A few years ago, I became aware that once every 70 – 90 years here in the US, we’ve experienced a dramatic social upheaval. Society gets completely turned on it’s head and societal norms get re-evaluated. Each time it happened, we remain the same nation but find ourselves in a new framework. It’s happening again.
The first upheaval happened in the 1770’s when we went to war with England. Too many of us were sick and tired of a forced loyalty to King George III. What emerged was a Federalist society anchored in the new nation’s capital and new societal values became encoded by the Constitution. It’s remembered today as the American Revolution.
Some 90 years later we experienced our second domestic upheaval. It’s known as the Civil War. When it ended, societal values had changed and the country again moved forward. More armed conflicts followed, but they were overseas and didn’t turn our collective lives upside down.
The third happened about 70 years later and is called the Great Depression. New rules appeared in an attempt to remedy the economic reasons for the upheaval. As a country we survived but were soon a very different country.
Social Security and new labor laws, among other things, resulted in new values that caused prosperity to flourish. Our involvement in World War II, though horrible in terms of lives disrupted and lost, drove us forward economically.
The American middle class grew and expanded and became a driving force in society. But its evolution over the past 85 years has inevitably resulted in unintended consequences. For millions of Americans, it’s far from the shining example that defined America 50 years ago.
Now it’s 2020, and we’re experiencing another domestic upheaval. Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign represents a festering discomfort with evolving values that challenged the status quo.
It manifested itself as a conflict between comfort with past glories and the need to accommodate those being left behind. People felt increasingly marginalized and it was easy to blame so called elites in Washington.
Five years ago, given my reasonable grasp of economics and finance, I began to sense another upheaval. This one turned out to be political and economic. As it came to a head in 2016, I believed the MAGA solution represented a greater existential threat to a positive outcome than that presented by the other side of the political spectrum.
Bernie Sanders had emerged as a potential solution. His appeal to younger people wasn’t an accident. What many of us remember as the American Dream is under attack. Too many young Americans find themselves unable to get ahead in life, no matter how hard they work and try to educate themselves.
Current economic trends associated with the cost of health care, the cost of education, the cost of housing, are unsustainable. They are eroding the ability of Americans to effectively function in society. Remedies must be found as the solutions enacted following the Great Depression no longer solve today’s problems.
It’s been four years since this fourth upheaval fully manifested itself, and now includes a global pandemic. Everyone is running around in circles wondering what’s happening and how we’ll survive not only Covid19 but everything else.
Long held societal values are being vigorously questioned. An example is how many lives should be sacrificed to sustain economic viability. It’s further complicated by social media and immediate feedback from around the world. Though sometimes malignant, it also gives us the opportunity to quickly assess and possibly influence the values that will drive our grandchildren’s future.
Normal in the 1920’s evolved into a very different normal. I have no clue how all this is going to play out, just that it will. A new normal will appear and replace the old normal. It’s going to take time, discipline and effort to keep the next upheaval at bay since these things do seem to happen every 70 to 90 years.
Tony Kendzior – Gainesville, Florida – 31 MAR 2020