"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What Goes Around Comes Around–From Sixties Radicals To Trump Revolutionaries Nothing Has Changed

The Sixties were revolutionary years which ushered in a radical reconfiguration of American politics and society.  Free love, civil rights, drug tolerance, anti-war activism, and a rejection of capitalist materialism all happened at once.  Any one of these would have been significant; but taken together they were nothing less than expressions of a fundamental change in outlook, aspirations, and convictions.

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Demographics played a major part in the revolution.  At no time in American history were there so many young people aged 18-25 who, sharing the idealism and activist ambitions this age group has always shared, formed a potent lobby group for change. 

The Fifties also played a role.  There is nothing like revolt against something to trigger demands for something else.  The Fifties was a decade of prosperity, national pride, and impressive economic growth.  Family values – church, a good home life, a respectable job, and a belief in Christian principles – were universal and unquestioned.   Of course there were interruptions in this idealistic vision – the Cold War, Korea, and McCarthyism – but all in all it was a settled time.

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Progressive critics observed that the decade was only the calm before the storm.  America was a nation of complacency, inherent bigotry, xenophobia, and enforced homogeneity. There was no way that this chimeric fantasy could last.

Baby Boomers, raised in this culture of unquestioning prosperity and social conservatism, brought up on the permissiveness of Dr. Spock, and considered the first generation of real historical optimism were, in the eyes of these same critics, ripe for insurrection. The Fifties may have been a decade of respectable conservative values, but they were also repressively so. 

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And revolt they did.  The March on Washington, the Freedom Riders, the anti-war protests in front of the White House, the sit-ins and take-overs of college administrations were radical in concept and revolutionary in execution.  Not only were these actions in response to specific grievances, they were designed to crack the foundations of a political-economic-social system which was inherently flawed and authoritarian.

The generation of the Sixties has been rightly credited with engineering needed social change.  The plight of the poor, the excluded, the marginalized, and the oppressed was now in the open, and a new regard for social justice had to necessarily follow.  Adventurous wars were an expression of this cocksure American posture; and the USA was considered the enemy of the people, not their liberator.
Much has happened since that decade, but many of the reforms initiated are now part of the mainstream.

Progressives of today who were part of the activist generation of the Sixties are understandably concerned about the conservative turn of American politics and society.  The election of Donald Trump was far more than a a simple veer farther to the right.  It was a revolutionary threat to the very principles for which they had fought fifty years ago.

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They have good reason to be concerned; but they ignore the similarity of the current revolution with theirs.  Just like Sixties progressives’ revolt against the complacent, fat Fifties; today’s populists are up in arms about what they see as the arrogant, presumptuous, and sanctimonious Obama years.   Their civil rights have been abrogated through legislative and judicial action.  Their freedom of religious expression, their right to bear arms, and perhaps most importantly their right to base political convictions on deeply-held religious beliefs are all considered in jeopardy.

While radical populists do not march like progressives did in the Sixties and still do today, they are equally influential.  They have voted in the most conservatively radical White House, Congress, and Supreme Court the country has seen in may decades if ever.

These populists, their Washington and Statehouse political supporters, will actively move to return free speech to college campuses; ensure that religious rights extend beyond the individual to institutions and businesses; and roll back the intrusive, politically correct and ineffective social engineering programs in public education.  They will turn national attention to middle class concerns and issues and away from the interests of minorities, such as the LGBT community which account for a small fraction of the American population.  

They will reject the anti-capitalist rhetoric which attacks the financial and industrial enterprises which have always generated jobs and wealth.  They will insist on a muscular foreign policy and reject idealistic morality in favor of realpolitik.

What is far more revolutionary is the total dismissal of the old, established cultural powers that be.  Trump has no time let alone respect for the established media, political pundits, think tanks, or received wisdom.  His is an administration of social media, big data, and universal populism.  He is a child – despite his age – of the new, plugged-in, cybernetic, subjective, viral New Age; and the old guard are flummoxed.  They have no idea what’s happening and persistently try to draw the Republic back to truth, veracity, intellectual mediation, and reasonableness.

The people and their President are having nothing of it.  Not only have politics changed but the very social dynamics of the country.  America is no longer the republic of agrarianism and respect and reverence for Anglo-Saxon patrimony.

Donald Trump’s revolution has only partly to do with national and geo-politics.  It’s true dynamics are cultural.  Trump and his populist generation are new wave activists.  They care little for vetted, authoritarian facts and place their bets on subjective optimism and good, old-fashioned patriotism.
Perhaps hardest for progressives to take is Trump’s embrace of popular culture.  He is President of the United States, but he is also a creation of Hollywood and Las Vegas.  He, his yachts, and his estates have nothing to do inside-the-Beltway culture.  His women have nothing to do with Rosalyn Carter, Pat Nixon, or even Nancy Reagan.  He, his family, and his retinue are closer to the American fantasy ideal than any other occupants of the White House. 

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He may be no courageous leader like FDR, may have no Camelot, knights-and-ladies romance of the JFK years, nor any of the down-home charisma of LBJ; but he has glitz, showmanship, braggadocio, and sheer chutzpah of a Hollywood star, and that's good enough for most Americans.

Facts, ‘truth’, and reality have new meaning in the populist roots in popular American culture.  Academia, Washington punditry, and ‘rational’ analysis have had their day. 

What comes around, goes around; and radical revolution is no different.  What populist conservatives are doing today under the Trump banner is no different from what Sixties radicals did decades before – structural reform of American society. 

History is cyclical, repetitive, and predictable.  While specific events may be unique, the force of human nature which underlie them do not.  It is no surprise that the pendulum has swung between social conservatism and liberal interventionism over the years.  The roots of both are as old as the Republic itself.

It is only a surprise that today’s progressives are so shocked by this particular swing of the pendulum.  It was sure to happen.  The ‘reforms’ that they instituted and the insularity of thought which propagated and enforced them were bound to meet opposition.  Trump supporters must know that their time will be short-lived.  There is no such thing as absolute truth or absolute social values.


Viva la revolucion!

1 comment:

  1. It is really an excellent post! Thank you, go ahead...

    ReplyDelete