When I’m looking for perspective, it often helps to take a step away from the political fray. Despite all the politically minded bellowing, there is no debate today about contemporary issues such as health care reform, Keynesian economics, or the tea party protestors. Instead, what we call debate today is actually a vehicle for belittling our opponents and posing as their moral and intellectual superiors. Partially because it seems to work on the masses, the search for knowledge has been usurped by the desire to validate our prejudices. Maybe it’s always been like this. Either way, I would like to look at things as they were a few years ago, to use a perspective refreshingly liberated from the present’s intoxicating sense of urgency.
With the exception of the occasional edit, the bulk of this essay was written in 2006. Here I argue that the politicization of America, spurred by 9-11’s unfortunate placement in America’s generational cycle, may be fueling a split in our country as severe as the ones it withstood during the Civil War and the liberal revolution of the 1960s. Enjoy.
1,000 points of Hate
I know it’s easier said than done, but Americans should stop ignoring the politicization of their nation. Whether or not it’s been invited into the U.S., it will play a major role in shaping the next era of domestic politics. In many ways, today’s United Sates resembles its 1960’s counterpart. That’s not a good thing. On the political right, this century’s first decade has seen a creepily European decline in the philosophy of limited governance, coupled with an undeniably challenging and American endeavor to replace foreign dictatorship with democracy. On the left, even the appearance of political moderation is ridiculed as irresponsible, and democrats who don’t follow the hard-left orthodoxy to the letter are purged from their own party. Take Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s Vice Presidential running mate in 2000. Throughout his career, Lieberman tried to inflate fundamentally dubious hate crime statistics by including homosexuals in them, voted against drilling for domestic oil in ANWR, and voted against a Partial Birth Abortion ban half-a-dozen times. The same Joe Lieberman, the man who won’t outlaw abortions where a hole is punctured into the baby’s skull, and then the brain tissue is vacuumed out through a tube until the skull collapses, was derided as George Bush’s “Love child” for supporting the War in Iraq. On all questions political, humanity has been taken out of the equation.
To put it mildly, the legacy of the 60’s has been overblown. Far from being a terrestrial heaven for minorities, women, and young idealists, it was an era where the violence of a few motivated political animals sucked an entire nation into their storm. Both JFK and MLK Jr. were assassinated during this era. Balkanization and identity politics took permanent root in American soil. Riots, both spontaneous and staged (Chicago’s “Days of Rage”) dominated the headlines. In 1970, three left-wing radicals: Terry Robbins, Diana Oughton, and Ted Gold, accidentally killed themselves while building a bomb they planned on setting off at an army dance in Fort Dix, earning themselves a permanent spot in my very own Darwin Awards hall of fame (the premise of the Darwin Awards being the some members of the human race improve our gene pool by weeding themselves out). These tragedies weren’t natural the way hurricanes, earthquakes, and Rahm Emmanuel are out of control—they were products of a politically charged environment.
The United Sates started traveling down the radical road as far back as 2004, where five employees of John Kerry’s Presidential campaign slashed the tires of Republican get out the vote vans (To his credit, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Seth Boffeli responded “This is not something we engage in, or encourage”). That same year, windows were shot out of a George Bush campaign office near Knoxville, Tennessee area. While protesting against MTV’s partisan “get out the vote campaign” in 2004, former California College Republican State Chairman Michael Davidson was told “I hope your wife gets raped and can’t get an abortion” by an alleged MTV worker, as if the worst part about sexual assault is the responsibility of pregnancy. All the while I hear liberals constantly complaining that they’re “too nice” to conservatives. Some liberals seem to think they have a right, perhaps even an obligation, to treat conservatives this way. Thoughtless activism breeds hatred.
In the Pacific Northwest in November 2007, anti-war activists poured cement over train tracks in an attempt to block shipments presumably tied to the Iraq war. In addition to their stunt with the train tracks, the Port Olympia protestors jumped in front of traffic, disobeyed police orders to stop harassing people, and even used children to help block military equipment from leaving the port! Things got so bad that a local editorial sympathetic to the anti-war cause condemned the protestors for their “abhorrent behavior.”
Imagine if in Tiananmen Square in 1989, instead of a single protestor risking his life to stand in front of a tank, a few dozen protestors and their children huddled in the middle of the road. Imagine how much that would degrade humanity as a whole. Instead of remembering an act of bravery on par with that of a father running into his burning home to rescue his children, Tiananmen Square would be remembered as an obvious political stunt which put children in harm’s way. This is what happens when activism becomes an end to itself.
But wait, there’s more! Today, presidential elections in North America don’t end with a vote, but with the first runner-up’s litigious refusal to accept losing. Fringe leftists are still complaining that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election. When Lopez Obrador, candidate for Mexico’s Democratic Revolution Party, lost the 2006 Mexican presidential election by a margin of less than 0.6%, he cried “fraud,” and demanded a full recount. Apparently blind to the distinction between throwing a temper tantrum and demanding justice, one of Obrador’s followers proclaimed “We’ll march again and again, as many times as it takes, until Lopez Obrador sits in the President’s seat.” Far from advocating a peaceful withdrawal from a misguided conflict, Obrador assured his troops, “We can be here for years, if that’s what the circumstances merit.” In November 2006, Obrador (who, I repeat, did not win the election) held an unofficial swearing-in ceremony, proclaiming the launch of his “parallel government.”
Even popular culture, which mirrors society’s imagination (read: the sensibilities of a select few artists) has exhibited symptoms of rampant politicization. Its fans are loathe to admit it, but Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is an meretricious metaphor centered around the liberal perception of the Bush administration. In the movie, The Republic has waged war with a separatist movement. Palpatine, the big bad Chancellor of the Republic, uses this threat of this war to consolidate his power until there are no checks and balances to interrupt the building of his empire. A painfully pouty Princess Padme (one of the film’s several unsympathetic good guys) witnesses this and mopes “So this is how liberty dies: to thunderous applause.” In the movie’s final light-saber duel, a newly christened Darth Vader tells Obi-Wan Kenobi “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” This awkward dialogue directly mocks G.W. Bush’s infamous statement: “either you’re with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
The Nation, the left’s closest equivalent to National Review, noted that back in the days of Sigourney Weaver’s Alien films, Padme’s ceaseless moping would have looked laughably retrograde. Maybe it’s just Natalie Portman. Right around the time Episode III was released, another science-fiction flick of hers, V for Vendetta, was also dramatizing infantile left-wing conspiracy theories. In this film, a right-wing government that used war to come to power controls all aspects of the media. You can tell they’re right-wing because they’re nationalistic, old, white men who congregate in dark rooms and discuss how not to lose their power. Perhaps the most outlandish part of the movie is that Muslims and homosexuals are imprisoned by a rightist British government simply for being Muslim or homosexual. For Christ’s sake, there’s even flag in the movie which is a juxtaposition of Old Glory, the Union Jack, and a swastika—all under the slogan “coalition of the willing.”
Anyway, in “P for pretentious” (as one conservative review put it) Natalie Portman plays Evey, an unremarkable young woman living an unremarkable life working for a state-run TV station. One night, as she’s cornered outside by a couple of would-be rapists, she is saved by “V,” a terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask. Kudos to V for stopping a fictitious rape, but calling him a terrorist is not an overstatement. Just like Tim McVeigh, V bombs government buildings to draw attention to his cause. His aversion to sexual violence may be laudable, but it’s not a moral offset—it doesn’t give him any more right to terrorize than if he would have helped hold Evey down for the predators—but I digress.
To make a long story short, Evey develops a relationship with V, helping him battle left-wing bogeymen like pedophile Bishops and jingoistic radio hosts. Then, Evey’s mad-cap adventures with V are abruptly postponed as she’s captured, imprisoned, and tortured for an undisclosed amount of time. Evey’s captors keep telling her that she’ll be killed if she doesn’t give them information about V. I know it’s a boring plot (Few things are more mundane than a fiction writer’s apocalyptic tales about right-wing theocracies) but bear with me—this is the best part. After lots of grisly prison scenes, it turns out that Evey wasn’t imprisoned by a fascist government, but by “V” himself. Wikipedia’s sympathetic plot synopsis describes it like this:
“By forcing Evey to endure something similar to what he had endured at Larkhill detention center (V was held there and experimented on by the Government) V hoped that Evey would understand that “integrity,” “the very last inch of us,” is more important than our lives. Evey initially hates V for what he has done, but comes to realize that the experience allows life without fear and for her to return to a normal life in London.”
It doesn’t take a feminist to be bothered by the idea of locking a woman up in a cold cell until she comes around to some psycho’s point of view. Let’s hope that the screenwriters don’t move on to romantic comedies. After Evey is released, she helps V overthrow the government and blow up the British parliament, but not after he dies like a good terrorist martyr.
These aren’t obscure independent films, which only appeal to clove-smoking cinema majors. Neither are these documentaries, which don’t shock anyone when they turn out partisan. These are big budget, mass media events which reach into every corner of America. Movies like this only attract popular support in cultures which are dazzled by mindless politic commentary. Polemics and parody, Michael Moore and Saturday Night Live, reflect the tone of American political discourse. This would be fine if Americans could find a place to hide from it, but increasingly there is little refuge from amateur political commentary.
Some people applaud this trend, because a politicized atmosphere casts seemingly every aspect of life in a political light. In a hyper-sensitive culture, the otherwise trivial decision whether or not to shop at Wal-mart has less to do with good customer service than with the retail chain’s willingness to work with unions. This is often driven by presumption that political activism in itself is a high ideal. If everyone is “involved,” the logic stands, then Americans will find it more difficult to ignore the way their elected leaders shape the world. With more political consciousness, citizens will recognize wrongs more easily, and thus be more equipped to stop evildoing while it’s being committed. Right?
Wrong. Political activism for its own sake degrades people. If everyone eligible to vote in America actually voted, this nation’s elections would be shaped by the same mindless trends that compel the populace to buy Beanie Babies en masse one Christmas and scooters the next. The only change political activism guarantees is a scarcity of escape from the pettiness and resentment that political debate inevitably unearths. Political apathy isn’t a virtue, but activism alone creates a lot of emotional politics which aren’t tempered by thought. It produces employees who don’t mind alienating some of their co-workers and customers by exclaiming how much they hate organized religion. Thoughtless activism produces college students who concern themselves more with protest than with intellectual growth. Worst of all, it makes a country ripe for radicalism. Well-meaning advocates of universal activism forget that radicalism finds its easiest adherents in a politicized environment. Nazism, Communism, and Middle Eastern terrorism could never have harvested popular support if the Stalins of the world could not have cultivated a certain political “consciousness” within their followers.
Apathy can hurt a populace, but not because it prevents people from being “politically conscious.” In the best section out of his somewhat over-the-top 1973 book, The Liberal Middle Class: Maker of Radicals, the Child Psychologist Richard Cutler explains how apathy really feeds tyranny. It happens when supposedly responsible people fail to confront the unreasonable demands radicals tend to make. The example he gives involves a small group of students who wish to abolish all defense-related research at their school. They begin by taking their case to professors who don’t have the capacity and/or the will to explain the benefits of defense-related research. The student’s argument is then elevated to the dean, who likely won’t have the inclination or the time to educate another group of closed-minded activists. The argument is then taken to the college’s vice president. Each time a radical’s inherently silly demands are recognized by a higher authority, those demands are legitimized, which gives their radical tactics momentum. Just as teaching a four-year manners is much easier than teaching a fifteen year-old courtesy for the first time on their life, the longer the student’s arguments go unchallenged, the more difficult it becomes to deal with their intimidation and pressure tactics.
The V.P., looking to avoid that kind of attention, passes the buck to the university president. The President may attempt a half-hearted compromise with the radicals, but doesn’t make a serious attempt because frustrating the appetites of political radicals may compromise his status. The process then moves outside the college, where conservatives in the public sphere are the only people with enough backbone to confront the radicals in a meaningful way. Sooner or later activist journalists will give sympathetic coverage of the antagonistic radicals, sucking the public into an unnecessary debate. By the time it reaches this stage, bored, affluent Americans looking to make a difference in the world will have internalized these radical resentments, ingraining their petty absolutism into American culture.
Scenarios like these could be avoided if somewhere along their intellectual development someone took the time to educate the students on just how irrational the emotive approach to politics is.
I’m not claiming that activism is inherently bad. Discussing which candidates will and won’t raise property taxes can help one discern who to vote for and perhaps where to live. The American Revolution preserved the United State’s independence, which allowed it to grow into a proud and successful country. Nevertheless, not all revolutions advance humankind, and hundreds and millions of people have been cruelly abused in the name of making the world a better place (often without any help from religion).
Not that long ago, America was a pleasant place to live; politics were contained to its appropriate sphere. Social conservatives may not have enjoyed the rise in grunge music, gangsta rap, and violent movies such as “Pulp Fiction,” but overall, the 1990’s allowed Americans to pursue their dreams without being disturbed by unsolicited political commentary. Maybe I’m being romantic; after all, the 90’s were the decade of Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky, and the Gulf War. Certainly television shows such as Murphy Brown would occasionally bore Americans with some vapid message about single motherhood, but the cynicism of the time, rather than compromising the happiness of American citizens, handicapped anger’s ability to energize the populace. The 90’s saw the rise of libertarian feminism, ala Camille Paglia. Bill Clinton’s Democratic presidency asserted individual responsibility to Americans through welfare reform. The same president once said during a State of the union Address, “The era of big government is over.” If it could be measured, faith in revolution and quaint “We are the world” expressions of compassion would have registered at a 20th century low during its last decade.
Nothing remotely close to the liberal revolution of the 1960’s could have occurred during the 1990’s. While the sixties might be discussed until the end of history, the Republican rout of 1994 is only referenced by political junkies. When Bill Clinton obviously cheated on his wife while President, the politically reserved American middle class couldn’t get outraged by his immorality. Clinton’s charisma didn’t save him as much as his country’s cultural atmosphere. For a short while, Americans had come to terms with human imperfection. While traditionalists correctly derided Clinton’s lack of respect for his wife and his office, as well as his ignorance of responsibility when it came to owning up to his affair, people were primarily concerned with their own lives. They married their own spouses to worry about. Perhaps America had fallen asleep at the wheel, especially concerning a fermenting Middle East, but on the domestic front, everything was set in its place. Not even the controversial Florida recount in 2000 could derail the American dream of freedom and economic self-sufficiency.
Then terrorists struck America on September 11th, 2001. Clearly the murder of almost 3,000 American civilians ranks as the worst thing about 9-11. No one should come away with the impression that those deaths are anything but tragic and unnecessary. But the politicization of America falls second (a distant second, but second nevertheless). 9-11 relegated Americans to at least a generation choke full of the widespread political strife we see now. The economic fallout of 9-11 had slowly, but surely been recouped through sound enterprise. The cultural fallout has proven much more difficult to recover from. America’s economy recovered from 9-11 (that is, until the housing market collapsed) but this country still hasn’t recovered all the cultural capital it lost during the 60’s—such as an intelligent, tempered respect for tradition. The 1960’s were when the flag-waving left was annexed by the flag-burning left. Piling the domestic aftermath of 9/11 on top of that might turn out to be too much for even powerful America to handle.
So why is America so politically uncivil right now? How is 9-11 the catalyst? The short answer is that baby boomers are in charge. In their book Generations, William Strauss and Neil Howe map a generational cycle in America. To greatly simplify it, the cycle starts with an idealist generation, which produces a lot of rhetorically skilled, creative, but moralizing narcissists, who always gravitate towards the latest cause. Imagine a generational plurality of people like Natalie Maines and Rob Reiner. Now try doing it without contemplating suicide. The Baby Boomers (born in between 1943 and 1960) are obviously Idealist. An individualistic reactive generation follows, rebelling against the excesses of their parents. To no one’s surprise, Generation X (b. 1961-1981, “The Thirteenth Generation” as labeled by Strauss and Howe) meets those requirements.
Following a moody reactive generation, an upbeat civic generation comes of age. Watching their elders, they’re able to distinguish a middle ground between idealistic, cloudy activism and reactive, knee-jerk irony. The civic generation blesses America with community-minded, competent institution-builders. Civics organize the ideals previous generations fought over and build institutions around them. An adaptive generation completes the circuit. Adaptives inundate America with comfortable, but sheltered youths who grow up to be sensitive elders. They preserve institutions, without standing out too much as a collective whole. As of 2008, America’s last complete adaptive generation, the Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) has produced no United States Presidents (John McCain may have been his generation’s last chance). Adaptives go on to breed an idealist generation of children which rebel against their parent’s complacency, starting the cycle all over again.
DISCLAIMER: I’ll be the first to say that cyclical interpretations tend to oversimplify history. But they can serve a purpose, if their limitations are kept in mind. It should go without saying that there are exceptions to the broad generational designations set down by Strauss and Howe. But just in case not everyone understands, I should spell this out. When I say “Baby Boomers are idealistic,” I don’t mean all Baby Boomers; I mean that a dominant, observable trend towards idealism surfaced during this generation. Many born into an idealist generation will be anything but idealistic. Likewise, not all members of an adaptive generation will be timid. When discussing groups of people, especially one as varied as a generation of Americans, it must be assumed that generalizations will be used, and that must be accounted for when interpreting the discussion. If that’s too much to ask, please click off of this page and retry at least your first two years of college before visiting this link again.
Anyway, this generational cycle recurs uninterrupted in American history, unless the country fails to resolve its secular crises, the internal struggles to reshape public norms and institutions, with what Strauss and Howe consider “reasonable success.” Examples of secular crises include the American Revolution and World War II/The Great Depression. Remarkably, these crises appear periodically (around every 90 years) and in sync with the generational cycle. Historically, Americans have dealt with secular crises while an elderly generation of idealists provided guidance (Samuel Adams during the American Revolution, FDR during the depression and World War II). Middle-aged, reactive individualists took charge and mitigated that elder guidance with ingenious pragmatism (Dwight Eisenhower, George Washington). A civic generation full of young adults organized the struggle for their reactive leaders (JFK, Thomas Jefferson) while the adaptive generation was too young to get in the way.
To give one example in greater detail, America’s dreadful twin crises of the Great Depression and World War II hit when the idealist generation (this one labeled the “Missionary Generation” by Strauss and Howe) was elderly. Much like other self-important collections of people, “the Missionary mental approach remained a general constant: a fierce desire to make the world perfect according to standards that welled up from within” (my emphasis). Thankfully, a generation cited for “symbolic acts of violence” in their youth had aged into wine and not vinegar. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Marshall contributed most by reminding us that we can succeed against impossible odds, if only we have the courage to do so. “Nothing to fear but fear itself,” and all that jazz.
Being idealist, FDR’s generation promoted social purity, manifested then through acts such as prohibition. Being reactive, the seceding “Lost Generation” held purity in contempt. One could predict how unhappy they would feel coming back from WWI only to see governmental suppression of alcohol, pornography and politics (such as when the government led a roundup of suspected communists with the Palmer Raids). Offended by the overbearing arrogance of their parents, the Lost Generation “never stopped using what they called their ‘revolution of the word’ to…express their incorrigible aversion to grandiosity.” Thankfully, they had enough agency to disregard the Missionary Generation’s callous zeal when the time came. By the time World War II came around, the Lost Generation served as generals with “unpretentious composure,” invaluable in such a large-scale conflict.
Finally, the soldiers following in WW II were predominantly part of the civic-minded G.I. Generation. This generation is often called the “Greatest Generation” due to their general optimism and willingness to set aside personal and ideological grudges in times of trouble, such as Pearl Harbor. As one might expect generations classified as “civic” to be, the G.I.’s “had a strong collectivist reflex.” This didn’t stand in the way of them fighting for individualistic American ideals, in fact, it made them a perfect generation for upholding those traditions. Make all the soldiers of WW II idealistic or reactive, and infighting will keep them from accomplishing anything as a whole. The civic G.I.’s weren’t intimidated by ideological differences; they didn’t even consider them important.
America came out of WW II stronger than we had when it started, in spite of the death toll. This happened because of a fortunate generational cycle. Every generation’s characteristics served the country well. The idealists generated grand ideas; the reactives edited them for the real world, and the civics put them into action. Americans weren’t so fortunate the first time the cycle was interrupted, during the Civil War.
Looking at it through a cyclical perspective, the horrors of the North/South conflict started about ten to fifteen years too early for Americans to handle. During the build-up to the war, the role of the sage didn’t fall in the hands of an idealist generation, like it usually does during secular crises. Instead, it fell upon an adaptive, elderly generation which was already full of passive compromisers in youth, uncertain to a fault. Nobody paid any attention to these moral wallflowers. At that time, the idealist generation was still young enough (40 to 69) to dominate the nation with its hard-headed crusaders. The Idealists of the civil war era were often plantation owners who refused to give up slavery on any terms, and moralizing abolitionists. Rhetorical firebrands such as William Lloyd Garrison said things such as: “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard.” A recipe for disagreement this potent couldn’t be concocted along Israel’s borders. The Transcendental Generation, as these Idealists are called, “split not just into two competing factions, but into two self-contained, mutually exclusive societies,” the North and the South. The Civil War swiftly followed.
Members of the reactive Gilded Generation, which were aged between 19 and 39 then, were generally unprepared to fight a long war. At that point in their lives, it involved too much personal sacrifice on their part; they still felt collectively out of place in America. Also, the Civil War also put the reactive generation’s lives in the hands of idealist generals, a strident generation reactives didn’t have reason to trust and didn’t have the agency to overrule. If this is starting to sound like today’s United States, I’m making my point. It took approximately 620,000 deaths spread over ten years, plus the destruction of the south, to come to a contentious resolution on the issues of state’s rights and slavery.
Much like the civil war, 9-11 occurred at the wrong time for America. The response to 9-11 became a partisan issue because the debate was framed by an inherently partisan generation. Our most elderly Americans, the president-less Silent Generation, didn’t inspire anyone to listen to them. In 2001, Baby Boomers (aged 41-68) were still smoking pot, preaching everywhere, and picketing everything. With them in charge, it’s no coincidence that soon after 9-11, terms such as red state and blue state, usually reserved for television anchors on election night, became part of America’s popular lexicon.
While Al Qaeda took down the World Trade Center, Generation X (20-40) hadn’t come to terms with its alienation from its own country. Gen Xers distrust anything that comes out of George W. Bush’s mouth, and are generally incapable of relating to him. Even many young conservatives distance themselves from the President. Liberal leaders are held in equal disdain. So far, the only way to win the Gen-X vote is to be less contemptible then one’s opponent (see: 2008 Presidential election).
The oldest members of the Millennial Generation (Born 1982-2003) were spending college trying to deduce exactly why all the adults were panicking. Watching their grandparents, parents, and older siblings split ranks and defend issues split strictly along party lines, Millenials didn’t see any role models they want to emulate. To this day, their contributions to the corpus of political knowledge include little more than drinking chocolate coffee and watching The Daily Show.
If Strauss and Howe are correct, a terrorist attack on 9/11/2015 would likely produce a much more cohesive reaction from Americans. The baby boomers (who will be 56 to 83 years old in 2015) will presumably be too old and disempowered to hijack the event for ideological gains. A grown up Generation X (35-55) will have hopefully matured and turned its angst into savvy, helping wage a tenacious, but far more practical war on Middle Eastern terrorists. The Millenials will be mature enough to help their leaders organize the war.
But it’s not 2015, and Americans are frivolously spending a lot of time trying to steer this country in diametrically opposing directions. Wasting environmental resources, Harry Belafonte, Neil Young, and scores of other artists no one under 20 cares about have produced new protest albums, giving Muslims at least two more reasons to hate western culture. The baby boomers, hard-leftists and big-government rightists alike, are leading this country into its most difficult internal struggle since the civil war. This includes the civil rights era, where those who sought equal rights under the law for minorities held a clear moral high ground which Americans generally recognized, even if they didn’t always like it. There is no similar high ground today; the very idea of morality stirs controversy in today’s America.
Today, Generation X has unfortunately solved their problem of cultural isolation by relating to America through politics. Before 9-11, our Kurt Cobains were looking for purpose in a generally wealthy era of peace (especially compared with the rest of the world). The movie Fight Club sums up the mood of young American men before 9-11, as Tyler Durden, the movie’s anti-hero states: “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.” After the Twin Towers were collapsed by political radicals, a generation once mocked for its apathy was given a cause. Generation X leapt at the chance to place massive amounts of emotional stock in America’s often facile right/left debate, giving new life to the polarized terms “liberal” and “conservative.” More than any legislation signed under George W. Bush’s watch, that’s the domestic aftermath of 9-11.
A generation born to level the excesses of their elders has now become as collectively myopic as their parents. What used to be monotonous cynicism has morphed into absolute distrust of everything liberal (if one is conservative), or vice versa. Self-loathing has morphed into external malice. “I hate myself and want to die” has turned into “Sweet Jesus I hate Bill O’ Reilly.” I seriously doubt that Al Qaeda had the cross-cultural capacity to grasp America’s generation cycles, but they hit at the perfect time to shake this country internally. While there’s no guarantee of another cultural revolution, 9-11 tore this country at the seams: It’s neither the fault of a aggravatingly proud George Bush nor preternaturally frustrated liberals; with Idealists still in charge of this country’s most powerful institutions, America’s polarization is part of a cycle.
Regardless of its unconscious foundation, the stage is set for political radicalism, perhaps more fervent and intractable than the radicalism of the 1960’s, and potentially as destructive as the radicalism that fueled the civil war, to rise again in America. The entire nation is being politicized, and it’s making our quality of life more than a little miserable. Without empowering a police state, conservatives should ponder how to stop the institutionalization of resentment, along with the unhinged animosity that follows it, before it spreads like a wildfire, too large and fierce to douse before it destroys whole chunks of America.