22.2.17

TEN YEARS AGO.

It's actually a throwback to sixteen years ago, with some questions that might be germane to a Fourth Turning.

February 2007 was before the housing bubble popped, and perhaps the carnage in the financial markets was the catalyst for the saecular crisis.  But the answers to the questions Fourth Turning gurus William Strauss and  Neil Howe proposed generally had answers in the negative in 2007, the answers didn't change much by 2008 or 2009, and more recent developments aren't what the prophets expected.
  • Are leaders describing the problem in larger rather than smaller terms, proposing grand solutions, and seeking to destroy (and not just contain) enemies?
Ten years ago, gridlock and limited wars were still the order of the day.  The Iraq surge might have been starting.  Mr Obama took office in 2009 with helpful majorities in the House and the Senate and plenty of discontent with the Way Things Were.  And yet the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," two lies for the price of one, is unsustainable, the stimulus was a give-away to rent-seekers, and the less bellicose foreign posture did nothing to contain foreign enemies.

Today, is "Make America Great Again" a grand solution, or a grandiose slogan?  More importantly, might the destruction to come be of the major political parties, which have abandoned most pretenses of comity, let alone bipartisan consensus?
  • Is there a shift away from individualism (and civil liberties) toward community purpose (and national survival)?
Perhaps, but the values regime that will define what that purpose is is not yet taking form.  Or, there are two competing visions, one involving a community purpose of greater freedom, the other being a community purpose of coalescing identity politics interests.
  • Are the old "culture wars" arguments beginning to feel lame, ridiculous, even dangerous to national unity?
The culture wars arguments are what brought people out to vote for Mr Trump and the Republican majorities, and the culture wars arguments are motivating the resistance.  Perhaps those are the contradictions that must be settled before a new values regime implants.
  • Is the celebrity culture feeling newly irrelevant? Is youth fare becoming less gross and less violent?
Seriously?
  • Is immigration reversing? Are mobility and openness declining? Is there more nativism in our culture and less "globalism" in our commerce?
Yes, although eight years of economic stagnation will do that.  Plus finding ways to extract oil and gas locally.
  • Is there a new willingness to pay a human price to achieve a national purpose? Will we harness technology only to reduce casualties and inconvenience, or also to achieve a total and lasting victory?
Not yet.  Until there's some sort of agreement on that national purpose, it's unlikely.
  • Is each generation entering its new phase of life with a new attitude? Are aging boomers overcoming narcissism? Are Gen-Xers on the edge of midlife, circling their wagons around family? Are Millennials emerging as a special and celebrated crop of youth?
Hardly.  The Millennials are the cohort everyone older loves to hate on, and their successor cohort, at least the visible ones at the high-end colleges and in entertainment, come off as snowflakier still.  Meanwhile, the aging boomers are still taking sides, either with the jocks or with the hippies.

Might we be looking at another Civil War anomaly?  In that saeculum, the Panic of 1857 and secession came in short order, and in Fourth Turning morphology, the period of unraveling was too short.  This time around, though, the unraveling goes on and on without any emergent outline of a resolution.  Perhaps history does rhyme, but as if in the forms favored by avant-garde poets.

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