The worst-case scenario for America’s immediate future

One of the most unnerving things about analyzing American politics in recent years has been the need to start thinking in terms what financial analysts call “tail risk” — the likelihood that events normally considered rare or unlikely will actually happen.

Ten years ago, most pundits would have described as exceedingly small the likelihood of someone like Donald Trump — a real-estate mogul, reality-show star, and promulgator of racist conspiracy theories who had no political experience at all — being elected president. Yet it happened.

Two years ago, epidemiologists would have given a range of probabilities on the question of whether a pandemic would soon kill


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