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American Crisis (Walter Russell Mead)


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How we lost our faith in the future and how to get it back
Walter Russell Mead

Apr. 19 2023

Via Meadia
Walter Russell Mead analyzes the revolutionary changes upending American life in the hope of rekindling the American dream for Gen Z and beyond
 

Readers whose memories go back before the Age of Trump may remember the Via Meadia series of essays and news notes at The American Interest. What drove Via Meadia was my conviction that history was far from over, that American society was heading into a period of turmoil, and that internationally the “holiday from history” that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was rapidly coming to an end.

Via Meadia traced the meltdown of post-historical society in both world and American politics. Overseas, revisionist great powers like China, Russia, and Iran were moving steadily and effectively to undermine the foundations of the American-led world order. At home, the framework of social order inside the United States was beginning to come unglued. Institutions and ideologies that used to work reasonably well most of the time were losing their effectiveness, and the politics of both the left and right wandered off in strange and sometimes troubling new directions.

Since then, I’ve continued to write about the increasingly dramatic international scene in my Global View columns at The Wall Street Journal. But I’ve also been paying attention to the domestic scene, and increasingly I feel the need to get back to writing regularly about what’s happening inside the United States.

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Meanwhile, public confidence in institutions ranging from the federal government to the media to religious institutions has rapidly—and justifiably—declined. The price of essential services like education and health care has escalated beyond all reason. Voter discontent with the status quo, and disdain rising to hatred against what many perceived as an entitled and incompetent establishment boiled over among Democrats and leftists as social movements ranging from Occupy Wall Street to the Bernie Sanders candidacy sought to redefine the Democratic Party. On the right, such sentiments powered Donald Trump’s rise to the White House in 2016 and they continued to curdle during the COVID pandemic and the Biden years.

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Via Meadia 2.0 is launching as a series of Tablet essays, podcasts, and reports. Although the content will occasionally nod in the direction of world affairs, and my podcast partner Jeremy Stern may sometimes pull me into commenting on my Global View columns, Via Meadia 2.0 is going to center on domestic life. The goal is to illuminate the causes of America’s current political distemper, analyze the most important American issues of our time, and develop ideas and proposals for a new kind of American politics in the rapidly changing environment of a tumultuous period in American history.

This is anything but a parochial focus. America’s success at home has always been the foundation of American security and success abroad. At a time of growing international danger, when the framework of world peace has come under the gravest threats in decades, America needs to succeed at home if we are to fulfil our potential as a stabilizing power worldwide.

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Our country is rocked by a set of related but distinct waves of destabilizing change. The first centers around the decadence and decay of what I’ve called *“blue model society,” the set of institutions, ideas, and practices built on the foundations of the American economy of the mid 20th century. Once widely admired and emulated as the highest form of social organization, and still the object of widespread political nostalgia, blue model society suffers today both from the ways the emerging information economy disrupts the economic assumptions on which it depends and, crucially, from the increasing consequences of the flaws and shortcomings analyzed over the years by observers like Daniel Bell, Jane Jacobs, and Christopher Lasch. The toxic long-term social and environmental consequences of a mass-production and mass-consumption society based on the technologies of the Industrial Revolution are unfolding around us today in ways that pollute both the natural and social environment.

The hyperindividualism and hedonism that characterize declining blue model society intersect with the massive consequences of the sexual revolution in ways that challenge some of the most deeply rooted institutions and values in American (and indeed in human) life. The 20th century brought three extraordinary changes. The development of antibiotics brought most STDs under control, turning syphilis from a major scourge into a nuisance. Oral contraception and the somewhat later development of a “morning-after pill” reduced the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy, and the easy availability of abortion made pregnancy optional. And a combination of increased educational opportunity for women with the decline in the importance of physical strength for most jobs led to a revolution in gender roles and the mass entry of American women into all levels of the labor force. These changes would have been profoundly disruptive under any circumstances and at any time. That they came as blue model hedonic individualism was creating a new kind of impulse-friendly social climate (“If it feels good, do it” was a slogan popular among boomers in their youth) magnified their impact on social life. The social and political impact of these unprecedented changes will continue to unfold for some time.

Even as these changes roiled American society, the information revolution was getting underway...........................(Snip)

But if our problems are troubling, our opportunities are astounding. Never in human history has a society had the resources we have today in the United States. Never have new scientific discoveries offered so many ways to improve human lives. Never have there been so many ways for so many people to enjoy levels of affluence and ease that their parents and grandparents never knew. Never has it been possible for human beings to live as well as we can today while reducing the impact of human civilization on the natural order and preserving the environment on which we all depend.

The most important event of our time is not the decadence and decay of the old social order. It is the opening of an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity to build a new and better way of life.

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*My  Link

Bold  Me

Hopefully This will be a long running Counter Factual (to the Doom & Gloom I/We see every day Yes I'm talking to you  Victor Davis Hanson,  Mark Levin, etc etc etc)

 

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Our Singular Century
How to connect the dots when they’re spinning out of control
Walter Russell Mead
April 26, 2023

The American historian Henry Adams was the son of Charles Francis Adams, Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Britain during the Civil War who was charged with keeping Britain from intervening on the side of the South. Henry was the grandson of President John Quincy Adams and the great-grandson of President John Adams. Born in 1838 when the railroad was still a novelty, he died in 1918. His histories of the Jefferson and Madison administrations are still read with respect.

It was the acceleration of historical change more than the fact of it that increasingly fascinated Adams as he watched the Industrial Revolution and its associated dislocations unfold around him. Late in his life he set himself the task of quantifying, so far as this was possible, the rate of change as measured by the total amount of physical force that human beings could control. His results have fascinated me for years.

What he found is what we can call the Adams curve. Wind power and human and animal muscle power were the resources at humanity’s disposal for much of our history, and the amount of force humanity could generate grew slowly with population and a slow increase in the mastery of natural forces.

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But while confusion and bewilderment may be appropriate responses to tumultuous times, they are not enough. All of us, and especially the younger generations on whom the full burden of the future must inevitably fall, need to develop the lucidity of thought and the steadiness of character required for effective action in a society that staggers and lurches through our chaotic era like a drunk sailor in rough seas on a slick deck.

In times like these, people hunger for explanations—for a way of connecting the dots to make sense out of the cascade of events. This is why we live in an age of conspiracy theories. Those theories are often desperate attempts to make sense of an unpredictable and terrifying world. It might be depressing to think that the world is controlled by lizard people, by the Bavarian Illuminati, by the Elders of Zion, the Deep State or a grand corporate conspiracy, but at least one has the comfort of knowing who the singular enemy is. Knowledge gives power, and even the illusion of knowledge that comes from embracing a conspiracy theory can feel empowering, at least for a while.

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You Are Not Destined to Live in Quiet Times
Humanity’s third major technological revolution is leading us into a future more promising and also more dangerous than any since the dawn of history. It’s coming faster than you think.

Walter Russell Mead

May 7 2023

The COVID pandemic and the rise of AI have something in common. Between them, they have upended one of the most consequential debates among American tech analysts, and largely refuted the claim that progress in America was coming to an end—that the Adams curve was flattening out as a Great Stagnation cooled the dynamism of American life.

The case for stagnation was a strong one. Current technologies, advocates warned, were providing diminishing returns, and productivity growth in American life was slowing. The regulatory burden on innovation in the United States inexorably grew. Compared with the optimism that accompanied earlier innovations like electricity, indoor plumbing, the internal combustion engine, antibiotics, refrigeration, and mass communications, Americans in the internet age seemed noticeably more risk averse and pessimistic about the future.

The stagnationists make some important points. But as my friend Tyler Cowen noted in his seminal 2011 book The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, stagnation was never likely to be more than a pause. By 2020, Tyler saw the pause coming to an end as advances in medicine, battery technology, computing, and distance-working made themselves felt.

The alternation between a sense of stagnation and one of dizzyingly rapid change reflects, I think, the complexity of human society’s progression up the Adams curve. As a hiker begins to climb a mountain, it becomes harder to see the summit, and harder still to see—as the trail winds through forests and takes you up onto ridges and down into valleys—whether you are in fact making any progress. But along the way, there will be moments when you get a clear view of the summit looming above you and the immense distances you have already climbed, and those doubts will be stilled.

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While the ever-accelerating and ascending wave of human progress has brought us to peaks of achievement and affluence that our ancestors could scarcely imagine, it has both failed to keep us safe from the most dangerous predators of all and—to the degree that the rate of progress has become a major force of destabilization—progress itself may now be the greatest source of danger humans face.

As I wrote in my last essay, we live in a singular century, and it is impossible to grasp either the psychology or the politics of our time without considering how this new reality affects a world that is already laboring under unprecedented stress.

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Build Back Red California
The transformation of Dust Bowl migrants into surfing suburbanites was a social and economic miracle that supercharged the American dream. It can be replicated today.
Walter Russell Mead

May 23 2023

Few developments in the modern history of American politics have been as consequential as the transformation of Ronald Reagan’s red California into the blue California of Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom. The fall of red California not only changed the balance of power in American electoral politics. It also set off a convulsion in the Republican Party, helping turn the optimistic progressive conservatives of the Reagan era into the embittered culture warriors of more recent years.

Until the Depression, California was a solidly Republican state. Between the Civil War and 1932, Democrats only rarely carried the state, winning a majority of its electoral votes in 1880 and 1892, and winning by just over 3,000 votes in 1916. It was one of six states that voted for Teddy Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912. From 1932 to 1948, it swung into the Democratic column, giving Franklin Roosevelt a 67% popular vote victory in 1936. But Harry Truman eked out a narrow victory by only half a percent when he won California in 1948, and from 1952 through 1988 California was back in the Republican fold, defecting only in the 1964 Democratic landslide. Since then, the state has cast its electoral votes for the Democratic candidate in every election, and while no modern candidate has matched Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 total, the Democratic candidate has won more than 60% of California’s popular vote in every presidential election since 2008.

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Imagine a staunchly Republican state, shaken to the core by a wave of desperate migrants from backward, poor rural areas. Driven by a mix of economic change, demographic expansion, and an unprecedented climate crisis, the migrants storm across the poorly policed frontier. Competition for jobs increases. Economic inequality soars. Tent cities and homeless encampments proliferate across the state. Longtime residents are appalled and offended by the inrush of culturally alien, low-skilled rural migrants, changing the culture and demography of many cities and towns. Left-wingers criticize this nativist reaction and attribute the plight of the newcomers to basic defects in the capitalist system. Ranchers are more welcoming, however, as the desperately poor newcomers make ideal seasonal workers on farms.

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This of course is the story of California in the 1930s and 1940s, when the vast migration of Okies and other poor white migrants fled the Dust Bowl and Southern poverty, dodging the Highway Patrol and other police forces that tried to keep them out. And these Southern migrants, coming from historically Democratic states, brought their old political allegiance with them.

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The Grapes of Wrath remains a landmark of American literature, but if Steinbeck had returned to his characters 30 or 40 years later, he’d have had a very different story to write. Ma Joad might have ended up as the “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” leaving her garden of white gardenias to become the terror of Colorado Boulevard in her ruby-red Dodge. Rose of Sharon would be a Phyllis Schlafly-loving Reagan activist reunited with her husband, now owner of a small chain of franchise fast-food outlets. Tom Joad, converted at one of Billy Graham’s Southern California evangelistic crusades, would be pastoring a megachurch in the Orange County suburbs. All of them would be worried about the new waves of desperate, penniless immigrants coming over the Pacific Ocean and the Rio Grande.

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The path to renewal in the Golden State does not require wrenching or revolutionary change. The conditions that made California a land of opportunity for displaced white Southerners still exist or can be duplicated today. World War II and the Cold War made California a center of high tech, aerospace, defense manufacturing, and shipbuilding. We are going to have to rebuild that capacity now. The shift to working from home will create more jobs in the suburbs and, by reducing the need for long commutes to central cities, open more land to exurban living. Meanwhile, land is still abundant, the climate remains glorious, and there are no water problems that modern engineering and cheap power cannot address.

Most of the policies that Californians need today are latter-day extensions of the policies that made the Okies rich—and what the new Californians want is pretty much what the Joads wanted. They want physical safety for themselves, their loved ones, and their property; they want and expect rising standards of living, so that their children live better lives; they want to live with honor and dignity; they want some version of the American dream to be realistically achievable; and they want to believe that all these goals work together in a way the commonsense reasoning of the average American can grasp. California succeeded in delivering on all five in the 20th century. That success is replicable now.

What California needs is a political party that runs on a coherent pro-growth, pro-middle-class platform that clears the clogged arteries of the state’s economic growth system. This would not be a dogmatically libertarian party. The roads, power plants, desalination, and other water projects that California needs for the next stage in its growth will not happen without state and federal engagement. But it would not be statist either, as much of its work will involve clearing away the bureaucratic and legal obstacles to growth that make it almost impossible in too much of the state to run a business or build anything from a house to a highway. It will not be a Balkanizing party built on the fetishization of ethnic and racial difference, but its policies will promote the prosperity of struggling Californians who are disproportionately Black, Hispanic, or of Asian or Pacific Island origin. It will be a progressive party, aiming to improve the living standards and the life prospects of ordinary Californians regardless of religion or race. But it will also be a conservative party, celebrating the family and community values that equip each generation to play its part in the work of the nation, and upholding the traditional American principles of political and economic liberty as the best guarantees for our common future.

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The anger was justified; the despair was not. The songs, in any case, were great. But neither the American communists and their fellow travelers nor their embittered populist rivals like Huey Long had the answers that the Okies and their fellow migrants needed. It was smart centrist Democrats and forward-looking Republicans who unleashed the prosperity that enabled Ma Joad’s children and grandchildren to surf more and suffer less. We need more of that magic today.

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