Three rules governed my first forecast on post-election turmoil. They started with the Rule of Injustice, which explains what happens when a critical mass of people have a huge and overriding grievance, feel they can’t be treated fairly, and feel that their children will fare no better than they. When that happens, those people can rebel. We have seen it repeat itself over and over again, in the Middle East, for example, and in the former Soviet Union. Next was the True Believer’s Rule, which explains how reality can bend when events include a messianic leader in whom followers bestow loyalty and resemble a crusade. Finally, there was the Rule of Remaining in Power, an axiom that explains the basic desire of all officials on the planet, in this case, Trump, to maintain their position no matter what.
Naturally, I, like anyone else trying to guess next year, could not foresee the biggest event of all, which was the pandemic. But what I did see as a dominant factor in early 2020 was the harsh isolation the United States found itself in after three years of Trump’s attacks on allies and its intimacy with enemies and rivals.
That isolation was at the center of the second forecast, which was that other nations would distance themselves more intensely from the United States. That’s how it went. At the end of the year, Europe signed a major trade agreement with China, a clear sign of the tattered state of the transatlantic alliance, given that it came three weeks before the end of the Trump era, and when the status quo of Western friendship could resume.
In this forecast, I highlighted the likelihood of Russia turning to cyber warfare in another attack on the American election. The weaker countries firing on a larger hegemony is an established pattern of history: it was the fate of the Habsburgs, Napoleonic France, and Great Britain. The Mountain Rule reflects that behavior, explaining that great powers tend to play outside the lanes of geopolitical norms when pursuing their goals, irritating smaller powers, who then join the hegemony. In doing so, the smaller players are also observing the Rule of Injustice: they are always undergoing imagined and real conspiracies to contain them and use whatever instrument at their disposal to fight back. In fact, it turned out that Moscow had excavated deep into the United States and state governments on multiple levels in what has been called the most serious cyber intrusion in American history.
The third forecast was that, again in accordance with the Rule of the Mountains, the long contest between the United States and China for global power would reach a new plateau. Specifically, I said that the world would be divided into two distinct trade zones, one run by each of the current great powers. When the year came to an end, that’s precisely what we saw, with Trump ban technology exports to the largest semiconductor manufacturer in China. One of China’s biggest technological weaknesses is next-generation semiconductors, which it has largely imported from the United States. China reacted by declaring a new plan to create a self-sufficient chip industry.
In his final weeks as president, Trump fired another shot, this time for exclusion of 35 Chinese companies on the New York Stock Exchange, a move he hopes will affect Beijing’s military.
The fourth and fifth predictions warned of a new danger facing state and corporate leaders around the world. The United States had helped create this new dynamic with the 2019 assassination from Iranian security chief Qassem Soleimani and, at the behest of Washington, Canada 2018 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.
In August, the leader of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny, nearly died in a poison attack with the nerve agent Novichok, and the pointing finger was pointed at the Russian. state spy agency, the FSB. In November, we saw the remote control assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, an attack attributed to Israel. In terms of business leaders, there have been no public signs of Alibaba founder Jack MaChina’s most internationally visible entrepreneurial titan since October, and no one seems to know where he is.
The dynamic that governs murders and disappearances is the Caesar Rule, which explains how the most dramatic expressions of power tend to take place in autocratic regimes.
Finally, I forecast a great year for electric vehicles. For Tesla, the largest electric vehicle company of them all, 2020 was a year of testing and it proved that it did, achieving its fifth consecutive profitable quarter and seven times its share price. Also, 2020 was the year of the “superbattery” assumed a new reality, validating the forecasts that electric vehicles will soon reach cost parity with gasoline vehicles.
The decisive dynamic was the Great Personality Rule, which says that certain people can alter the outcome of important events by the force of their person and a tendency to play by their own rules. In this case, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, so far at least, set his own course against numerous predictions of his impending demise and single-handedly forced the entire auto industry to go electric.