Every so often in the history of the United States, there are moments of political realignment—times when the consensus that defined an era collapses and a new paradigm emerges. The liberal era ushered in by President Franklin Roosevelt defined U.S. politics for a generation. So did the neoliberal wave that followed in the 1980s. Today, that era, too, is coming to a close, its demise hastened by the election of President Donald Trump and the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic.
The coming era will be one of health crises, climate shocks, cyberattacks, and geoeconomic competition among great powers. What unites those seemingly disparate threats is that each is not so much a battle to be won as a challenge to be weathered. This year, a pandemic is forcing hundreds of millions of Americans to stay at home. Next year, it might be a 1,000-year drought that devastates agriculture and food production. The year after that, a cyberattack could take out the power grid or cut off critical supply chains. If the current pandemic is any indication, the United States is woefully underprepared for handling such disruptions. What it needs is an economy, a society, and a democracy that can prevent these challenges when possible and endure, bounce back, and adapt when necessary—and do so without suffering thousands of deaths and seeing millions unemployed. What the United States needs is a grand strategy of resilience.
For psychologists who research child development, resilience is what enables some children to endure traumatic events and emerge stronger and better able to navigate future stresses. For ecologists, resilience is an ecosystem’s ability to resist, recover, and adapt to fires, floods, or invasive species. For emergency, disaster relief, and homeland security experts, a resilient system is flexible, adaptable, and can withstand an impact. The writer Maria Konnikova has summed up the concept with a single question: “Do you succumb or do you surmount?”