotiate better terms with the upper classes who owned the land. The poor were better off. The aftermath of the plague increased opportunities and accelerated economic growth. There was a flowering of the arts and culture. These improvements cannot be solely attributed to the plague, but the plague was one of many factors in their development.

The Spanish Flu

The Spanish flu struck in 1918-1919 and killed between 17 million and 50 million people worldwide. It was one of a series of cataclysmic events in the middle of the 20th century, and it is difficult to disentangle the separate consequences of these events. The flu struck right after World War One (1914-1918), which had killed 15-22 million people.

There was a recession after the war, and the returning soldiers had trouble finding work. Nevertheless, there was some optimism. Some Christians literally saw World War One as “the war to end all wars” and Armageddon and expected the world to transition into the millennial reign of Christ. Alcohol had been outlawed, women had been given the vote, and many expected the world to be a gentler, more civilized place. Some considered the returning soldiers, part of the victorious army in Armageddon, to be exceptionally godly men who would become church pastors and lead a crusade for moral betterment. The reality was that many of the returning soldiers were deeply traumatized, hardened, and immoral. The Roaring Twenties were an orgy of excess, secularization, and pleasure-seeking.

The greed of the 1920s resulted in the stock market crash in 1929, and the world descended into the Great Depression of the 1930s. There was massive unemployment, poverty, starvation, homelessness, sickness, and death. One anomaly was that those who still had money and a steady income could afford to buy luxury goods, since labor was cheap and prices were low. In the 1930s, there was a large increase in the number of homes with such goods as radios and refrigerators. Yet this wealth was in sharp contrast to the deepening poverty of the masses. At the same time, record heat waves caused drought, food shortages, and famine, spawning descriptive terms such as “the Dust Bowl” and “the Dirty Thirties.” To date, I have found no completely satisfactory explanation for this heat wave or why it occurred at the same as the financial collapse. Some observers saw the multiplied catastrophes as a divine punishment. One might think that the desperate situation might have led to a religious revival, but the secularization trend of the 1920s continued. Instead of a return to God, the desperate longing for solutions encouraged the rise of brutal dictatorships in Germany, Italy, Spain, the Soviet Union, Japan, and other countries.

These dictatorships led to World War Two (1939-1945), which killed another 70-85 million people. It might have been expected that this further global conflict, following the other cataclysmic events of the twentieth century, would lead to further economic decline and further secularization. Instead, the 1950s saw a massive economic upturn and increased worldwide prosperity. Reconstruction transformed Western Europe and Japan. In North America, most of the returning soldiers found jobs, married, and had children (the Baby Boom), resulting in a renewal of family life and the rise of suburbs. Secularization continued in Europe, but there was a major (and completely unexpected) rise in church attendance in North America, as well as renewed missionary outreach in the Third World. There was also a decline in European imperialism, as former colonies became independent nations.


So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has not produced death tolls anywhere near those of the earlier cataclysmic events. This is partly due to improved medical knowledge and treatments and the increased ability of governments to impose lockdowns and quarantines. But is there anything we can learn from earlier history that could tell us what might happen as a result of this current pandemic?

It is clear that cataclysmic events have massive repercussions in the social, cultural, economic, ideological, and political spheres—repercussions that are complex, interconnected, and eminently unpredictable.

Yet some vague outlines of change are beginning to appear. While the death toll for COVID-19 remains relatively low so far, there has already been massive economic dislocation from which it will take a long time to recover. Many jobs have been permanently lost, and many businesses have closed or will close. International trade will remain disrupted for years. There are already indications of increased levels of fear, conspiracy theories, scapegoating, racism, and extremism. Some leaders, in both dictatorships and democracies, have taken advantage of the situation to increase their power. (The Canadian prime minister’s suspension of parliament is not an isolated event.) Whatever ultimately happens, for good or ill, is not yet known. There will undoubtedly be surprises.

It is reassuring that God has promised to work for good in all things (Romans 8:28), in all times, places, and events. And so should we.