The World Is Ending Again!

“Whether the response is lashing out, turning inward, tuning out, or giving up, Americans are becoming increasingly paralyzed by disagreement, disillusionment, and despair. Indeed, many Americans seem to agree these days on only one thing: This is the worst of times.”

R. Putnam & S.R. Garett, The Upswing (excerpt)

Along with a revised edition of the classic Bowling Alone, a new book has come out by Robert Putnam. With his new work, Shaylyn Romney Garrett joins him as co-author. The title is The Upswing with the accompanying subtitle of “How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again.” The basic premise appears to be that the mood at present resonates with the complaints and fears of an earlier era when the mood soured in the decades following the Civil War. As Americans headed into the next century, many voices lamented the end of an age, as if a new age would not follow (John Higgs, Stranger Than We Can Imagine).

Based on their generations theory, William Strauss and Neil Howe would give a simple response. This pattern has repeated many times over. But living memory is so short. In fact, it’s the loss of living memory of the last cycle that drives it to swing back around again. The old is made new again, as if a foreign land never seen before. That is why it requires an historical awareness to realize we’ve been here before and what to expect as we move into the next phase. Even as we are in the Crisis that turns the wheel of the Fourth Turning, something else is emerging upon which different social institutions and collective identities will be built. 

This cyclical view of humanity and society is the most ancient of understandings. But in modernity we have falsely come to believe that there is endless linear progress into the unknown and unpredictable. That is the empty pride of modern Western civilization, that we are unique, that we have broken the chains of the past. Maybe not. Jeremiads of moral panic about decadence and decline usually presage moral revivals and rebirth (Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920). That has been the pattern, so some argue, for centuries now. Is there a reason to think this time will be different?

In every generation that reaches this point in the cycle, there are those who confidently declare this time will be different, that this time it will be permanent, that further change is now impossible, that further innovation has ended, that the vitalizing force of society has been lost, that the younger generations aren’t up to the task, maybe even that we’ve entered the end times. Yet, so far, these predictions have been disproven over and over again. We act out what we suppress from awareness. So the more we deny the reality of cycles the more we become trapped in them. Our historical amnesia dooms us to falling back into patterns we don’t see.

* * *

‘The Upswing’ Review: Bowling Alone No More?
by Yuval Levin

“Drawing ingeniously on a vast array of data—economic, political, cultural, social and more—Mr. Putnam and Ms. Garrett persuasively demonstrate that Gilded Age America suffered from civic and social strains remarkably similar to our own. Then they explore how, from the final years of the 19th century until the end of the 1950s, an extraordinary range of forces in our national life, in their words, “shaped an America that was more equal, less contentious, more connected, and more conscious of shared values.” Finally they consider why, all of a sudden and without clear warning, “the diverse streams simultaneously reversed direction, and since the 1960s America has become steadily less equal, more polarized, more fragmented, and more individualistic.” 

“They chart this path from “I” to “we” and back again to “I” across essentially every facet of the American experience. Drawing some lessons from the Progressive Era, broadly understood, they suggest that a return toward a culture of “we” would need to involve a restoration of civic ambition directed toward pragmatic, concrete, incremental changes. That means building new institutions to address new problems, and it means paving paths from shared frustrations toward accommodations and reforms that could endure. It means devoting time to local service organizations and religious and professional groups, and talking less about how things got so bad and more about how to make them better where we are. It means fighting corruption and combating despair. And it means helping a rising generation think about its future, rather than drowning in debates about past feuds and divisions. 

“But the key, for Mr. Putnam and Ms. Garrett, is to move from broad categories of action like these to specific instances of practical organization and engagement. This is why the example of America in the first half of the 20th century can be so powerful. It is a positive answer to the question that threatens to debilitate anyone looking to turn things around in contemporary America: Is revival even possible? The authors make a strong case that a recovery of solidarity is achievable.”

Rate of Moral Panic
Technological Fears and Media Panics
The Crisis of Identity
The Disease of Nostalgia
Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration
Old Debates Forgotten

Will Present ‘Radicalism’ Become the Future’s Moderate Centrism?

According to the media and parties owned by the plutocracy, moderately liberal GenXers like us are radicals. Yet, going by public opinion seen in polls, we ” sit squarely in the center along all these dimensions; the perfect middle child tucked into the interior of the American range of opinion and demographics” (David Dunning, At this rate, Gen X might never get to be president of the United States of America). The younger generations are even further to the left, but politics hasn’t yet caught up and won’t for a while longer, maybe not until the next decade or so.

Once enough of the long-lived Silents and Boomers exit the sphere of power and their reactionary views go with them, Millennials and Zoomers will become ever more influential, even dominant. Then maybe the many moderately and mildly liberal GenXers could be the new standard-bearers of ‘conservatism’. The divide would not be between right and left but between liberalism and progressivism, the left and further left. But it would also become a generational culture war. The large generation of Boomers, although aging rapidly, are far from being down and out.

If the younger generations prevail through sheer numbers as their percentage of the voting public rises, anything to the right of GenX-style liberalism will be right-wing extremism. And what goes for conservatism now might become a fringe view represented by impotent third parties. As we sometimes wonder, the Democrats could become the new conservative party with the Republicans returning to their progressive roots of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (heck, even Nixon was more progressive than the present Clinton Democrats).

The change might already have been signaled by Donald Trump winning the election with campaign rhetoric that was economically far more progressive than that of Hillary Clinton (Old School Progressivism), even if that rhetoric was empty. Ironically, the DNC, in blocking their own progressives, still lost to the progressive vision, albeit distorted by populist anger and fear. This hasn’t stopped young Democrats from their ongoing push leftward, as ever more geriatric oligarchs are ousted from power by more youthful voices demanding left-wing policies like universal healthcare that are wildly popular.

I wouldn’t mind living in a world where a demand for core liberal rights and freedoms is considered the non-negotiable starting point, not a luxury that we might get around to sometime in the future, the bait-and-switch that the old Democrats have been playing since the New Deal ended. Admittedly, I never felt like a radical in my valuing basic human decency and my egalitarian sense of fairness and justice. It would be refreshing to live in a functioning social democracy. What a pleasant dream and I want to pause a moment just to savor it…

But all of that said, my GenX cynicism is quick to offer a warning. As with Trump, earlier right-wing reactionaries such as Adolf Hitler have used progressive rhetoric to seize power and enforce authoritarianism. As we enter an age of crisis and catastrophes, there will be many opportunities for a right-wing takeover. And when an oppressive ruling elite gains control of the police and military, it is irrelevant what most people believe and value. This youthful movement of hope could be shattered in an instant. Then again, progressivism historically has always been messy.

Still, it definitely is interesting times. No one is likely to capture the future but through progressivism. Right-wingers now have no option but to hold up their own ethno-nationalist brand of progressivism, to make America great again. This is seen with the youngest Republicans who, on some issues, are more liberal-minded than the oldest Democrats, in supporting certain policies pretty far to the left. Even if the right-wing authoritarians take over, they won’t be the neoliberals, neocons, and theocons that have caused so many problems in recent times. The right-wing will be forced to redefine itself entirely to stay relevant.

Progressivism will almost certainly be victorious in the coming decades. The question is what kind of progressivism and to what end. Progressivism has had a mixed past going back to the Whiggish history of colonial imperialism. Never doubt that reactionaries can be brilliant in co-opting anything, even the radical left-wing dreams of the young. On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget we are a country founded on a revolutionary fight against oppression. With both parties ailing, something else is on the horizon (A New Major Party). I’ll hold onto my sense of hope for as long as I can.

—–

The Coming Generation War
by Niall Ferguson and Eyck Freymann

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is often described as a radical, but the data show that her views are close to the median for her generation. The Millennials and Generation Z—that is, Americans aged 18 to 38—are generations to whom little has been given, and of whom much is expected. Young Americans are burdened by student loans and credit-card debt. They face stagnant real wages and few opportunities to build a nest egg. Millennials’ early working lives were blighted by the financial crisis and the sluggish growth that followed. In later life, absent major changes in fiscal policy, they seem unlikely to enjoy the same kind of entitlements enjoyed by current retirees.

Under different circumstances, the under-39s might conceivably have been attracted to the entitlement-cutting ideas of the Republican Tea Party (especially if those ideas had been sincere). Instead, we have witnessed a shift to the political left by young voters on nearly every policy issue, economic and cultural alike.

As a liberal graduate student and a conservative professor, we rarely see eye to eye on politics. Yet we agree that the generation war is the best frame for understanding the ways that the Democratic and Republican parties are diverging. The Democrats are rapidly becoming the party of the young, specifically the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born after 1996). The Republicans are leaning ever more heavily on retirees, particularly the Silent Generation (born before 1945). In the middle are the Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), who are slowly inching leftward, and the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who are slowly inching to the right.

This generation-based party realignment has profound implications for the future of American politics. The generational transition will not dramatically change the median voter in the 2020 election—or even in 2024, if turnout among young voters stays close to the historical average. Yet both parties are already feeling its effects, as the dominant age cohort in each party recognizes its newfound power to choose candidates and set the policy agenda. Drawing on opinion polls and financial data, and extrapolating historical trends, we think that young voters’ rendezvous with destiny will come in the mid to late 2020s. […]

If Roosevelt was right, and demographics are destiny, then the Democrats are going to inherit a windfall. Ten years from now, if current population trends hold, Gen Z and Millennials together will make up a majority of the American voting-age population. Twenty years from now, by 2039, they will represent 62 percent of all eligible voters.

If the Democrats can organize these two generations into a political bloc, the consequences could be profound. Key liberal policy priorities—universal Medicare, student-loan forgiveness, immigration reform, and even some version of the Green New Deal—would stand a decent chance of becoming law. In the interim, states that are currently deep red could turn blue. A self-identifying democratic socialist could win the presidency. […]

It is therefore unsurprising that large majorities of young voters support economic policies that Ocasio-Cortez describes as “socialist.” According to a Harvard poll, 66 percent of Gen Z supports single-payer health care. Sixty-three percent supports making public colleges and universities tuition-free. The same share supports Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to create a federal jobs guarantee. Many Gen Z voters are not yet in the workforce, but 47 percent support a “militant and powerful labor movement.” Millennial support for these policies is lower, but only slightly.

Younger voters are also far left of center on most other economic and social policies. They are particularly opposed to the Trump administration’s handling of immigration. Americans 35 and older are nearly evenly divided on the issue of President Trump’s border wall. Among voters under 35, this is not even a question. Nearly 80 percent oppose the wall. […]

When the question is posed as an abstraction, most Gen Zers don’t trust the federal government either. But they favor big-government economic policies regardless because they believe that government is the only protection workers have against concentrated corporate power.

Philosophically, many Gen Zers and Millennials believe that government’s proper role should be as a force for social good. Among voting-age members of Gen Z, seven in 10 believe that the government “should do more to solve problems” and that it “has a responsibility to guarantee health care to all.”

Young voters are also far more willing than their elders to point to other countries as proof that the U.S. government isn’t measuring up. Gen Z voters are twice as likely to say that “there are other countries better than the U.S.” than that “America is the best country in the world.” As Ocasio-Cortez puts it: “My policies most closely resemble what we see in the U.K., in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden.” […]

Even young Republicans have been caught up in this philosophical leftward drift. Gen Z Republicans are four times as likely as Silent Generation Republicans to believe that government should do more to solve problems. And only 60 percent of Gen Z Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance, while his approval among all Republicans hovers around 90 percent.

In short, Ocasio-Cortez is neither an aberration nor a radical. She is close to the political center of America’s younger generations. […]

However, on most other issues, the demographic trend lines are clear: By the mid 2020s, if a preponderance of young voters support an issue, the Democratic Party will probably have no choice but to make it central to the platform. Today, 43 percent of self-identified Democrats are either Gen Zers or Millennials. By 2024, by our calculations, this figure might rise to 50 percent. If the Democrats are not already the party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they will be soon. […]

In the 2020s, the Silent Generation will fade from the scene. This will happen at precisely the same time that history suggests younger, more left-wing voters will start to vote at higher rates. To attract more Boomers, and some Gen X men, the GOP may paint the Democrats as radical socialists and do all it can to fan the flames of the culture war. To avoid splintering along generational lines, Democrats will likely redouble their focus on health care, a rare issue that unites the party across all age groups.

—–

* Progressives on the political right often don’t like to be labeled progressives. Instead, they call themselves populists. But there is a Republican leadership now pushing conservative progressivism and it couldn’t be called anything else. Their actions will most likely, at least in the short term, be co-opted by the corporatocrats and inverted totalitarians. Still, it shows a change is in the air.

This was seen earlier with Steve Bannon’s economic nationalism, a pillar of old school progressivism. And indeed the rhetoric was used by Trump to gain power and ultimately used to undermine this ideological vision. Nonetheless, many of Trump’s supporters took his lies seriously and so, even if unintentionally, Trump has altered the political terrain in preparing the soil for progressive policies.

This lends further support to leftist progressives. Alliances will begin to form across party lines, as it did during the earlier Progressive Era. The corporate media and corporatist politicians don’t like to talk about how progressive policies are wildly popular across the political spectrum. The controlling interests of the bipartisan hegemony, of course, will resist this ideological shift.

The New Populist Right Imagines a Post-Pandemic America
How a new conservative thought collective is responding to the pandemic.
by Matt Stoller (text below is from linked article and a comment)

Though I’m a Democrat, the people most interested in these ideas are on the right. In late February, Senator Marco Rubio’s staff invited me to a debate over industrial policy. The question was basically, how do we handle China and its control over technology and manufacturing capacity? At the time, I noted what has now become conventional wisdom, which is that “our hospitals are critically under-sourced for things like respirators and masks, as well as chemical inputs for drugs, most of which are made in China.” But I’m just one voice of many that Rubio-world has consulted, because it’s a problem that he’s been musing over for some time.

Since 2016, the Republicans, long a party supportive of free trade with China, began changing their relationship to both China and big finance. Trump is a protectionist who loves tariffs and closing down borders. But behind him, there is a notable new thought collective of populists who pay attention to China, which includes figures like White House advisor Peter Navarro, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, Senators Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Tom Cotton, American Compass founder Oren Cass, Rising anchor Saagar Enjeti and United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The shift is not party-wide by any means, but it is substantial enough to massively influence policy.

This new populist thought collective includes some of the first major political figures to really get the impact of the Coronavirus, and it also includes some of the more assertive influencers of the policy debate. There is a deep streak of raw nationalism here, with Tom Cotton almost seeking great power conflict and acting reflexively hostile to multilateral institutions. But the nationalist rhetoric and jingoism of Trump can obscure a more sophisticated recognition by some people in this new populist world that the core dynamic of the China-US relationship isn’t two nation-states opposed to one another, it is an authoritarian government in China that is deeply aligned with Wall Street, against the public in both nations.

One way Rubio has tried to deal with Chinese control in the American economy is through industrial policy, meaning the explicit shaping of industrial enterprises by state financing and control. One of Rubio’s initial goals was to meet the security threat from Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant that is threatening to take over the global communications apparatus. But he’s also gone more broadly into manufacturing in general, and small business, which is a more Brandeis-style frame.

Regardless, the intellectual ferment on the right is real, and fascinating. The first fruits of this philosophical discourse is the massive SBA Paycheck Protection Program, which is a $349 billion lending program to small business negotiated with Democratic Senators. So far, the program excludes private equity-controlled corporations, and though that may change, such legislative design implies genuine skepticism of the role of high finance. That’s a significant shift from traditional Republican orthodoxy.

Joe Loiacono commented:

Matt – I’m a very strong Trump-supporting conservative and until recently saw absolutely no common ground with progressives on any subject. However, recently I have. And I agree we might be the Populist Republicans (vs Establishment.) The common ground is Anti-Trust, which is really an umbrella that in addition to monopoly prevention extends into Federal Reserve shenanigans, deficit spending and protection of small businesses.

Together we could make some very quick and impactful steps starting with the Federal Reserve. I have found common ground with hte like of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders I would never have admitted. See the letter they wrote (still unanswered I believe) to the Federal Reserve with salient questions with respect to the Repocalypse and the hidden bailout of large banks. Big thanks to Bernie for being one Democrat to oppose TARP and to create things like the Sunshine Act. It would be yeoman’s work to identify the Senators and Reps that got the waiver for the Sunshine regulation in the CARES Act. Believe me, Populist Republicans would have none of it it they started pulling back the curtain.

Generational Cycle of Crisis and Power

It’s an interesting situation right now with the Democrats and Republicans. I’m not talking about the impeachment trial and the earlier Mueller investigation or anything else along those lines. That is all spectacle to distract and rile up the masses. The elite in both parties have been playing a long game that isn’t obvious to most people. It has to do with the presidency, but not in the way one might think. It’s not about any given election. Let us begin by talking about Steve Bannon, the mastermind behind Donald Trump’s campaign.

Bannon wanted to frame Trump as the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt, someone who would rebuild America, quite literally (Old School Progressivism). To Bannon, “Make America Great Again” was not merely an empty campaign slogan. He thought that Trump would be a figurehead, a puppet he could control. It turns out he was wrong, although no more wrong than other Republicans who thought they could manage Trump. Still, as a Machiavellian, Bannon’s general strategy was brilliant, even as his timing was off. It turns out that he was too clever by half. This requires some explaining.

“Darkness is good,” explained Bannon with almost refreshing honesty. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power” Then speaking of the Democrats, he stated that, “It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” That is what he needed Trump for, as a demagogue who he described as “greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan” (Bryan was the most powerful leader during the Populist era). Follow that up with something else he said about what he hoped to achieve, a right-wing ultra-nationalism and pseudo-progressive economic populism:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement. It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

If one doesn’t recall the 1930s, it is primarily remembered as the era of the Great Depression. It was a tumultuous era of stark poverty, mass unemployment, labor revolt, class war, racial violence, and top-down government response. That decade saw the threat of the Business Plot, a planned fascist coup by American corporate leaders with the intent to forcefully overthrow the US government with military. On the other end of the spectrum, the federal government so feared a populist uprising that they violently attacked the bonus army of veterans which was non-violently protesting because they hadn’t received the money they were promised.

Bannon wanted to bring America back to that era of crisis, desperation, and moral panic. He thought, if he could gin up fear and anxiety, he could use it for his own dreams of a different kind of government takeover. As a businessman who had worked on Wall Street and in Hollywood, his dream essentially was a fascism for the 21st century. And he hoped to be part of the new ruling elite that would ruthlessly rebuild America in their own image. It hasn’t exactly been a success and Bannon lost grip of power, but the destruction is still in progress. He still might be victorious in bringing us back to the excitement of the 1930s. If one believes darkness is good, we might be heading toward very ‘good’ times.

That is only one half of the equation. These events were also orchestrated by the Democrats, specifically the Clinton dynasty. Last election, as with this election, Bernie Sanders is the most popular candidate in either party and has received more small donations than any candidate ever before. That is contrasted with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two least popular candidates since data has been kept. The Clinton Democrats rightfully feared Sanders more than Trump. They purposely rigged the nomination to steal it from Sanders, even though they knew this would mean giving the election to Trump.

As I said, they were playing a long game, even if a different long game than Bannon, as all they had to was bide their time by keeping the progressives and left-wingers out of power, just to keep punching left as they keep pushing right. They had the luxury of being patient, a luxury Republicans did not have. The GOP was in a do or die situation — long term control required, so it seemed to the elite, that they take the presidency and use it for all its worth. Yet they also knew they needed to reposition themselves toward the young and minorities. Bannon tried to do that by saying that, if his plans worked, it would benefit all Americans. He didn’t factor in the explosive nature of Trump who, as a narcissistic attention whore, discovered that racist rhetoric got him lots of media reporting, social media buzz, and loud praise from a small but loyal following.

This is leading the GOP down a dead-end street. Old white people are not the future of the country. Sanders won not only young white males (what Clinton dismissed as “Bernie Bros”) but also young females and young  minorities, while likewise winning the working class. Trump didn’t win the working class, which is seen in how his strongest base in his campaign came from the middle class (Alienated Middle Class Whites). And Clinton couldn’t even win middle class white women, the exact demographic she was when she first reached voting age, instead doing best among the well-educated upper classes. Even so, the Clinton Democrats turned out to be better Machiavellian social dominators, in that they were essentially right that the only way for them to win (i.e., maintain power) was by losing, that is to say by giving away the election.

The same scenario is still playing out as we speak. This is another election that the Clinton Democrats would be wise to lose, from the perspective of manipulating over the long term. Once again, that requires keeping Sanders out of the nomination, as he still is the only candidate with strong chances against Trump. That is what few don’t understand. There is nothing for the Clinton Democrats to gain by winning this election. They have the Republicans exactly where they want them. This is where they out-smarted Bannon. Some background is necessary.

Bannon wasn’t simply being ambitious. He was basing his strategy on a long study of the generation theory of William Strauss and Neil Howe. Those two thinkers, in first having written back in the 1991, have been proven right in many of their predictions (e.g., increasing security in schools). But there was one specific prediction that Bannon honed in on. The basic idea is that, as a country, we have been heading into a crisis, what is called the Fourth Turning. This was something they were saying before Trump’s election, before the 2008 Great Recession, and before the 2001 terrorist attack. They based this conclusion on how the generational cycle had happened in the past, following an approximate 80 year period of four generations.

It wasn’t only that they predicted the crisis we’re now in for it was a particular detail that caught Bannon’s attention. Whichever political party was in power when the crisis hit would be out of power for a generation. And in a two-party system like in the United States, that means the only other viable party would rule with total dominance. That is how FDR was able to implement the New Deal and overhaul society. It is all about timing. Bannon assumed that 2008 was the point of crisis and that, since Obama was president following its beginning, the Democrats would get scapegoated. But with some fancy footwork, the Democrats moderated the crisis they inherited from the Bush administration and so delayed its effects. The problem is that they merely propped the economy up for a bit longer. The longer the crisis is delayed the worse it will be when it finally comes crashing down.

That is what Bannon didn’t plan on. Trump has further propped up the economy with tariffs and whatnot, but we are now coming to the point where no further jerry-rigging is going to matter. There is a high probability that an economic crash will happen in the near future, possibly the next four years. That will be the real crisis that fits the generational model. If the Clinton Democrats can keep Sanders out of the nomination and guarantee Trump wins again, they can create a melodrama that will send the Republicans into a burning conflagration. All they have to do, then, would be to cause continuous problems and bungle up the works, forcing the crisis to go out of control. After that, they could swoop in as self-styled saviors and thus fulfill Strauss and Howe’s prediction, stealing the glory from Bannon’s vision.

Of course, the Clinton Democrats have no meaningful solutions. As long as they keep out the progressives and left-wingers, they will continue to fuck it up and their great opportunity will go to waste. But that is to be worried about later. The point is that the Clinton Democrats would have found a way to stay in power, to maintain control, and remain relevant. Maybe Chelsea Clinton would be promoted into power. Or else various Clinton Cronies would carry on the legacy. One way or another, they would keep the status quo going for another generation. As for the Republicans, it appears they are doomed. In Trump winning last election, the old GOP elite was ousted from power. So, now this election is almost irrelevant, win or lose. Trump has so severely destroyed any respectability and coherency that the only thing loyal Republicans can hope for at this point is a right-wing fascist or theocratic takeover of the government, which I wouldn’t discount. It’s still a dangerous situation. Clinton Democrats, for all their success, will underestimate what they are facing and they won’t be up for the task of the coming crisis.

All in all, even as Bannon got the timing wrong about the predicted crisis, he was right that the crisis was coming and it would decide who was in power. But what few in power, other than military officials, are seeing clearly is that this crisis might boil over into world war and environmental catastrophe. It might be of an immensity never before seen. At the end of the destruction, it could be that neither party will still be in power or maybe even exist. The United States itself might lose its grip as a global superpower and the threat of civil war could threaten or else a balkanization as happened with the fall of the Soviet Union. This Game of Thrones is high stakes and we the public will bear the brunt of the elites’ corrupt machinations. No matter which party wins this election or which global superpower might win the future, average people in America and around the world are almost guaranteed to lose.

[I should give credit to the inspiration of this post. I had been following Bannon for many years now, going back to his career as a documentary producer long before the Trump campaign. But I was reminded again of Bannon with a post by a blogger I follow, Scott Preston at The Chrysalis blog. The post in question is Faustian Man and the Mephistophelean Spirit.]

A Generation to End All Generations

Steve Bannon is someone to be taken seriously. A while back, I quoted something he said that is quite telling when put in context. He declared that, “It will be as exciting as the 1930s.” Isn’t that a strange statement by a right-wing extremist. That statement has gone along with progressive rhetoric that Trump rode to power.

Bannon directed the documentary, “Generation Zero”, in 2009. It is a propaganda piece that was pushed by right-wing media. And unsurprisingly it blames the political left, along with some good ol’ fashion hippie punching and minority scapegoating. The documentary attempts to resurrect the culture wars for the purpose of somehow explaining the economic crash. Even so, it is based on an insightful, non-partisan generations theory that should be taken on its own terms. If you want to know the playbook Bannon is going by, you’d need to read The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

What the theory explains is that the last time we were at this same point in the cycle Franklin Delano Roosevelt came into power and entirely restructured the American economic and political system. And I’d note that this was accomplished with the use of a soft form of corporatism, most apparent in Californian big ag. This earlier corporatism kept its distance from the worst aspects of fascism. But with the living memory of World War II fascism fading, Bannon and Trump are a lot less wary about playing with fire.

Here is the documentary that puts a right-wing spin on Strauss and Howe’s theory:

I forgot that it was Bannon who made that documentary. I saw that when it came out. It didn’t get much attention at the time outside of right-wing media. My only interest in it was that it used Strauss and Howe’s generations theory which I’d been reading about since the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Largely unknown to the general public, Strauss and Howe’s work has been known by politicians for years. As I recall, Bill Clinton had positive things to say about the theory. You’d think he could have explained to Hillary why she should take it seriously because obviously she didn’t take it any more seriously than Obama.

For years, people speculated and warned about the possibility of those like Trump and Bannon using the theory as a playbook for gaining power. I guess it worked. I think Bannon is misreading the situation quite a bit, though. Or rather he is reading into it what he wants to believe.

He probably does have a good basic grasp of Strauss and Howe’s theory. And so I’m sure he understands where the country is right now. But his understanding of the reasons is most likely shallow, as is typical of the right-wing mind. He has a narrative in his head. The problem is reality doesn’t tend to conform nicely when humans try to project narratives onto it.

Ideological narratives can be dangerous, especially when we start believing our own bullshit. Some see Trump as non-ideological, as a new form of authoritarianism that doesn’t require those old forms of ideological justification, from fascism to communism. This theory proposes that we’ve entered a post-ideological era. That is naive. Trump may have a simplistic ideology of plutocracy, but no doubt it is an ideology. And Bannon for certain is playing an ideological game. In generations theory, he found the perfect frame for a political narrative.

Like Bannon, I years ago sensed the moment we were entering into. It was as if I could hear the clicking of gears. I barely could contain myself because I knew something entirely different was afoot. And it had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama. There were larger forces in society, like vast ocean currents. But I’ve never been one to so easily try to force my own narrative onto events. Unlike Bannon, I’m not seeking power. I have no desire to try to force reality to conform to my beliefs and ambitions. When it comes to theories such as this, I take them with a grain of salt. But I realized that, true or not, someone could take it as a plan of action and make it real.

Bannon is a man with a vision and with a mission. He will change America, if at all possible, or else maybe destroy it in the process. He is playing for keeps. With generations theory, he has a sledgehammer and he is going to whack everything in sight. This won’t be remembered as an era of ideological subtlety. The lies and propaganda, the spin and bullshit is going to come at us with the fury. Alternative facts is just the beginning of it. It will feel like we’ve entered an alternative reality.

“It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

* * *

Trump, Bannon and the Coming Crisis
from Generational Theory Forum

Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?
David Von Drehle

Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon and the Coming Crisis in American National Life
by David Kaiser

What’s Next for Steve Bannon and the Crisis in American Life
by David Kaiser

What Steve Bannon really wants
by Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad

Bannon’s film blamed racial-bias law for financial collapse
by Ben Schreckinger

Steve Bannon film outline warned U.S. could turn into ‘Islamic States of America’
by Matea Gold

President Trump’s chief strategist believes America will face a ‘massive new war’
from The Week

Revealed: Steve Bannon ‘is obsessed with a book arguing institutions are destroyed and rebuilt every 80 years’
by Clemence Michallon

For haters only: watching Steve Bannon’s documentary films
by John Patterson

What I Learned Binge-Watching Steve Bannon’s Documentaries
by Adam Wren

You can learn a lot about Steve Bannon by watching the films he made
by Ann Hornaday

These Films That Steve Bannon Produced Are Terrifying
by Cate Carrejo

The Rightwing Documentary Producers Who Are Shaping Trump’s America
by Peter Hamilton

“That party could find itself out of power for a generation.”

What this election means will become more clear over time. The demographic data during the campaigns was interesting, indicating a voting public that was in flux with shifting patterns. It will be interesting to look at the data about who did (and did not) vote and how they voted.

The long term consequences might mean parties that no longer resemble anything from the past. The two parties might essentially switch places. Democrats could become the new big biz party, if the Clinton cronies maintain power. Meanwhile, Republicans might become the new working class party with strong union member support and an economic populist agenda.

Another possibility is that we might see the eventual death of one of the main parties. At the moment, Republicans could be in the more dangerous position. They have the numbers and power in Washington DC to do almost anything they want. They better pick their battles wisely and ensure they gain victories worth winning. They have one shot to show themselves to be a party of reform. If they fail, they could be facing a dire situation far beyond merely losing the mid-term elections.

In a book published in 1997, William Strauss and Neil Howe made a prediction. I read that book not long after that and so the prediction has been on my mind for a while. They wrote that whichever party was in power when the crisis hit “could find itself out of power for a generation.” They saw the beginning of the Fourth Turning as happening sometime early in this century and then in the years following would come the crisis, but this involves predictions of large historical cycles that could be off by a decade or so. Here is the full quote (The Fourth Turning, p. 312):

“Come the Fourth Turning, America will need both personal sacrifice and public authority. The saeculum will favor whichever party moves more quickly and persuasively toward a paradigm that accommodates both. Both parties should lend seasonality to their thinking: Democrats a concept of civic duty that limits the harvest, Republicans a concept of civic authority that limits the scattering. If they do not, the opportunity will arise for a third party to fill the void – after which one or both of today’s two dominant parties could go the way of the Whigs.

“History warns that when a Crisis catalyzes, a previously dominant political party (or regime) can find itself directly blamed for perceived “mistakes” that led to the national emergency. Whoever holds power when the Fourth Turning arrives could join the unlucky roster of the circa 1470 Lancastrians, circa 1570 Catholics, circa 1680 Stuarts, circa 1770 Tories, circa 1860 Democrats, and circa 1929 Republicans. That party could find itself out of power for a generation. Key persons associated with it could find themselves defamed, stigmatized, harassed, economically ruined, personally punished—or worse.”

Barack Obama’s presidency didn’t seem to fit this prediction, despite some fearing it would. He has retained his favorable ratings and nothing horrible went wrong during his administration. It’s just that he turned out to be an ordinary professional politician, but still he succeeded in creating healthcare (insurance) ‘reform’ and under his watch the US military took out Osama bin Laden who was America’s most hated enemy. Even the earlier Bush presidency is still remembered without too much negativity, as it was a time of growing patriotic fervor, even with it having ended on the sour note of the Great Recession.

Donald Trump, however, is an entirely different kind of creature. He will either take Republicans in a new direction or he will take them over a cliff. Upwards and onwards or down and out. It’s hard to see a third option of maintaining stasis. The problems that might come barreling down on the Trump administration could be more than can be handled, even if the Republicans had a worthy vision to offer and workable plans to implement.

Democrats are lucky for power having slipped from their grasp. Now that Clinton lost the election, her sins will slowly but surely disappear from public awareness. She might as well be a non-entity at this point. Anything that happens in the immediate future won’t be blamed on Democrats. They have been sent to wander in the political desert. Upon their return, they can act as prophets from the wilderness, pretending they were never a part of what caused all the problems in the first place.

Voters have short memories. It doesn’t matter who is to blame. What wins elections is who gets blamed. I almost feel sorry for Republicans in their victory. They have some tough years ahead of them. It could very well turn out to be a no-win situation, no matter what they try to do.

Even some on the political right have had these exact same concerns, based on the same prediction of Strauss and Howe. Back in March over at Red State, Ausonius wrote about “this ominous warning for Republicans, who think Trump is the answer for 2016”. The author continues:

“Since 1992, we have endured three Baby-Boomer presidents, a mediocrity, a passable one, and one complete disaster. We currently have two more Baby-Boomer candidates near 70 years of age, whose characters are less than savory, and whose ideas are stale, ridiculous, or formulas for destruction. It is quite possible that a Trump or H.R. Clinton presidency will not address the crisis, but will instead contribute to it by a combination of egotism, incompetence, and ideological blindness. […]

“Republicans could become 21st-century versions of their 1929 ancestors, if they select candidates – and not only for the presidency – incapable of dealing with the chaos around us. Our politicians, and certainly the president, must have a character derived from virtues: the charming, smooth-talking, tell-’em-what-they-wanna-hear techniques of the sociopathic salesman are dominant because a large minority (I hope it is not a majority) of the electorate is thinking on the 12-year old level used by television, the only level it can use.”

* * *

The Most Significant U.S. Political Development In Over 30 Years
by Neil Howe, Hedgeye

Neil Howe Warns The ‘Professional Class’ Is Still In Denial Of The Fourth Turning
by Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge

Has The Fourth Turning Brought Us Trump?
by Scott Beeken, Bee Line

From Generational Theory Forum:
Presidential election, 2016
The Most Significant U.S. Political Development In Over 30 Years
Neil Howe: It’s going to get worse; more financial crises coming
Neil Howe: ‘Civil War Is More Likely Than People Think’
It Ain’t Over, Folks
Grey Champions and the Election of 2016
Has the regeneracy arrived?
A Realignment Theory
Will a nationalist/cosmopolitan divide be the political axis of the coming saeculum?
Political Polarity To Reverse On Gun Control, States’ Rights?

 

We’re On Our Way

We seem to be fully past the point where the system might be reformed from within the system. The corruption and failure, as many have pointed out, is bipartisan and goes deeper than just the parties. This leads to frustration and cynicism for many, but it doesn’t have to.

Democracy isn’t only or even primarily about elections. At the most local level, there is still the possibility of democracy functioning. There are local issues that can be influenced and local problems that can be improved. Still, that won’t change the system itself. In anything you do, you will have to constantly fight against the tide of a failing social order.

Keep this in mind. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Change will come, but not easily. It will require outside forces and destabilizing conditions to force issues to the surface.

This isn’t an entirely new situation. Americans have faced this before. Similar conflicts and challenges emerged in the decades before the American Revolution, the US Civil War, and more recently the Civil Rights movement. All were preceded by major acts of violence, social unrest, and civil disobedience. This is what finally forced the hand of government to take action and, in one case, for it to be replaced with a new government.

We are in a period such as that, but we aren’t quite to the breaking point yet. Even when it finally arrives, it won’t be the end of the world, assuming WWIII doesn’t begin and/or climate change doesn’t kick into full gear. There is no point to fear-mongering and prophesying doom, not that we should downplay it either. It’s simply that change happens. We should acknowledge it and prepare for the worse while planning for what comes after.

We are in what some consider the Fourth Turning of a generational cycle. I find it a compelling frame with much explanatory power. I like to look for meaning in the chaos. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially if you get your info from the MSM that leaves so much in a state of disconnection, as if the world is a set of random events and isolated incidents to be reported on and then forgotten about, until the next thing comes long, just one damn thing after another.

This is information to keep in mind and a way of making sense of it all, as American society loses its bearings and suffers a bout of collective insanity. Finding a larger context to give perspective is important at times like these. Think of it as intellectual self-defense against reactionary politics, no matter which party it comes from.

Neither Trump nor Clinton are the end of the world. Neither is going to save us from the problems we face. And neither is going to stop the changes that long ago were set into motion. Society isn’t going to stay the same and isn’t going to go back to what it once was. The future beckons, as it always does. We’re on our way to somewhere.

Michael Alexander: Cycles Theorist

I came across an interesting book, the type I love to discover. It is The Kondratiev Cycle: A Generational Interpretation by Michael Alexander (the Kindle version is available for a very low price). I’ve only read portions of it so far, but it looks promising.

I’m not an economics kind of guy. I am, however, a big fan of theories and data involving cycles and trends, generational shifts and social change. The author brings all that together with some focus on Strauss and Howe’s Fourth Turning generational theory, one of my all time favorite theories with great explanatory power.

Alexander wrote an earlier book about stock cycles. I’m completely unfamiliar with it. The above book is his second book. In his third book, he wrote about cycles in American politics. The politics one is inspired by Arthur Schlesinger’s theory that there is a cycle switching back and forth between conservatism and liberalism every 15 years. I haven’t read the third one either, but I will eventually.

The following are, in order, his website, an article by him and two articles about his ideas:

http://my.net-link.net/~malexan/STOCK_CYCLES.htm

http://www.safehaven.com/article/2975/the-paradigm-cycle-model

http://neuropolitics.org/defaultmay08.asp

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/12/31/932701/-Food-Fight-Thoughts-on-liberalism-and-conservativism-inspired-by-the-Preface-to-Food-Inc#

Young Reactives In War (4th turning analysis)

I’m presently reading the book Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe. I’ve read other books by them and I’ve had this book for a few years. I can’t remember when I first discovered these authors and their generations theory. It was probably sometime in the early 2000s, although it could’ve been some years earlier.

I’m already familiar with their theory, but I’ve mostly just studied it in terms of recent generations. The book Generations, however, covers the entire history of America beginning with the Colonial era. If you’re seriously interested in generations theory, this large book (over 500 pages) goes into great detail with a section analyzing every single generation.

What is interesting about their theory is that it proposes a cyclical view of history. The world progresses, but does so through repeating patterns. The cycle (approximately 80 years) consists of 4 generational archetypes (each approximately 20 years), although historical events can alter the cycle or even (very rarely) cause stages in it to be skipped. The cyclical nature of it makes it fascinating and easy to learn. The generations of today and the relationships between them will mirror those of the past.

I’m part of Generation X, although I’m on the younger end of it. Older GenXers were entering the workforce when I was still a young child. Despite this, I do fit the generational archetype. My experience might be slightly different than older GenXers, but my attitude toward the world is similar. The main difference is that the Clinton era shaped my young adult mind more than Reagan era.

I tend to study things from a more personal perspective, seeking to connect the subjective and the objective. A theory such of this is perfect for the way my mind works in seeking connections. In American history, my generation archetype has formed 5 separate generations since colonial times. My generational archetype is labeled ‘Reactive’ because it is the generation that reacts to the idealists (such as the Idealist Boomers or, to go further back, such as the Idealist Transcendentalists). The Idealists are sure of themselves and full of themselves which often leads to lots of conflict and divisiveness (principled leaders unwilling to compromise even if it means sending the young off to war, the young in question often being the Reactives). For this reason, Reactives are often a cynical lot who don’t expect much good out of life. Reactives are survivalists who grow up in hard times and often are despised by older generations.

This is where my mind became most intrigued. I want to do a comparison of one factor among the Reactive generations, but I will limit myself to the 4 generations following the colonial era. The factor I will focus on is war.

– Liberty Generation: fought in Revolutionary War (1775, age 34-51)
– Gilded Generation: fought in Civil War (1861, age 19-39)
– Lost Generation: fought in World War I (1914, age 14-31)
– Generation X: fought in War on Terrorr (2001, 20-40)

I would offer analysis of this, but the analysis that I wrote was somehow deleted by crappy wordpress.

My basic point was that Reactive generations tend to make a lot of sacrifices for society (willingly and unwillingly). Besides dying in demoralizing wars, they experience low rates of education along with low rates of stable families (meaning high rates of divorced parents which leads them to be latchkey kids) and, as both children and adults, experience high rates of poverty, violence and suicide. For all these sacrifices, they tend to be disliked and feared by other generations or else simply forgotten about. This is particularly exemplified by GenXers lost between the two largest generations in US history, the reform-minded Boomers and the civic-minded Millennials.

Beheading the Zombie Culture Wars

I just wrote about Corey Robin’s view that the conservative movement is inherently reactionary. I understand his point and I think it is valid, although I would tend to place it in a larger context (of history and psychology). At the moment, however, my mind is focused on a somewhat smaller context: culture wars. I was thinking that the culture wars fit into Robin’s framework of a reactionary conservatism.

Before I noticed Corey Robin’s book, I was having some discussions with a conservative. The issue of culture wars came up. It is an issue that is both very personal for me and for many others, on both sides of the spectrum. But it is personal for different reasons.

The Silent and Boomer generations were born before and in many cases grew up before the present culture wars even began (i.e., the 60s; and not really gaining full momentum until the late 60s). Also, they didn’t know the hardships and sacrifices previous generations made. They didn’t experience the oppression that led to the rise of working class movements during the Populist and Progressive Eras. They didn’t experience having to fight for basic rights and protections during an era when industrialism arose. They didn’t experience WWI, didn’t experience Prohibition and the Great Depression, didn’t even experience WWII to any great extent (although some Silents would have memories of it from childhood).

The era of the early lives of Silents and Boomers was a time of mostly peace and prosperity. It was a time when liberalism reigned without much challenge (progressive reform, high union membership, enactment of EPA, progressive taxation, building of infrastructure, the G.I. bill, etc), and this liberalism created a booming economy and growing middle class (along with increasing social mobility, career opportunities, and civil rights). Silents and Boomers, especially the latter, grew up in privilege and entitlement. They only knew the benefits of what previous generations had fought for but not the hardships and sacrifices. For this reason, they became in many ways selfish generations who dismantled much of what they had benefited from, pulling up the ladder behind them so that later generations would struggle and suffer (if you’ve paid attention, you’d notice that Boomer-dominated unions often are more protective of the rights of older workers than of newer workers who tend to be of the younger generations entering the workforce).

Silents and Boomers were those who started and fought the culture wars. Maybe they did so because they had life so good. Since they didn’t have to worry about survival, they could distract themselves with cultural issues of identity politics, abortion and abstract idealizations about family values. Silents played a particularly interesting role as the leaders of the culture wars and as the reactionaries to it (while the Boomers originally played the role of the troops on the ground in their protests and grassroots activism). It was the Silents like Reagan who were the great dismantlers of the Great Society and they justified it with the culture wars which was partly just a superficial facade placed on the old class wars of the previous generations. So, war on poverty became the war on the poor (on the welfare queens, on the drug addicts, on minorities, on immigrants, on anyone who was part of the lower class).

From my perspective as a GenXer, I feel like saying “Pox on both your houses!” The left and the right of the culture wars seemed to have lost any vision of what made America great and instead focused on winning battles, battles whose costs they didn’t understand (or else didn’t care about… in their correct assumption that future generations would be forced to deal with it). The Silents and the Boomers knew a world prior to the culture wars, but GenXers did not. The culture wars is the only America I’ve ever personally experienced in my life. The culture wars touches upon everything. When the culture wars started, the Silents and the Boomers all took sides. The 60s typically are portrayed as just a time of left-wing activism, but that isn’t the reality. It was the 60s that involved the renewal of evangelism and the rise of the religious right as a political force. Furthermore, the hippies and the police who beat them up, the veterans and the anti-war protesters, all of them were of the same generation(s), all of them responding to the conflict of the times that would form their entire worldview by which they would rule for the next half century.

There is a distinction to be made about how and when the culture wars played out on the right. By the time the culture wars came around, the militant right such as the KKK had been demolished as an effective political force (the KKK had been the culture warriors of the past in defending American ‘white’ culture, defending capitalism and the capitalist class, defending family values, etc). After the culture wars went into full gear, left-wing groups such as the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers took the place as the new militant radicals. Left-wingers, however, were radicalized for the very reason they weren’t in power and they became more radicalized as they lost ground. From Nixon to Reagan, the early culture wars involved the left-wing against the Establishment (which was being taken over by a new breed of reactionary conservatives along with a new breed of centrist ‘liberals’ who denied left-wing politics from having power in Washington). Many older conservatives remember this time as an eroding of cultural values, but what they don’t realize is that this erosion as much came from the top as it was a time of shifting from liberal leadership to conservative leadership and the struggle of power that happened during this shift.

To a liberal, it is no accident that the preceeding era of peace and social cohesion was during liberal leadership. The new conservative movement led by the likes of Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan was a reaction against the first half century of liberal reform, (starting with the Populist Era bringing working class politics into the mainstream, leading to the Progressive Era victories aligning the working class with the liberal class, and culminating in the Great Society). This liberal era ended with the liberal moment of the 60s and the conservative backlash that followed was dramatic. The liberal movement (along with American society in general) never fully recovered from the trauma of the assassinations of so many of their greatest leaders over such a short period of time. The left-wing became radicalized in response to an increasingly radicalized right-wing leadership and activism. It was at this time that liberals and moderates were being pushed out of the Republican Party (the very party, by the way, that began with anti-slavery abolitionists, working class free soil advocates, and those friendly to the then budding Marxist socialism).

As liberals see it, this new era was a dark period of the ending of the liberal reign and the beginning of the conservative reign. To conservatives (especially those of older generations), however, they only see the liberal reaction to this shift and not what liberals were reacting to. In losing political power, liberals turned to identity politics and cultural issues. Some were usurped into the academic fold or became yuppies seeking materialism and success. Others more cynically turned away from their naive youth toward Reagan neoconservatism and libertarian neoliberalism or else they got religion and joined the ranks of the religious right. Everything was translated into terms of the culture wars which undermined and suppressed the class awareness that was the foundation of the labor movement. The reason left-wingers made so much fuss at the time was because they were losing power, not because they were gaining it. Conservatives somehow managed to play the victim card for so many decades even as their power and influence increased, often making the argument that the privileged and well off were in some strange way being victimized by the poor and disenfranchised. The right-wing made the culture wars into a class war, denying their own classism while projecting it onto their opponents. When liberals and  left-wingers pointed out this obvious class war, they were attacked for promoting class war. Those on the left couldn’t win for losing at that time.

Later on, the culture wars became a one-sided battle of the conservative movement against anything and everything. Conservatives wanted to “take back” America. After all, they saw themselves as the only “True Americans”, the heirs of the Founding Fathers (just ignore the radical left-wing criticisms of Paine and Jefferson). This second phase of the the culture wars began to gain momentum in the 1980s but didn’t fully manifest until the 1990s. This historical period is analyzed well by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas? and David Sirota in Back to Our Future. When I was growing up, I was largely ignorant of this conservative movement, although it was permanently in the background of the mainstream media world I was immersed in. It only became clear with two events: the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing and the 1998 Lewinsky Scandal in 1998. The right-wing was on the attack.

So, right-wing militants followed the previous left-wing militants. However, there was a difference. The previous left-wing militants were reacting against a conservative establishment, but when the right-wing militants came along there was no liberal establishment. At that point, the liberal class had long ago lost its privileged place in society (as described by Chris Hedges in Death of the Liberal Class) and had mostly retreated from activism into academia and non-profits (the only ‘liberals’ who maintained their political power and influence were those that shifted to a more neoliberal stance or else became progressive neoconservatives).

Anyway, all of that formed the background for Generation X. Many GenXers were pulled into this conservative movement, some even joining the far right anti-statists and culture warriors. On the opposite end, a particular segment of GenXers tried to slowly rebuild the broken foundations of the liberal movement. In the 1990s, the culture was blandly liberal in a general sense even as left-wingers were fighting a battle on two fronts, attacked by the Gingrich Republicans on one side and by the Clinton Democrats on the other side. It was the right that had captured the political narrative and the collective imagination. Liberals lacked strong visionary leadership. Even the most moderate of liberals were on the defensive. Centrist and corporatist ‘liberals’ like Clinton became quite talented at playing on the defense by way of triangulation and compromise, but they were constantly backing off from every new fight, playing it safe.

This is where my young adulthood comes in. I graduated from high school in 1994, the year Kurt Cobain died (the symbolic death of the alternative culture that began to erupt in the 1980s). I became aware of the right-wing at this time by my listening to the paranoid conspiracies on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM and also by my occasionally catching some of the early right-wing radio shows such as Laura Schlessinger (her show was nationally syndicated in 1994). I even felt some affinity with elements of this right-wing, but 9/11 changed all of that. The right-wing pundits and activists went into overdrive. The only choice offered seemed to be between the right-wing fascist Bush administration and the right-wing anti-egalitarian Ron Paul libertarians. No liberal alternative (or even moderate conservative alternative) was being offered in the mainstream politics portrayed by the mainstream media. Left-wingers such as Nader and Chomsky only had relevance as nuisances and distractions. I voted for Nader and found myself attacked by ‘liberal’ Democrats.

As everyone knows, the 2000s (AKA the ‘Noughts’) was a depressing decade. I feel so tired out by the endless political conflict and I’ve grown to hate the culture wars, especially the right-wing version of it (“compassionate conservatism”). For some reason, right-wingers are trying to keep the culture wars alive, going so far as even to inject the religious right’s culture wars into the formerly libertarian-minded Tea Party movement. The culture wars makes me sick to my soul… and that is no exaggeration. I’m tired of it all. I wish everyone would just let the culture wars die. My generation has been hit the hardest by the culture wars and it hasn’t done us any good. It’s turned some of us into ranting pundits and lunatic clowns, the Becks and the Palins who are trying to push American society over the edge. The culture wars have come to fruition in a nihilistic fantasizing about societal decline and a cynical longing for Apocalypse. The right-wing is losing momentum in gradually losing support, but as they go into decline the right-wing just gets uglier in their antics.

For many Americans (moreso among the older generations), the class wars remain relevant because the past remains alive in their minds and hence in our collective consciousness. This particularly can be seen with Boomers. Their sense of identity was solidified with the culture wars of the 60s, whether as liberal progressives or conservative reactionaries. The culture wars are real to them because they’ve dominated society for a half century. The media made by and/or for them was often steeped in the culture wars ethos. The memories of the 60s keeps replaying in their heads, having almost become mythical at this point. In talking with the conservative I mentioned above, one thing became apparent. The culture wars was an apt metaphor. There are two distinct sides, both seeking to gain victory by forcing their enemy into defeat or retreat. One side has to win at the cost the other side losing. There is no win/win scenario. This is fueled by a mentality that there is an absolute right and wrong. There is something dualistic (almost to the point of Manichaeism) about the Boomers worldview with their utopian ideals and apocalyptic visions. Culture warriors just know they are right and others are wrong. Their entire identity is built on this demand to be righteous. They refuse to accept that differences exist and that the world won’t collapse just because they aren’t allowed to dominate. Both sides used the government as a pawn in their battles, and the real loser in this was democracy itself (along with the American citizenry that democracy is supposed to work for, rather than for special interest groups). Culture warriors were willing to try to win at almost any cost and that cost turned out to be very high.

As a GenXer, I grew up in the world made by the Boomers. Even as an adult from the mid 90s to the present, the impact of Boomers was mostly in the foreground and the impact of GenX was mostly in the background. If GenXers wanted to play in politics or the marketplace, we largely had to play according to the rules set down by the Boomers (the internet seemingly the only place where GenXers could operate on their own terms). I feel disappointed in my generation for having conceded so much to the Boomers. I know we were a small generation and couldn’t fairly compete with the Boomers, but still I wish we had been more of a thorn in the side of power. Instead, we in many ways just played along and made things even worse, embracing the Reagan era mantra of greed and self-centeredness (my generation playing no small part in helping to cause the economic problems), too many of us becoming politically cynical and apathetic in the process or else bitterly angry in our fight against such apathy. The closest most GenXers got to political involvement was to become anti-statists and anarchists fighting against the New World Order or against the the liberal elites (depending on one’s ideological persuasion), but it was a politics without vision or even much hope, just reactionary activism against Boomer’s society (Tea Party GenXers like Beck and Palin being the prime examples of this GenX style activism). I didn’t get a full doseage of Reagan rhetoric as I was on the younger end of GenX, but I’ve seen its impact on my generation.

Despite my emotional response, I’m still able to step back and look at all of this somewhat objectively. I’m fascinated by the close connection between culture war and class war. They seem to be two sides of the same coin. Generally speaking, both the left and right usually see the culture war of the other side as blatant class war, both sides agreeing that there is a culture war going on even while disagreeing about eachother’s motives, the difference being that the left is more likely to see culture war and class war as inherently linked. Most liberals probably don’t take as an insult the conservative allegation that they are pushing class war. The liberal agrees there is a class war, although they would simply add that the rich are winning. Conservatives often use rhetoric grounded in obvious class war, but for some reason they are unwilling to admit to it. I think it’s because there is no way to admit to the class issue without also admitting to the race issue, those two also being inherently linked (or so it seems to my liberal-biased mind).

I have some further thoughts on generations and activism.

For Boomers, activism is about the past. Old hippies romanticize about 60s activism. In conservative activism like the Tea Party, aging non-hippy Boomers likewise obsess over 60s activism but for different reasons (see the documentary ‘Generation Zero’, popular among Tea Party supporters, which essentially blames hippies for all the problems of society since). Boomers, on both the left and right, are motivated by the past, sometimes inspired and at other times one might say enlivened. As a GenXer, I intimately know Boomer nostalgia; I understand how it is embedded in our culture and how to an extent it has become internalized by many GenXers; however, it doesn’t usually bring out the best in GenXers. Corey Robin argues that conservatives are reactionary; to this I would add that GenXers are also reactionary which would explain why Reagan conservatism (the ultimate reactionary conservatism) was so appealing to my generation (GenXers literally having been the strongest supporters of Reagan’s presidency), although many of those GenXers have at this point turned away from their youthful conservatism or at least turned away from shamelessly idolizing capitalist greed and self-interest (some turning instead to the left and others going even further right into politicized religion).

How activism manifests among GenXers is apparent when one compares different protest movements.

I’ll begin with the Bush era anti-war movement since I was personally involved with it. As far as I can tell, the anti-war protests were mostly a youth movement consisting of lots of GenXers and the first wave of Millennials hitting adulthood. The anti-war protests seemed fairly positive and inclusive in unifying a diversity of veteran and new activists, from Ron Paul libertarians to pacifist liberals, from anarchists to socialists, from social justice Christians to social justice atheists.

The protest movement that followed was the Tea Party. It began with a righteous cause and had great potential. It could have followed the example of the grassroots populism of the anti-war protests, but was coopted by corporate interests and the religious right… and so became a more narrowly defined movement that was far to the right of even the average Republican. The Tea Party also included many GenXers, especially in the leaders that took over (i.e., Beck and Palin), but overall it was slanted toward an older demographic that included more Boomers and fewer Millennials. I was just now thinking that this is a key element. The higher percentage of Boomers seemingly either brought out the worst in the GenXers involved or brought out the worst GenXers (by worst, I mean righteous anger that increasingly shifted toward bitterness and divisiveness).

That now brings us to the present with the Occupy protest movement. It seems more similar to the anti-war protests with many GenXers involved but even more heavily weighted toward a Millennial demographic. Once again, the Millennial presence seems to bring out the best in GenXers or else, opposite of the Tea Party, seems to bring out the best (most positive and inclusive) GenXers. In spite of the 99% meme which could be interpreted as class war, it was the Tea Party that expressed a more strident message of class war (or so it seems, once again, to my liberal-biased mind)… after all, 99% of the population is pretty damn inclusive, especially considering that even some of the 1% supports their message (if you want to hear a clear promotion of class war, then check out the 53% message; and while you’re at it check out this respectful liberal response to that attempt at class war; it’s ironic that the 53% is intended to be a criticism of the 99% since, when one thinks about it rationally, it becomes obvious that the vast majority of the 53% are part of the 99% lol).

It’s a very strange time we live in. We are overdue for some massive social change of the likes not seen since the Progressive Era. For much of this past decade, I’ve been closely watching the polling and demographic data. It was obvious a shift was happening and my prediction was that it likely would be toward the left (eventually), but until now the mainstream media and politics managed to resist these changes that could be seen in the general population. According to Strauss and Howe’s generation theory (Fourth Turning), change was gound to come and they were right on the money with the predictions of theirs that I’m familiar with (such as their early 90s prediction of increasing security in schools). At the same time, the culture wars no longer have the influence they once had. Millennials simply don’t care about the culture wars. The Tea Party demonstrates the decline of the culture wars. As it was increasingly coopted by the religious right and their culture wars, the Tea Party movement increasingly lost public support to the point that the movement is now less popular than either the Republican or Democratic Parties (the parties themselves being very unpopular at present), less popular than even Muslims and atheists.

I don’t know where that leaves us as a society. I’ll be watching the Occupy movement closely in the hope that something will come of it. If the culture wars are finally dead (at least for the time being in their present form), then what will replace them?

Generation of Clowns in the Fourth Turning

Here are a few videos that I thought worth posting… along with some of my own commentary.

We need to have more public debate about generations. Demographics are destiny. We have lived through a time ruled by Boomers and part of the shift we’re experiencing is that of the younger generations gaining power.

By the way, not all or even most Boomers were hippies. The fundamentalist backlash and the culture wars were also products of Boomers. Bush is the perfect example of a Boomer.

I’ve heard that some Washington politicians were aware of the Fourth Turning theory back in the 90s when the book first came out. What if some of these politicians decided to use the theory for the purposes of social engineering. The author said that Obama hasn’t been very successful in using the crises to create change, but maybe that isn’t the agenda in Washington. There are definitely those who’d like to avoid change and re-establish the status quo.

I’d point out one factor not considered. The clowns (Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert) are all GenXers. If you’re familiar with the generation theory expoused by Strauss and Howe, you wouldn’t be surprised that GenXers play the role of clowns. GenXers serve two purposes: 1) to push the system over the edge into the Fourth Turning; and 2) to act as leaders to the young generations as we shift into a new era. Whether or not they play their role well is a whole other issue.

Their viewers don’t get their news from Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert. Their viewers are mostly young and mostly liberal, both demographics getting more news from alternative sources than any other demographics. On the other hand, older conservatives are more likely to trust mainstream media which is why they are so uninformed compared to young liberals. The difference might be that viewers of satire realize the entire mainstream media is comedy.