A jeremiad is not, as some might suppose, a disastrous event,
but it is a work of words that predicts disaster. It comes, of
course, from the biblical prophet Jeremiah who saw the
imminent fall of the kingdom of Judah. Soon after Jeremiah
made his prediction, Judah did fall in 587, B.C.
Since that time, self-proclaimed prophets and opportunists
have issued jeremiads to assert coming danger. Most of them,
especially those who have announced the end of the world at
a date certain, were simply wrong --- to be charitable about it.
Usually, modern jeremiads are made with an ulterior motive.
Often, the false jeremiads are uttered just to get attention. On
other occasions, they are said to manipulate public opinion
to a moral or political course of action. Rarely, jeremiads did
come true, as in the case of the very few who saw Nazism,
World War II and the Holocaust coming long before it was
obvious. But most human-made disasters in history, like most
natural disasters, have been a surprise.
After the U.S. presidential election of 2016, a cascade of
jeremiads were issued by some surprised voters and those in
the media who did not even have pretenses of being prophets.
Among the predictions made then were those that asserted
Donald Trump could never be elected, and when he was, that
he could be prevented from taking office, and when he did
take the oath, he would soon be impeached, and when he
wasn’t, he would not run again in 2020. But the extreme
prognostications were not limited to the Trump personality.
Wars and financial collapses were also put forward.
To be fair, especially-ideological presidents of both parties
frequently provoke prophets of doom. Franklin Roosevelt
and likewise Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama
each set off political jeremiads from some of their opponents,
Most jeremiads can be summed up in the four words I recall
seeing every time I went to the flea market in London at
Petticoat Lane --- a pseudo-Jeremiah in a white robe carrying
a sign which read: THE END IS NEAR!
But somehow we have survived the proclamations of doom.
The election of Donald Trump was so disruptive that it
produced a great many Jeremiahs wearing business suits and
designer dresses who now said and thought: “The end is now
Yet, fifteen months later, we are in a business boom with a
surging (albeit volatile) stock market, rising industrial
production, dramatically lower unemployment and
increasing economic optimism.
Of course, we live in a very provisional historical moment,
and disasters do occur, large and small, from time to time.
But the hysteria of pseudo-Jeremiahs forecasting imminent
disasters really can be tied to another biblical tale, the one
in the book of Jonah in which the prophet ended up in the
digestive system of a very large whale.
Now that was a fish story worth telling.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.