A Tarot Card Reading of America's Future

Our country's past, present, and future, as predicted by a mystical iPhone app 

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The record of international analysts at predicting world events is so hopeless it would put a third-rate palm reader to shame. In ivory towers, think tanks, and intelligence communities across America, the Ph.Ds, models, and theories pile up, but the professionals have failed to anticipate almost every epoch-shaking cataclysm of recent years. The end of the Cold War? Virtually no one saw it coming. The 9/11 attacks? Sorry, didn't predict that one either. The wave of revolutions shaking the Middle East? No idea. It's enough to make you give up the models and theories--and embrace the tarot.

So that's what I did. I performed a tarot card reading of America's past, present, and future on the world stage. After all, if the experts can't forecast what will happen with any accuracy, it's hard to see the tarot doing any worse.

I should begin by putting my sooth-saying cards on the table. Do I have extensive knowledge of mysticism and the occult? The short answer is no--my fortune-telling experience extends to brief impressment as a palm-reader at a children's party.

I do, however, have access to the Internet's tarot resources and the iPhone app Tarot Pro (which costs $2.99 but you might already have foreseen that). To keep things simple, I used the standard 78-card tarot deck, and went for a three-card reading: past, present, and future.

Here is the fateful spread, which I will decipher one card at a time.

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America's Past: The Five of Swords (Reversed)

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Let's start with America's past on the world stage. Here, we turned over the Five of Swords, which is from the Minor Arcana, or the 56 cards in the deck that represent the swords, wands, cups, and pentacles.

The image shows a strong figure in the foreground grasping three swords, with two more swords lying on the ground. The man looks on confidently, in possession of the field of battle, as two enemies retreat in dejection. The card signifies conquest and the completion of objectives.

But the card is reversed, meaning an opposite interpretation, or a restriction on the original meaning. The reversed Five of Swords can signify loss or an empty victory, a sense of victimization, and feelings of failure and humiliation.

So how does this apply to America's past? The picture of triumph and conquest in the original Five of Swords could refer to World War II, when the United States won the spoils of victory.

The reversed image may capture America's difficult military experience since 1945, including stalemates like Korea, defeats like Vietnam, and successes that felt hollow like the first Gulf War. We've struggled to recapture the glory days of D-Day. Where did all the victories go?

Presented by

Dominic Tierney is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and an associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College. He is the author of How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War.

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