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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...

Sunday, June 09, 2024


 My birthday, which has just passed, always coincides roughly with the end of the academic year, which even though I am no longer living on an academic calendar still always provokes reflection.  There has been plenty to write about in the last two weeks, starting with Donald Trump's conviction in New York, and including the continuing war in Gaza and a story in today's New York Times on the spread of Islamic terrorism in West Africa--a further step in the catastrophe of US foreign policy that began in Afghanistan and Iraq and spread to Syria, Egypt, and Libya under the Obama administration.  The influence of inflatoin upon the election is also very much in the news.  Yet for the time being I seem to have lost my appetite for analyzing these milestones on our uncertain road.  The enterprise of American journalism, like the enterprise of American history--which has taken up far more of my time--has relied from the beginning on the belief in progress and a story which, while full of twists and turns, is always neaded for a happier ending.  I now find this very difficult to believe. In addition, pointing out what has gone wrong has usually had a corollary: suggesting how we might fix it.  I don't have much faith in solutions that I might propose.

Thus, yes, Donald Trump in my opinion was clearly guilty of the offense of which he was charged, and after reading the judge's charge to the jury I thought that the legal argument behind the case was a lot stronger than many continue to argue.  The evidence clearly showed that he falsified records to make it possible for him to win the election.  Yet months before he did so, his nomination had confirmed the bankrupt collapse of the Republican Party,which had not been able to find a candidate that could defeat him.  Shortly thereafter his victory over Hillary Clinton showed that the Democratic Party suffered from the same problem.  And now, eight years later, Trump leads Biden in the polls and has established himself, I think, as the most personally powerful politician in the country since Ronald Reagan.  And the biggest reason, I think, is that he, unlike any established political figure, has exploited the weaknesses of the establishment order that has dominated our politics at least since Clinton.  Recent focus groups show voters favoring him because they think that we need drastic change, and that only he will provide it.  Is that so wrong?  The conviction will not change their minds.  And whether he is guilty of various charges or not, who can deny that the various trials are indeed an attempt by the establishment to do what it has not been able to do in the broader court of public opinion--to eliminate him as a political factor?

Our establishment's embrace of the global free market, which took its biggest steps under Clinton, with NAFTA, and Bush II with China's accession to the WTO, has probably done more than anything else to discredit it in the eyes of millions of hardworking Americans.  That however was not all.  Barack Obama accepted the view of his Boomer advisers that the crash of 2008 did not reflect anything fundamentally wrong with our economy, and that it could be weathered merely with a massive influx of liquidity from the Fed.  The Democrats abandoned the New Deal solutions of putting people to work to fight unemployment and restructuring mortgages to save homes and farms.  The establishment also relies completely on the Fed to fight inflation.  Inflation has dramatically influenced US politics for generations.  It was the biggest reason for the Republican Congressional sweep of 1946.  It hurt Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and in 1971, Richard Nixon, unlike Joe Biden, saw high inflation as a critical threat to his re-election, and actually imposed wage and price controls.  He eventually lifted them, and further inflation helped bring down Gerald Ford in 1976 and crush Jimmy Carter in 1980.  Biden and the Democrats have been in denial over inflation for three years now and I haven't seen a single mention of possible wage and price controls.  We no longer expect our government to act to help ordinary people against it.  The same is true about our housing crisis, apparently the worst since the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.  Then the federal government took a number of serious steps to encourage the construction of new, relatively low-cost housing around the country.  The housing stock expanded so rapidly that even black Americans, who had to cope with segregation, increased their percentage of homeownership dramatically in the decades after the war.  Now we are hearing nothing from the government about the problem.  In those days the country felt a debt to the young adults who had won the war for us and their families.  Now we have already forced millions of young adults to mortgage their futures just to attend college.  And last, but hardly least, we have lost the common values, the sense of common purpose, and the common identity that in the past allowed us to achieve great things.  

It has been two weeks since I posted something here, and I have very busy weeks ahead.  I may be moved to post again in a week or two, or it may be longer.  Believe me, these observations are very painful to record, but I can't ignore them.  I hope to get to a different place for myself and my faithful readers of 20 years standing, but I don't know exactly where that place will be.  Meanwhile, as Orwell had his garden, I have music, family and friends, and the continuing drama of athletic competition to keep me fully engaged with life.


Unknown said...

In youth, hope springs eternal. However, those of an age, depressed by the crushing events of one's long life, often despair. Time for the realization of one's hopes dwindles. This time is my long life's most frightening. In my view, this election will determine whether the experiment of democracy continues or ends. Whether or not the term "mankind" is very narrowly defined, not along just racial, but political and religious criteria, as well. Whether speaking freely will cease out of fear. Whether the founding document becomes a historical anecdote. Whether the Ten Commandments, the linchpin of ancient and modern society, become meaningless. Woe be to those who are not in that narrow, favored group of sycophants who, freed from the fringes of society by a narcissistic, delusional ex-president, appear as wraiths of anger and retribution. And not just this country. The world will tremble.

The US citizen does not have the luxury of observing dispassionately as history unfolds.

PJ Cats said...

"they think that we need drastic change, and that only he will provide it. Is that so wrong?"

Yes, it is. If there's ever a 'be careful what you wish for'-moment, this is it. I still consider Trump to be to stupid to get what he wants (he can't even express that), but the destruction of institutions will be crippling to society. Also, there's war, and climate change, energy transition, taxes, health care, the economy, all these things that ask for solidarity, not polarity. Humanity has a well-known knack for self-destruction (wasn't it that when the plague hit, they killed off the cats?... ), but I'm not exactly anxious to see that come about.

So yeah, I think they're wrong. On the other hand, you're right in identifying that there are large groups expressing their dissatisfaction, right or wrong. Democracy holds that they be heard.

SDW said...

I will say a word about Jill Stein, running for president on the Green Party ticket. She addresses all of the problems you have listed above. No, she can't win the election and couldn't govern if she won but she represents the only effective way you can show your dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party. Writing letters to your representatives, voting for Trump, staying home, all can be ignored. The Democrats can't ignore a big turnout for her.

DAngler said...

I agree with all you say except one paragraph: "And whether he is guilty of various charges or not, who can deny that the various trials are indeed an attempt by the establishment to do what it has not been able to do in the broader court of public opinion--to eliminate him as a political factor?"

In point of fact, Merrick Garland was so very opposed to any prosecution of Trump he put us in the mess we are now in. It was State actors who have gone after Trump's felonies and embarassed the Department of Justice into acting. Your paragraph parrots the idea that Trump is pushing.

Wes Volkenant said...

Happy Birthday, David, as my own approaches in just a few weeks.

I find myself tiring of the melodrama, even as I fight in social media postings against the takeover the nation's three branches of government by what I perceive as evil forces, hellbent on power, autocracy and Christian fanaticism, and fight locally to provide news from my local area and the doings of our County's govern mental representatives through a five-year old Facebook group with "eyes on" my local County.

I, too, don't have good feelings of how the current Fourth Turning will conclude, nor what this new First Turning will bring a rapidly-more ignorant and willfully-stupid nation that led by anti-government/yet Authoritarian-seeking Gen X leadership. Those 13th Gens were given, what in hindsight should have been very apparent even then, a really terrible youth in the Carter-Reagan era of the '70s and '80s, followed by many wrong life lessons in their early adult years of the Bush I - Clinton - Bush II era. It was way too easy to seed the ground for Donald Trump's accession and refusal to let go of the apparatus of our electoral and judicial systems.

By 2022, I had thought that end-of-Silent Gen Joe Biden was our way to a recognizable, sane future. Today, should we fear that early-Boomer Donald Trump is actually that path to what looks like a chaotic and undesirable future for the nation?

As they say every election,this is the most important ever. I thought 2020 was just that. Until 2024 came along.

Good tidings to you, and May this next year see you in good health and good personal tidings!

David Kaiser said...

Thanks for the comments. I always post a link to these posts on facebook. Facebook has now taken down two routine links to this one on the grounds that the content violates community standards. I have appealed both times. I can't imagine what they are talking about.

Energyflow said...

I will miss your political and historical analysis. Times of course always change, a student of history could hardly experience surprises, bar alien invasion or bubonic plague type 90% humanity wipeout. I consider Trump Derangement Syndrome a healthy antidote, like the 1 minute hate in Orwell's 1984. This purges bile From the Bodypublic, much like pro sport helps as a safety valve for testosterone laden make aggression to reduce war activity. Generational theory prescribes just such a savior/hate figure to act as a lightning rod for all our feelings, good or bad. Then the prophet generation disappears, the crisis ebbs and my generation, conservative careful curmudgeons Play 'Father Knows Best's Ike-wise to the tired, resigned populace. Boomers have a way of dramatizing everything, expecting and bringing about end times mood. Afterwards I look forwards to a spring time spiritual revival in the 40s-50s under a millennial leadership. Culture will be more important than politics perhaps. As US power declines our cultural power will grow. The Japanese mangas, British music, German cars show this effect. Once America focuses all it's energy away from global control, then enormous resources will be freed up to house, feed it's people and provide a positive example for others of how a peaceful country can live like Holland or Denmark or Singapore or Canada. In retrospect it seems a negative cycle ending was in the cards, perhaps every other time, 160 year basis. However it seems to me that newly rising powers have a generally positive view of our culture and achievements for humanity over the last couple hundred years and are not filled with bitter hatred towards us as sometimes is the case between embittered neighbours. We must more fear our internal strife, much as in the 19th century. However as we are older on average and more sedentary a real war seems unlikely. Lawfare is a substitute. I wish you the best in an active retirement. If this be my last comment on your space after many years then I must raise a toast to you.