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Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Monday, August 28, 2023

The coming election

 I am not going to comment at great length on the Republican candidates' debate, but I found it highly significant.  Whether or not Donald Trump wins the nomination--and it certainly seems mostly likely that he will--he has irrevocably transformed the Republican Party.  On three major issues--climate change, immigration, and the drive to eviscerate the federal government--nearly everyone seemed to be trying to out-Trump Trump.  They competed to find reasons to avoid doing anything about emissions, they agreed on the need to destroy the administrative state, and they want more drastic measures to stop immigration and, in at least one case, to remove immigrants already here.  And the scariest candidate is also the one whose popularity is rising the most quickly, Vivek Ramaswamy.  I urge everyone to read his Wikipedia entry to find out how he made his money--without doing any good for anyone but himself. 

Meanwhile, I am equally concerned about the future of the Democratic Party--whose establishment seems set on a losing strategy.

One poll after another shows that a majority of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, think that Joe Biden is too old to run for president again.  Biden's public appearances, such as they are, are doing nothing to dispel that impression.   This weekend a Boston Globe story detailed how a big administration-encouraged industrial project, a nest of chip factories near Columbus, Ohio, isn't winning local voters over to him, partly because he described the site--where some homes have been bulldozed to make room--as "an empty field of dreams."  Kevin McCarthy made it clear over the weekend that the Republicans are quite likely to impeach Biden.  Unlike every really successful president, Biden has failed to design and communicate an effective message to the American people.  And his weakness is not all that we have to worry about.

In 2019-20 Kamala Harris opened her own presidential campaign attacking Biden for is opposition to school busing for integration back in the 1970s.  Her campaign did not catch on and she dropped out before the New Hampshire primary, which Biden also lost.  Biden revived his campaign in South Carolina thanks to Harris's withdrawal and James Clyburn's announcement--and he has foolishly rewarded South Carolina by making it the first Democratic primary state. (The Democrats should not begin the campaign with a primary in a state they cannot possibly win.)  I think we will eventually find that Biden's campaign had promised Harris the vice presidential spot in return for dropping out.

In the Democratic Party, the Vice President immediately becomes the next front-runner for the nomination--see Mondale, Walter; Gore, Al; and Biden, Joe (who initially yielded the spot to Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most establishment candidate of all.)  I am now seriously concerned that Biden actually knows that he cannot run again, but that he is holding off the announcement until it is too late for anyone but Harris to mount a campaign.  As some of you may have seen, Governor Gavin Newsom of California--the most prominent Democratic governor in the country by far now--is negotiating to debate with Ron DeSantis.  NBC news reports that this plan is making some people close to Harris very unhappy, although some Biden advisers welcome Newsom's contributions as a surrogate.  

Kamala Harris has conspicuously failed to connect with the American people either as a presidential candidate or as vice president.  Her demographics appeal to many Democrats but would not be an asset in a general election.  I think there is an excellent chance that she would lose any Republican candidate if she replaces Biden on the ticket--and polls show a real chance that Biden could lose to Trump, too.  And thanks to the Republican debate, we know that a new Republican administration would start just where the last one left off.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Postscript to this week's post

 According to Russian sources, Viktor Prigozhin was a passenger on a plane that has crashed near Moscow.  All ten people on board died.  Wallenstein would not be surprised.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Back to the 17th Century?

The New Yorker of August 7 includes a superb article by Joshua Yaffa on the Wagner military group in Russia, it's leader Viktor Prigozhin, and the remarkable, if ultimately unsuccessful, mutiny which they mounted earlier this summer.  I learned a great deal from the article and will now share what I learned with you.  Then, returning to the subject of a thirty-three-year-old book, I will argue that one can find parallels to this situation in the history of early modern Europe, and that it shows that the great tendency of the seventeenth century through most of the twentieth--the strengthening of the state--has definitely been reversed, with probable worldwide consequences. 

Yaffa recounts that the Russian government, following the US example, decided in the early 2000s that it could make use of private military formations similar to Blackwater.  Such formations played a key role in the intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014, and Wagner was one of them. Prigozhin was not initially its commander. Born in 1961, he went to prison for his part in a mugging in 1980 and spent nine years there. Then he went into the hot dog business, and expanded after the fall of the USSR into restaurants and supermarkets. In 1998 he opened a fancy restaurant on an island in the Neva River, and Putin began bringing foreign leaders there. He began catering government functions and the Russian military, on a very large scale, and became very rich. Branching out, he founded the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, in 2013. 

Wagner was not a particularly important force in the Donbas war that began in 2014.  Several commanders of more important units apparently became too big for their britches during that conflict and were killed or murdered--some think, by Wagner.  Then Wagner in 2015 sent 1300 men to Syria, with the right to make its own energy deals on the scene. By the end of 2017 Wagner had units in Sudan, where he got control of gold mines. It got deeply involved in the Central African Republic in 2018-19.  They have also been involved in Libya, Mozambique, and Mali. In 2018, Wagner forces in Syria attacked a Kurdish position supported by Americans and were beaten very badly.  The Kremlin did not react to the American victory at all. 

Wagner was not initially involved in the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 but outperformed regular Russian forces when it was sent in after the initial setbacks. These fight well because they face the punishment of death if they do not. During the last year their recruits have gotten older and less effective. (Many come right out of prison.) Some of their soldiers have deserted--one such is interviewed in the article.  Wagner took very heavy casualties around Bakhmut--which had become a new Verdun, simply a battle of attrition.

Prigozhin, who interestingly enough appears to have no real military background of his own,  in May began threatening Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valerii Gerasimov on social media, blaming them for his casualties and the misdirection of the war. Putin, many thought, tolerated this because Prigozhin got results. Wagner captured most of Bakhmut, but then the Ukrainians began gaining all around it. Eventually the Wagner forces did take the whole city, and then withdrew to regroup.  Observers believe that Putin thinks he must tolerate Prigozhin's insubordination because he needs his troops.  Prigozhin's mutiny initially looked like a spectacular success, but he seems to have lost his nerve and it collapsed quickly.  Nonetheless, Putin met with him and his top commanders after the mutiny, and he remains at large. 

The general Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583-1634), the leading military leader within the Holy Roman Emperor in the early stages of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), played a key role in my 1990 book Politics and War, and he immediately came to mind when I first read about Prigozhin and his mutiny.  Like Prigozhin, he was a master at acquiring wealth and influence within his own unique environment, and he too became so indispensable as to threaten his sovereign's authority.  He is no longer the kind of figure that many people know anything about, but he may indeed be turning into a more important archetype as the twenty-first century wears on.

Born a Bohemian Protestant in 1583,  Wallenstein had converted to Catholicism in 1606 for purely political reasons while a junior officer in the Hapsburg imperial army. In 1608 he married a very wealthy heiress, giving him control of large estates.  In 1618 the Protestants of Bohemia and Moravia (the key regions of today's Czechia) revolted against the Catholic Emperor, marking the beginning the Thirty Years War.  Wallenstein initially raised troops for the Moravian estates, but double-crossed them and went over to the Emperor.  After the imperial army defeated the Protestant rebels at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, he managed to acquire a very large share of the estates confiscated from the rebels, partly by loaning the Emperor money. The war entered a new phase when the King of Denmark intervened on the side of the Protestants in 1625, and Wallenstein raised his own army of 20,000 men.  He persuaded the Emperor to create a new Duchy of Friedland incorporating his huge new Bohemian properties, and he enjoyed sovereign power as Duke.  In 1627, after the Danes had been defeated and the Emperor controlled all Germany, Wallenstein also managed to become the Duke of Mecklenburg on the Baltic and began building a Navy.  And like Wagner in Africa, he used his army's territorial control of various areas to extract money from them. 

In contrast to Prigozhin, however, Wallenstein had a highly realistic view of the political situation in the Empire and a good idea of how the war might be ended. While the Catholic party around the emperor and some other Catholic princes wanted to regain total Catholic control of the whole Holy Roman Emperor, he realized that this was impossible, and favored a compromise peace.  He had no personal animosity against Protestants and employed some as officers in his army.  Partly as a result, he was dismissed from the imperial service in 1630,  He had become too powerful.

A year later, King Gustav Adolph of Sweden brought his own army into Germany on behalf of the Protestants, and he crushed the Imperial Army--without Wallenstein--in the fall of 1631.  The Emperor Ferdinand had no choice but to recall Wallenstein and ask him to reconstitute his own army, with suitable rewards.  Wallenstein confronted the Swedish Army during 1632, and eventually fought it to a draw at Luetzen in November--where Gustav Adolf was killed. Then he began negotiating covertly both with leading Protestant princes and with French envoys, whose chief Richelieu was preparing to intervene in the war as well.  Wallenstein offered very generous terms--terms which the Emperor would not accept.  The emperor decided to rely on the extreme Catholic party and on Spain, which was also thinking of intervening, and in February 1634 accused Wallenstein of a treasonous conspiracy to overthrow him and ordered his troops not to obey him.  Wallenstein fled to organize resistance, but one of his leading subordinates authorized his assassination.  He was vindicated, politically at least, when the emperor had to agree to compromise terms with the Protestants, but the war dragged on, for various reasons, until 1648.

I learned in detail about Wallenstein during the 1980s, writing Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler.  He was a central figure in the first of four parts of that book, covering the century from 1559 to 1659, which I christened the general crisis of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  That was an age of ambitious monarchs whose great projects consistently failed because they did not dispose of the necessary material and moral resources--that is, the loyalty of their subjects--to impose their will. Great aristocrats refused to recognize their ultimate authority and themselves had the resources to resist it--especially when they got help from other monarchs, as they often did.  The next section, on the era of Louis  XIV (1661-1715), showed how Louis and  his fellow monarchs successfully established what we now call a monopoly on the legitimate use of force--paving the way for two or three centuries of progress on economic, cultural and intellectual fronts.  The section on the revolutionary and Napoleonic era (1789-1815) showed how the ideas of the Enlightenment removed traditional restraints on state power and allowed states to mobilize unprecedented resources, and the last section on the era of the two world wars (1914-45) showed how war became too expensive for European states to wage. 

Over the last ten or fifteen years I have begun to realize that the process I described over those four centuries began to reverse itself around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Putin's reliance on Wagner--which he can no more do without than the Emperor Ferdinand could do without Wallenstein at certain critical moments--shows that his oligarchy is a poor shadow of the Soviet state, and perhaps even of the earlier Russian empire.  He relies largely on oligarchs who can turn against him and who might well be vulnerable to corruption by foreign powers.  And something similar has been happening all over the world, as conscription has become the exception rather than the rule among modern states and the power of governments over economic institutions has declined.  Media moguls like Silvio Berlusconi and media celebrities like Donald Trump have become better known and more powerful than any politician.  That, to me, is the real lesson of the Wagner mutiny, and it does not promise better times in the west unless we can find a way to reverse this new long-term trend.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Journalism and Politics Again

Donald Trump liked to brag that the media depended on him.  He was right, and the second act of a terrible drama is now underway.

Trump, let us face it, re-ignited interest in American politics in 2016.   Thanks to The Apprentice he was already a national celebrity, and he captivated the country--and not only his supporters--by saying outrageous things that no one else would say.  His election shocked the left, but the media quickly managed to integrate his presidency into one of their longstanding SOPs.  Since Watergate, uncovering government wrongdoing has become the media's favorite kind of story--whether there was really anything important to uncover or not.  (See Clinton, Bill.)   As a New York Times editor admitted after the special counsel's report essentially cleared Trump of being a Russian agent, that paper--and not only they--had committed themselves to a narrative focused on the destruction of Trump's evil presidency.  Then came the Zelensky phone call scandal and impeachment of 2019, and the election controversies of 2020.

Mitch McConnell, more than anyone else, deserves the blame for Trump's continuing presence in American politics.  With a little courage, he could have rounded up enough Republican Senate votes in early 2021 to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial and disqualify him from holding federal office--but he didn't.  The Biden Administration apparently also assumed that Trump was effectively finished, and its Justice Department did not start investigating Trump's attempts to overturn the election results until a House Committee pushed them into it two years later.  Now, fifteen months before the election, three (and probably four) indictments fill the front pages of our newspapers and our cable newscasts with an endless round of stories, enlivened by Trump's hysterical comments on social media.  Coverage of the Republican campaign is also focusing on Trump, who certainly seems certain to be nominated.  "A Day at the [Iowa State] Fair" is Trump's Show," a Times headline reads this morning, inspiring me to write this post that has been on my mind for some time.

The Times and other mainstream outlets, as observers have begun to realize, are pitching to a particular demographic of younger, mostly progressive readers who, they have decided, hold their future in their hands.  They hate Trump and all that he stands for, and the media think (perhaps rightly) that they will enjoy 15 more months of all Trump, all the time.  They ignore the risk (as the prosecutors did) of assuring Trump's place as the most famous political figure in America, as well as of energizing his base and encouraging it to keep funding both his legal defense and his campaign.  And it is anything but certain that either the prosecutors or the media will be able to bring him down.  Even if he is convicted he will surely remain free on appeal during the election and he will campaign asking for the presidency and the pardon power to end his legal "persecution."  Don't get me wrong, he is guilty, but that doesn't mean that prosecuting him will in the end serve the national interest.

The Times story about Trump in Iowa is in column one of the front page. In column 5 we find, "Political Burr Still Sticking to President: Hunter Biden's Case Drags into Campaign."  Hunter Biden has been all the rage in rightwing media and in House committee hearings for months, but the MSM has mostly ignored him--until now.  We will be hearing more about him soon.  And this is what our politics now largely revolves around: dueling scandals, real and imagined.  

In other critical periods of American history, presidents have managed to create new and inspiring stories.  Andrew Jackson mobilized troops to force South Carolina to give up its intention to nullify federal laws.  Abraham Lincoln rallied the nation around the defense of the Union and the abolition of slavery.  Wilson proclaimed a crusade to transform international politics.  Franklin Roosevelt rallied the nation behind a great attack upon the Depression and economic injustice, and then mobilized us to fight and win the Second World War.   Presidents from Truman through Reagan rallied the country around the spread of Communism, although Vietnam undermined the consensus on that point.  Reagan also created a new majority that supported dismantling Roosevelt's New Deal.  

No president since Reagan has managed to do anything remotely comparable, although Bush II, Obama, and Trump have tried.  Joe Biden got some important legislation through the Congress, but he has been the least communicative president of my lifetime.  I believe that he has given exactly one nationally televised address per year.  He has nothing like Trump's social media presence and he has not created any phrases to associate with him or his administration.  His team seems very content to try to reelect him on the grounds that he is not Donald Trump--but polls show them in a dead heat.  I sometimes wonder whether Biden actually plans to drop out of the race, but is delaying his announcement until it will be impossible for any other candidate to mount a challenge to Kamala Harris.   And I very much doubt that she could win election.

For about two hundred years, presidents helped the nation believe that we were engaged in a great democratic experiment.  That is the topic of my new forthcoming book.  They seem to have lost the ability to do that, and the media no longer seems to believe it either.  I can much more easily imagine a very bad outcome to the next eighteen months than a good one.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Is the Fourth Turning here?

 Neil Howe has now published The Fourth Turning is Here.  Neil was William Strauss's co-author of Generations(1991) and The Fourth Turning(1997), which identified the 80-year cycle in American history punctuated by great national crises and predicted that a new one would being during the first fifteen years or so of the twentieth century.  They also co-authored books on Gen X and the Millennial generation.  Full disclosure is in order. I became a close friend of Bill Strauss, who died after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer in 2007, and indeed of his whole family, after meeting him at our 25th Harvard reunion in 1994 (we had never met back then) and contacting him after the publication of The Fourth Turning, which I reviewed very favorably in The Boston Globe.   I met Neil through Bill and have been friendly with him, but never close, ever since. And I regret that Neil gave Bill only one very brief mention in the new book, and that The Fourth Turning is Here lists eight "books by Neil Howe" on its frontispiece without any indication that Strauss co-authored six of them and had his name listed first in five.

As my regular readers know, I immediately recognized the importance of the historical scheme that these two amateur historians had developed and have incorporated them into two major books of my own, American Tragedy and No End Save Victory. I have frequently discussed their theory and how it is working out in these pages and much of what I have to say today will not be new to old-time readers.  I have had various disagreements with Neil on the meaning of the theory that Bill and he developed over the years--especially as it relates to certain foreign nations--and I hope he realizes that after one publishes work, one loses the exclusive right to evaluate its meaning.  I never disagreed with the fundamentals of their analysis of the previous great crises in American national life--1774-1794, 1860-65, and 1929-45.  But I do disagree strongly with Neil about the history of the last 23 years, where we are, and where we are going.  The disagreements involve fundamental conclusions of my own about where history is going--conclusions that I would never have reached without the work of Strauss and Howe. The next ten or fifteen years will show which of us is right.

Near the end of The Fourth Turning(1997), Strauss and Howe listed some possible events that might trigger the next great crisis.  Their five scenarios included severe conflicts over money between federal and state authorities, the threat of a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States, a stalemate over the federal budget between the president and the Congress, an outbreak of a new communicable disease, and a threat of war in the former Soviet Union.   Variants of all those have come to pass, starting of course with 9/11 in 2001.  In addition, the world in 2008 suffered the worst financial crisis since 1929-33.  

In the previous great crises, the country pulled together under strong political leadership to solve the great crisis, which invariably involved winning a major war.  One party--the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans in the early republic, the Republicans after the Civil War, and the Democrats after 1933-45--emerged as by far the stronger party in the next few decades.   As Strauss and Howe showed in their earlier books, the great crises changed social relationships at home and created a new national consensus on various issues.  That is what they called the "regeneracy" that succeeded the death of the old order. Nothing like that, needless to say--and here Howe and I do not disagree--has happened in the last 23 years--and as readers of my post from July 3, 2010 can confirm, I concluded a long time ago that nothing like that was going to happen.  He disagrees.

Howe's new book tries to keep the original model alive.  He dates the beginning of the current fourth turning to the financial crisis in 2008.  That was 15 years ago.  The previous crisis also began with a financial crisis in 1929--exactly 79 years earlier.  Fifteen years later, however, the world found itself in the last year of the Second World War--and nothing comparably decisive has occurred in the years since 2008.  Howe uses several historical strategies, if you will, to suggest that the climax of the great crisis still lies some years ahead.

To begin with, Howe has developed an idea of a "double regeneracy."  That refers in our first national crisis to the victory over the British in 1783, and then to the adoption of the Constitution in 1788, and in the most recent one to the New Deal and then to the victory over the Axis in the Second World War.  Now, having begun the crisis in 2008, Howe defines the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as "the first regeneracy."  He does not really explain how this could count as a regeneracy, and I on the other hand regarded that election as evidence of the bankruptcy of our old political order, since neither party had come up with a candidate who could beat Trump.  It is true that Trump in the subsequent six years has utterly transformed the Republican Party, but I don't see how that is going to  lead to anything comparable to the regeneracies in the three earlier crises even if Trump wins again.

Secondly, to make a longer crisis possible--one that he anticipates will last about ten more years--Howe has changed some key generational dates.  His earlier books with Strauss defined generations as lasting about 20 years--although they gave the Silent generation (born 1925-42) and the Boom generation (1943-60) just 18 years each.  They estimated Gen X (whom they originally named the Thirteenth generation) as 1961-81--dates with which I agree--and assumed that Millennials (a term they coined) were still being born when The Fourth Turning came out in 1997.  The Millennials, critically, were what they called a Hero generation, parallel to the GI generation (born, in my opinion, 1904-24--they said 1901-24.)  They expected effective Boomer leadership to mobilize the Millennials in the coming crisis in the same way that FDR has mobilized the GIs. Now Howe argues that Millennials were still being born in 2005, making them a 24-year generation.  He argues that generations are getting longer, which allows him also to argue that the crisis may last 25 years or even longer before a real regeneracy is achieved.

There is a major problem with this that he tries to gloss over.  Gen Z is the generation after Millennials.  Howe argues that only marketers have defined Gen Z as having been born beginning around 1997, and says that they were wrong.  However, a number of college professors, led by Jonathan Haidt of NYU, have insisted and documented that they observed very important changes in the freshmen who began arriving in 2014 or 2015.  They showed the anxiety and effects of overprotectiveness that characterize Gen Z, and a new hostility to free speech.  And a 1997 start date makes perfect sense if one regards 9/11/2001--not 2008--as the start of our current crisis.  The oldest Silents were 4 when the stock market crash, and the 1997 Millennials were 4 on 9/11.  

And this leads me to the biggest, critical difference, between the last 23 years and the corresponding period--however one might define it--of the last saeculum or 80-year period that culminated in the Depression of the Second World War.  The GI generation became a Hero generation after it was mobilized for the Second World war, in which about ten million of them served and millions of women worked in factories.  By 2012, if not earlier, it seemed obvious to me that while the Millennials might willingly have submitted to such a mobilization after 9/11 or to a different kind comparable to the New Deal's jobs programs after 2008, no such mobilization had taken place.  The youngest Millennials, in my opinion, are now 26, and no such mobilization is going to take place.  The Millennials have a distinct generational identity and have much to contribute to American life, but they are not going to create a culture parallel to that of the 1950s and early 1960s, as the GIs did.   And that, broadly speaking, is the kind of culture Howe still expects to emerge from the crisis. He expects society to move from individualism to community, from privilege to more equality, from "deferral [or postponement] to permanence"--that is, a long overdue willingness to solve serious problems--and from "irony to convention," with convention a synonym for consensus. I wish I could agree with him, but I can't.

In 2001, Bill Strauss was a very active participant in an online forum about the fourth turning that he and Neil Howe had stood up when the book of the same name had appeared.  I was an active participant as well.  Howe rarely contributed.  I remember that in the aftermath of the Fourth Turning Bill treated it as the onset of the fourth turning--even though it had arrived ahead of schedule--but when the country only became more divided under George W. Bush, he, and I too, both changed our minds.  Now, after having finished my new book detailing the political history of the US through presidential addresses, I think we were right the first time--but with a critical twist.

In the wake of 9/11 and for most of the rest of his term, George W. Bush used the language of crisis in ways completely reminiscent of Lincoln and FDR.  He spoke of a whole new generational worldwide struggle against terror that would spread democracy around the world and make America safe again.  I don't think that he had read The Fourth Turning, but I would be amazed if Karl Rove had not, and Rove seized upon 9/11 as a chance to create a new Republican majority.  The problem, however, was that while Bush talked the talk, he couldn't walk the walk.  He did not reinstitute a draft--turning many military over to mercenaries instead--and he lowered taxes instead of raising them.  Worst of all, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eventually turned into disastrous failures.  Rather than create new confidence in the federal government like the Civil War or the Second World War, they further undermined it.

Barack Obama also used the language of crisis, but he made similar mistakes dealing with the financial crisis.  In contrast to Franklin Roosevelt, he did not suggest that the stock market crash reflected moral flaws in our financial community or required truly sweeping reforms.  He failed to mobilize the anger in the country as Roosevelt had, and while Roosevelt gained in the Congressional elections of 1934, Obama suffered disastrous losses in the House in 2010 and eventually lost the Senate as well.  Significant segments of the electorate moved away from the Democrats, leading to Trump's election in 2016.

Trump, of course, divided Americans as they had not been divided sine the 1850s--and that trend has continued even after Biden defeated him in 2020.  Much of the country refused to accept Washington's leadership in dealing with the pandemic, and some of the response to the pandemic--led by school closings--has been disastrous.  Joseph Biden--oddly, the first Silent generation president after two Boomers and a Gen Xer--has never gotten his approval rating above 50 percent.  Strauss and Howe expected their "gray champion," the aging leader parallel to Lincoln and FDR in earlier crises, to come from the Boom generation, but no such figure ever did--and Trump is the last Boomer with any chance of being elected to the presidency now. 

Howe takes very seriously, as I do, the possibility of the breakup of the United States, but he does not think that the country would tolerate secession, and thus, a new civil war would follow and perhaps lead to a regeneracy the way that the first one did.  I frankly doubt that.  Red and blue states do inhabit different cultural and political worlds now, but I don't think either would care enough to subdue the other.    He also compares the foreign scene to the 1930s--another worldwide confrontation between democratic and expansionist authoritarian states, which has already led to the indirect confrontation between Russia and NATO in Ukraine.  He argues that in the past, violence has been key to regeneracy--and I agree with him about that too.  I doubt however that this can happen again.

The reason is that I believe that during my adult lifetime, the United States and the world have experienced a profound change that has undone the political achievements of the first two hundred years or so of American history.  This began with my generation's revolt against authority of all kinds in the late 1960s.  That revolt produced the antiwar movement, the woman's movement, the shift in the civil rights movement away from colorblindness into racial identity, and the LGBTQ movement--all of which have gradually grown into challenges to fundamentals of western civilization.  On the other side of the political fence, the Republicans in the 1980s began an all-out attack on the authority of the federal government--especially in economic questions--that has only gotten worse from that day to this, and which has created a permanent, huge deficit.  All of us now claim, and through social media now exercise, the right to define reality and the needs of the nation as we see fit.  Much of the left regards the idea of a national consensus as racist, sexist, and homophobic, while the right now views the federal government as hopelessly evil.  Those factors prevented a truly national and sensible response to 9/11, the financial crisis, and the pandemic, and in my opinion they will prevent us from getting together to solve other problems as well.  That includes climate change--a topic, by the way, which Howe's book almost entirely ignores.

There is another reason for this.  In earlier crises both Lincoln and FDR specifically appealed to the examples of previous crises and emphasized the need to keep the American experiment alive.  Now it seems that our history--including the history of the founding of the nation--has lost the capacity to inspire us.  That is largely the fault of my own profession, which since the late 1960s has concentrated on establishing its own moral authority in place not only of older historians, but of our political leadership class. Very few Americans have any idea in particular what FDR established at home and abroad--making it much harder to emulate his example.

For about 200 years after 1776, the example of the American and then the French Revolutions led to new relationships between modern governments and their peoples.  Together they accomplished extraordinary things both domestically and in war--some great, and some terrible.  That relationship, for many reasons, was not destined to last.  It was within that earlier context that the crises and regeneracies that Strauss and Howe described so well in Generations and The Fourth Turning took place.  We may indeed face secession, domestic collapse, or foreign war again in the next ten years, but I very much doubt that we will be able to respond in the same way.  Once again I must thank Strauss and Howe for helping me to understand so much, even though I do not agree with Howe on the implications of their findings today.