Prices are rising at levels not seen for 40 years. Pile that on top of the pandemic, racial tensions, and bitter political divisions, and America could be in for a lot of social unrest.
Even as the US reels under the assault of the Omicron variant that has pushed Covid cases to record levels, Americans aren't worried so much about their health as they are about their pocketbooks, as inflation surges.
A December survey of voters revealed that 68% of Americans mentioned the economy as one of their top concerns, while only 37% named Covid.
That's because inflation-wise you have to look way back to 1982 to find prices rising as high and as persistently as in December of 2021, according to government data released this week.
"Inflation jumped at its fastest pace in nearly 40 years last month," said the Associated Press, "a 7% spike from a year earlier that is increasing household expenses, eating into wage gains and heaping pressure on President Joe Biden."
The price pressure is across the board, too; it's not just confined to things that need computer chips to operate.
And if the AP thinks it's bad for Biden, imagine the pressure on an ordinary worker. Prices for basics like groceries are up, as are clothing, household furnishings, and a host of other goods. Inflation is the cruelest tax because it hurts poor people the most.
CNN - often considered an extension of the Democratic Party - even said that rising prices, if not stopped soon, could create a nightmare scenario: Stagflation.
That's where prices continue to go up even as the economy slows down, in a self-reinforcing pattern that is difficult to break - so-called 'death spiral inflation', which I warned of last month.
While some economists say that once the logjam with the supply chain opens up, expediting the delivery of goods, prices will come down, these are the same economists who didn't see inflation coming to begin with.
They almost never do, in the same way that scientists were taken off-guard by Covid-19... and the Delta variant... and the Omicron variant.
It doesn't mean they didn't spend billions studying the problem. They just didn't have any real solutions when the problem presented itself, kind of like inflation now.
As Lord Salisbury wrote in 1877: "No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you never should trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe."
And if you believe economists, inflation is always, always temporary, until it's not.
One need only consult recent surveys to see the basic problem. Americans, it seems, are listening to Lord Salisbury; trust in the federal government, and specifically Congress, is at or near a historical low.
Two of the safety valves that Americans rely on to self-correct government - the news media and elections - aren't faring much better in popular opinion. Pew says that 63% of Americans have little or no trust in the news media.
And there has been a willingness by both political parties since 2000 to refuse to accept the results of presidential elections, something which was once considered so sacrosanct that even widespread fraud in Chicago during the 1960 election didn't stop it.
But not anymore. Politicians and grassroots activists from both parties play the 'stolen' election card with increasing frequency, and much of the media is happy to play along.
So add in rising prices, worries that the economy is cooling, and the fear of job losses, and it's little wonder mistrust in American institutions is growing.
Throw in widespread rationing of items because of inflation and/or the supply chain problems - meat, gasoline, electricity, toilet paper, for example - and you might have the spark that sees widespread, violent unrest.
People are tired. They are tired of the pandemic, tired of being scolded, tired of being told what to do by people who are on the federal payroll, but who don't have to follow the rules and can't offer solutions.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll recently found that 34% of Americans, including one in four Democrats, think that sometimes violence against the government is justified, which may seem a tad low for a nation that started as a violent, popular uprising against Britain.
But it's also just a tad higher than the 33% of Americans who approve of the job Joe Biden is doing, according to a new poll. While the Democrat-supporting Washington Post might think inflation's not his fault, most of the rest of us are of a different opinion.
But that's not the worst news. Americans have survived bad presidents before. Even more dismaying is the number of people who expect the US to continue to be divided along violent, sectional lines.
"In a sharply divided country, Americans agree on this: the bigger danger to the United States comes from within. Seventy-six percent say they think political instability within the country is a bigger danger to the United States compared to the 19 percent who think other countries that are adversaries of the United States are the bigger danger," said the Quinnipiac survey.
A majority of Americans, 58 percent, think the republic is in danger of collapse. "A fear of the enemy within, not a foreign threat, punctuates a grim assessment by Americans of a democracy in peril and a future of deepening political divisions," said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.
One only needs to look at last year's intelligence estimate from the director of national intelligence (DNI) to reinforce the thesis that it could be a violent summer. The DNI report warned that in the wake of Covid-19, some countries will be destabilized.
"The economic fallout from the pandemic is likely to create or worsen instability in at least a few - and perhaps many - countries," it said, "as people grow more desperate in the face of interlocking pressures that include sustained economic downturns, job losses, and disrupted supply chains."
In talking about instability, the DNI - the experts on this type of thing - mentioned many countries as candidates for instability. But they didn't cite the US, even as they described the economic problems that stagflation could bring us.
Perhaps it's not a surprise that the experts who missed forecasting the fall of the Berlin Wall don't see the current potential for instability at home, even as the warning lights flash red on the economy and on inflation. Pile that on top of a pandemic, on top of racial discord, on top of out-of-touch bureaucrats and politicians, and it could be a combination that makes people go all Kyle Rittenhouse. But this time over food.