Saturday, June 22, 2019

Another blast from the past - July 2010

I returned from 10 days in France yesterday.  Here is a second blast from the past--the moment, in July 2010, that I realized that Barack Obama was not going to reverse the direction the nation was taking.

Monday, July 05, 2010


The Regeneracy may not be televised

William Strauss and Neil Howe, the authors of Generations and The Fourth Turning, grew up, as I did, in the shadow of the Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War. As they explained to a group of their acolytes in the late 1990s, they began early in that decade to write a book about American generations, focusing on what each of them had contributed to our national life. Both had been involved in government for about a decade, and both had lived through the cultural cataclysm of the 1960s and early 1970s. But their critical discovery, Bill explained, occurred when they were studying the first half of the nineteenth century, when control of national politics passed successively from the Republicans (Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Monroe) to the Compromisers (Jackson, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay), and hence to the Transcendentals (Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Sumner, John Brown, and the rest of the Southern fireasters) who brought about the Civil War. Suddenly they recognized the remarkable similarities between three pairs of generations: the Republicans and the GIs (the Presidents from Kennedy through Bush I), whose lives had been shaped by the previous crises; the Compromisers and the Silent Generation, who remembered those crises from their childhoods and sought to moderate emerging conflicts; and the Transcendentals and their own generation, the Boomers, all focused upon throwing out the old and bringing on the new. A new theory of history was born--and they began predicting a new crisis era, set to begin around 2010.

Crises of this type represent the death of the old order and the birth of a new one. The two most inspiring in American history were the late-eighteenth century crisis that gave us the Revolution and the Constitution, and the Depression and the New Deal, which culminated in the Second World War and the creation of the welfare state. The Civil War, as they recognized, had much less of a legacy, failing even to solve the racial problem that had brought it about. It is now clear that their prediction of a crisis was right on the money in both the economic and political spheres--but it seems increasingly likely, I am sorry to say, that we are not going to experience a rebirth or regeneracy comparable to that of the 1780s-90s or the 1930s-40s. The hopes that so many of us shared for a New Deal are retreating further every day, and while I am not yet entirely giving up, my head tells me that we are indeed headed for a new age of corporate supremacy parallel to the 1890s.

Today's New York Times gives a typical example of the reasons for my despair. Earmarks, we all know, are detested by all and sundry (except those who receive them), and the Congress has passed new regulations against them, specifically forbidding their award to private businesses. No sooner was this rule passed, however, than Congressmen and private companies found away around it. They are busily founding non-profits who will control the money and pass it on to the very same private firms that will do the work involved. Nothing, in short, is going to change. In the same way, the new financial reform bill, now nearing passage, will not substantially reduce trade in derivatives or force the big banks to stop trading on their own account. Even its consumer protection provisions contain loopholes. Reducing the influence of money on our politics seems as futile a task as civil service reform or railroad regulation in the 1870s--and that leads me to my next, even more controversial point.

Back in the 1990s Strauss and Howe made another prediction: a member of our own Boom generation would lead us in a new world, like the Transcendental Lincoln and the Missionary Franklin Roosevelt. When 9/11 occurred--only 72 years after the beginning the last crisis in 1929--we all held our breaths to see if it might indeed be the beginning of the crisis, or, as they called it, "Fourth Turning." When George W. Bush failed to unite the United States most of us concluded that it was not. But now, I am not so sure--because it seems that George Bush did far more to pout the United States on a different path, both at home and abroad, than Barack Obama will be able to do. Let us look, as Al Smith used to say, at the record.

Abroad, George W. Bush abandoned most of the principles that had governed our parents' foreign policies. He denounced a critical arms control treaty, the one that had banned ABMs, and began deploying missiles that still have not been proven to work. The Obama Administration has modified his plans, but it has not abandoned them. He invaded Afghanistan and Iraq on the grounds that we could not allow Al Queda to have safe havens, and we remain in Iraq while escalating our presence in Afghanistan, even though it is not clear that any of this has made us more secure. These wars have enormously raised the prestige of the military in American life for the first time since the early 1960s. In the Middle East Bush told Israel it could keep any territory it settled in a peace agreement, and the Obama Administration backed down from its first attempt to challenge that position. President Obama initially tried to recast our relations with the Muslim world but he has stuck, essentially, to the same policies, and individual Muslims (usually ones who had lived in the US and even become US citizens) have carried out a few terrorist attacks. Should one of those succeed on a fairly large scale we have no idea what the consequences might be.

At home, the reckless pursuit of deregulation by every Administration from Reagan through George W. Bush gave us the financial crisis of 2008--but before Bush left office, Henry Paulsen, it is now clear, had managed to make sure that all the banks' losses on derivatives would largely be made good through the huge bailout of AIG. Most importantly, the Bush tax cuts destroyed the surplus that Bush inherited and recreated the permanent deficit so dear to the heart of Ronald Reagan. That, combined with conservative fiscal orthodoxy which Obama seems reluctant to challenge, has crippled the government's response to the highest sustained unemployment since the 1930s. The Obama stimulus stopped the job loss but was not big enough to reverse it, and now it is coming to an end. The Republicans are fighting even modest moves like another extension of unemployment benefits--so far, at least, successfully. They seem certain to gain seats in both the House and Senate this fall, which will make any radical economic moves impossible.

Perhaps we were wrong; perhaps the crisis did begin with 9/11. Certainly George W. Bush took advantage of the shift in the national mood to move forward on a great many fronts, and his work has proven lasting. What is happening now is by no means all his fault. The Democratic Party effectively abandoned New Deal principles years ago--Bill Clinton, in fact, bragged about doing so. Now a Democratic Administration has very little to offer to the millions of new unemployed. They may not become enthusiastic Republicans, but they will not be enthusiastic Democrats, either--even though the younger voters among them are closer to the Democrats on social issues.

The politics of the Gilded Age were dominated by money. They were much more hotly contested than most people realize. U. S. Grant won two terms by huge majorities, but the next five elections--from 1876 through 1892--were all extremely close, all close enough to be decided by shifting a single state. The Democrats should have regained the White House in 1876 and did so in 1884 and 1892. Our politics may be similarly contested for the rest of my lifetime, since no government will be strong enough, it seems, to embark upon the kind of great crusade at home or abroad that will create a new consensus.

All this has enormous consequences for the Millennial generation (born 1982-2002?), whom Strauss and Howe expected to be the new GIs. Such, it seems, is not after all their destiny, since no Boomer leadership is going to enroll them either in massive public works programs or in a crusade abroad. Like the GIs in the 1930s, they will be preoccupied for a long time with finding work and setting up families. Their idealism and willingness to tackle problems may still do a lot of good, but mostly, it seems, at a local level and on a relatively small scale. In the same way that the GIs did so much to undo prejudice between religions and even between the races, the Millennials will finally break down prejudice based on sexual orientation, and they will probably begin a move away from strong religious belief. But for a variety of reasons, which I hope to explore in months and years to come, it seems that no one alive today is likely to see any kind of replay of New Deal America.

6 comments:

Energyflow said...

So a 160 year cycle if we take it in positive change vs negative change.1780 ca. would be high point morally and 1860 low point. 1940-5 2nd high point and around now is 2nd low point. 1620 and 1700 crises would be other curvature high and low points previous and 2100 would be a positive point on curve similar to Roosevelt and Washington and first settlers around 1620. So simplistically speaking America could either become in this cycle a true global hegemon like ghenghis khan through nukes, a defeated aggressor like Hitler, Japan or with luck simply become isolationist with Eurasia controlled by 'revisionist' powers. Orwell's model would be incorrect. I wonder if Western hemisphere would be absorbed into USA as latinization increases over the borders demographically and from the north to south economically creating a single cultural area. Perhaps real American renewal would occur through latino catholicism and native indio cults and black African religions. Like negro spirituals mixed with classical to invent regtime then jazz and rock and the disco and rap whole new religious and cultural forms could be created. Presupposing perhaps due to peak oil, destruction of persian gulf fields in a conflict a return to more local, hand built economies without planes, autos mechanization self reliant strong personlities cod reemerge. Avstudy today stated that people have eaten 650 kilocalries too much since 50 yers. 10% globally would be by 2030 obese, now 1/3 in USA. Brain size is reduced, intelligence and diabetes increases. So automation has been a negative heathwise when taken past 1940 levels. 8bviously once anglosaxon power centers decline the Eurasians will squabble. It is the common enemy that has brought China and Russia, Turkey and Iran together. The more sociopathic the evil empire behaves with Pompeo and Bolton as goering, goebbels and co. the more holy the sanitized dictatorship of the mullahs and chinese communists appear historically.

Bozon said...

This was a very good post back then.

Some thought Obama would initiate something like the age of Aquarius!

Those same people had thought the same thing about the fall of the Soviet Union.

Millenarianism, the long long cycle, has always been around.

Re S & H, the 20 year ones, rather than trying to apply something like that to history, one might even look at something like Please Understand Me, and skip the historical explanation aspect of personality analysis altogether.

Or rather, focus on the role of prominent individuals, biography as history, a la Jonathan Steinberg, etc., which has become a fashionable trend in history in recent decades...It also misses the synoptic view I prefer, however.

I am not a special advocate for their (Please Understand Me) system either, but at least it stays away from history, and clings more to an analysis, flawed though it too is, of strictly psychology types per se.

All the best

Feryl said...

All this has enormous consequences for the Millennial generation (born 1982-2002?), whom Strauss and Howe expected to be the new GIs.

Many outlets now are putting placing the birth range as being from about 1981-1996. According to Jon Haidt, whose done excellent stuff about today's youth and campus culture, those born after about 1995 (generally called "Gen Z") have been affected (quite negatively so) by post-2000 trends in parenting styles and overall cultural and tech. developments. Gen Z grew up with omnipresent cell-phones, and intense social pressure to conform to the high expectations placed on them by Boomer and Gen X run institutions (by contrast, Gen X and Millennials didn't face as much scrutiny from Silent and Boomer run institutions). Gen Z has perhaps the least amount of autonomy and emotional freedom of any generation ever, because parents of children born after 1995 faced intense pressure to assist and defend their kids. Gen Z thus has seen delayed milestones of social and emotional development, because they've had adults doing so much on their behalf, and always are nervous that their kids could be "scarred" if they do too much at a young age. In addition to the tight parenting, there's also the increasing political tensions in America, which have also spilled over into other aspects of life. Gen Z, in stark contrast to older generations, has spent it's entire young life watching people face opprobrium for expressing the "wrong" views in public (and even in private; private phone conversations, e-mails, texts etc. have all been used to damage people's reputations and get them fired from jobs).

Perhaps we were wrong; perhaps the crisis did begin with 9/11. Certainly George W. Bush took advantage of the shift in the national mood to move forward on a great many fronts, and his work has proven lasting.

Personally, it would seem that the Patriot Act would've been hard to fathom in the 80's and 90. 9/11 became an opportunity to re-shape our policies and our trajectory, which Gen X and Millennials welcomed in concept, if not ultimately in practice (these generations did not create or ask for the Reagan or Clinton era).In the 2000's, Silents and Boomers were more likely to express reluctance about moving on from the 90's era of political peace and culture war.

Feryl said...

Now a Democratic Administration has very little to offer to the millions of new unemployed. They may not become enthusiastic Republicans, but they will not be enthusiastic Democrats, either--even though the younger voters among them are closer to the Democrats on social issues.

The free market liberation ideology of the 80's is still not challenged to any substantially degree by Democrat leadership. It would seem that the modern Left rationalizes the destruction of the middle class and private sector unions by pointing out "progress" on social issues. While the mainstream Right remains hostile to New Deal era econ. policies for obvious reasons, the mainstream modern Left has a difficult time reviving the econ. ideology of the 1930's-70's, because that would lead to too much cross-contamination w/social conservatism.

Disturbingly, reasonable talk about foreign policy is also being made difficult by much of the modern Left refusing to "cede ground" to anyone who is the least bit Right-wing on social issues. Left and moderate speakers who use Tucker Carlson's Fox News program as a platform to speak out against dangerous and wasteful wars have been attacked as "traitors" to the Left cause, and "normalizers" of everyone on the Right spectrum, who is said to be a bigot and an anachronism who wants to go back to the bad old days of the early 20th century. We are not going to reach meaningful bi-partisan solutions with this extreme zeal displayed by one side or the other. "Pure" Leftists don't want to get dirtied by any kind of alignment or compromise with social conservatives or even social moderates.

The General Social Survey says that all generations (even Silents) have become more supportive of gays and drug legalization. But I would imagine that Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to the expectation that the modern West is supposed to be socially liberal, so younger generations aren't as shy about expressing their views. That being said, a major economic or foreign policy crisis would cause social issues to fade into the background, much as how taking care of America in the wake of the Depression and Pearl Harbor put the 1920's era culture war on the shelf for a while; "culture wars" would collect dust from the 1930's-early 1970's, then would take on greater and greater importance from the late 70's-90's.

NoOne said...

Very good post way back when.

If millennials are from 1981-1996, the average millennial will be about 30 in 2020 which usually signals a major change on the immediate horizon. We have had an economic expansion for 10 years now and are due for a recession. The yield curve has inverted and there are early signs of a recession (http://shorturl.at/cDISX). Everything's set up for the Trump presidency to be a failed one in 2020 to be followed by a gray champion (Biden?) in 2021. There's no reason why we cannot unite behind climate change as the underlying agenda of the next era. To get there however, we have to fight for it (across the western world).

I'm no historian but I don't understand why no one (that I'm aware of) has combined the insights of Skowronek (the failed presidencies of Quincy Adams, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter and Trump(?) signaling the end of eras) with the Fourth Turning hypothesis (High, Awakening, Unraveling, Crisis). If one does this, you can tell a straightforward story of Hamiltonian infrastructure building with a transition to Jeffersonian expansion across three eras of American history: Revolutionary War to 1860 with the failed presidency of Quincy Adams marking a transition; Civil War to 1945 with a transition from Reconstruction to the roaring 20s; WWII to 2020 with the failed presidency of Carter marking a transition. Based on this model, Trump signals the end of the corporate Reagan era (which began in 1981) which will be supplanted by the climate change era (2021 - XXXX). To get there, we'll probably need a financial world war in the 2020s which looks to me to be on the cards at present.

Energyflow said...

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/boomers-are-blame-aging-america/592336/?utm_source=pocket-newtab. Not as comment but this is fitting for your research area.