November 16, 2004
|MAUREEN FARRELL ARCHIVES|
The Next Big Thing
by Maureen Farrell"Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire. Yet this time of trouble will bring seeds of social rebirth. Americans will share a regret about recent mistakes -- and a resolute new consensus about what to do. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake." -- From the Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, 1997
Nearly a decade ago, William Strauss and Neil Howe put forth an interesting theory: Every 80 years or so, they concluded, the U.S. faces a cataclysmic turning point that redirects the course of the nation. The first occurred during the Revolutionary War and the framing of our Constitution, the second, during the Civil War, and the third, during the Great Depression and World War II. And the fourth? You're soaking in it, Madge.
The America many of us knew has vanished into History's happy hunting ground and oddly enough, days of cigars and blue dresses, though surreal at the time, now seem oh-so-sweetly-carefree. If Mr. Bush proceeds with his "mandate," unsavory consequences will follow: Divisions between Americans will widen; the neoconservatives who pushed for war in Iraq will push for more; America will become further isolated from allies; the framework of international cooperation and rule of law we've relied in since WW II will continue to crumble; social conservatives will bulldoze the wall between church and state; policy decisions will be set by faith instead of reason, and America's new pariahs will start edging their way back into the closet. As legendary journalist Helen Thomas put it, we're in for "dark times."
And if you think the country has changed in the past four years, wait and see what's next.
"Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II," Strauss and Howe explained. "The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and efforts -- in other words, a total war."
In 1997, when this thesis was presented, it probably sounded farfetched. But ask yourself: Could we "crack up geographically"? Could the nation "erupt into insurrection?" Might we "succumb to authoritarian rule"? Are we headed for total war? Not so kooky anymore, eh?
If we really are on the verge of another turning point, our current crisis will be more consequential than shakeups during the sixties or seventies or any time most of us have known. And this time around, we face the added insecurity of having George Bush at the helm. George Washington presided over the first turning, Abraham Lincoln guided us through the second and the third was managed by FDR. And while each man had more than his share of detractors, each was proven capable -- and none catered to a base as dangerous as G.W. Bush's.
"Mr. Bush's base is pushing so hard to legislate social issues and extend the boundaries of religion that it felt as if we were rewriting the Constitution, not electing a president," Thomas Friedman recently wrote of our revolutionary new age. "I felt as if I registered to vote, but when I showed up the Constitutional Convention broke out."
Where will this era lead? If we remain divided, will we find ourselves smack-dab in the middle of a civil war? Are we, as some suggest, headed for World War IV? Is fascism in our future? Or will disgruntled citizens spark a new American revolution?
While your guess is as good as mine, signs point to any and all of the above. And a case could be made for each. Consider the following:
1. A Second Civil War
The Bush administration has done its damnedest to pit citizen against citizen and state against state, and has shamelessly worked to keep us misinformed and afraid. And unless Bush's arrogance causes him to overplay his hand, divisive tactics will most likely continue to work.
The day after the election, the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel declared that we are "a country at war with itself," New York Times columnist Maureen Down pointed to Bush's election strategy of "dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule," and 60 Minutes' Steve Hartman joked about dividing the country into "the United Blue States of America" and "United Red States of America."
And in updated twists on our historical legacy, some have actually advocated secession and civil war -- adding yet another ironic footnote to Bush's "uniter, not a divider" vow.
Yes, there are two Americas and one would like to render the other permanently voiceless and irrelevant. But regardless how desperately some ache to install one party rule, the fissure is now so deep and so wide, it seems highly unlikely that America will "heal" or unite anytime soon. Examples of this great divide and its consequences include:
Presently, things aren't looking good for the home team. But in the end, this deepening rift might be bridged if Americans can finally see that the threat from within does not emanate from Vermont or California or Alabama, but from Washington, DC. "They are the enemy," Gore Vidal said of the Bush/Cheney gang. "And they have targeted the American people. They don't like them. They don't care anything about them. They're interested in corporate America. . . .And they hate the people who stand for the old republic. They just don't like them. And that's the division here. And I think that's why Bush will fall in the long run, but how long a run it's going to be, I do not predict."
2. Another American Revolution
"Great mistakes in the ruling part, will be borne by the people without mutiny or murmur," Thomas Jefferson's muse John Locke wrote. "But if a long train of abuses. . . all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people. . . it is not to be wondered that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavor to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the end for which government was at first erected."
What "train of abuses" might knock us from our stupor? Glaring proof of Bush's Sept. 11 incompetence and assorted examples of negligence have not been enough to awaken ardent supporters. Common sense hasn't worked, either. If G.W. truly is the #1 man to keep us safe, why, one wonders, did New Yorkers, whose lives were most profoundly touched by the 9/11 terror attacks, overwhelmingly vote to give Bush the boot? Do they know something security moms don't?
Though GOP loyalists' rabid tendency to cling to ignorance and punish those who expose the truth has kept many in the dark, something has to give. And Bush's second term offers an opportunity, the way Richard Nixon's did, for a long overdue wake-up call. After all, former Nixonites John Dean and Kevin Phillips claim that this White House is even more corrupt than Nixon's, and yet, in 1968, Nixon won in a landslide, and America seemed to love him. Until the truth won out.
Fraud and deception have always been with us and the health of our nation has always depended on finding, identifying and punishing corruption whenever we can. "Our system worked, and we were all heroes, " Hunter S. Thompson wrote, of catching the Nixon et al in action.
What might spawn a revolutionary backlash this time? Evidence of impeachable offenses? More news from O-Hi-O? The Religious Right overstepping its Mobbish bounds? While the list is long, some possibilities include:
An economic crisis: Earlier this month, the Financial Times reported that G.W. Bush's reelection could prompt the rest of the world to hit us where it hurts. "The dollar could slide still further, in spite of hitting an all-time low against the euro last week in the wake of George W. Bush's reelection," FT said. James Wolcott also raised concerns about "economic blowback" and Seymour Hersh predicted that the world will boycott U.S. markets. "I just see very hard times ahead," Hersh said.
Scandal: Though the scandals bubbling beneath the surface of this administration do not yet rise to Presidential penis level, they nevertheless involve matters of national security (Plamegate), the rule of law (Abu Ghraib), threats to democracy (Votergate) and war and peace (Yellowcakegate). "At some point in the next four years there will be a great scandal that will make Watergate look like a fraternity prank. All the elements are already in place," Salon.com recently asserted. "[Bush] has never been so beautifully set up than now for a cataclysmic, Nixon-like fall," Mark Morford wrote.
Iraq: The weekend before the election, Thomas
Friedman told Bill Maher that the U.S. will likely leave Iraq within a
year. "Bill, my sense is a year
from now we're not going to be in Iraq, or we're not going to be in Iraq
in any numbers, no matter what happens [in the election]," he said,
before predicting that within three to six months, we'll see America's
policy in Iraq as either a fixable
policy failure or a futile fundamental failure of judgment.
The draft: Let's not kid ourselves. With a stop-loss policy and recall of retired military personnel underway, the U.S. is already engaging in a "backdoor draft." And despite assertions that conscription questions were raised merely as part of John Kerry's campaign ploy, the truth is that this administration's actions continue to raise suspicions -- with former New York Times correspondent Christopher Hedges recently telling students that reinstatement of the draft is right around the corner.
3. World War IV
In Jan. 2001, on the eve of Bush's inauguration, speculation regarding a second Gulf War had already begun. One paper boldly noted that George W. Bush would embroil the U.S. "in at least one Gulf-War level-armed conflict in the next four years."
Unfazed by repercussions, and contrary to myths that the neocons are "no longer in vogue," those who pushed for war in Iraq, are now pushing for further aggression. "Bush Win Puts US on Collision Course with Iran," the Sydney Morning Herald warned, while Jim Lobe further explained neocons' plans for the rest of the world.
Right after the election, Frank Gafney, an influential policy adviser with solid connections to the Bush administration, composed a checklist for Bush's second term -- including "regime change" in Iran and North Korea; adopting "appropriate strategies" for handling threats from Russia, China and Latin America; "deploying effective missile defenses at sea and in space, as well as ashore"; and advocating a continued hardline strategy against the Palestinians following the death of Yasser Arafat.
This follows a previously set game plan outlined by former Central Intelligence Agency Director and Committee on the Present Danger co-chair Director James Woolsey. Saying that the Cold War was World War III, Woolsey believes that our new war, the fourth world war, should hold "a new Middle East" as its objective and "make a lot of people very nervous" but that "our response should be, 'good!'"
4) A Fascist Fourth Turn
What have the last four years wrought? For starters, we're less noble, less tolerant, more loathed and more feared than any time in our lifetimes. And while American pride once denoted a sentimental sense of history and honor, it is now often tainted by false bravado and belligerent nationalism -- the kind the American Heritage Dictionary once included in its definition of fascism.
Like an American Charles Dickens, novelist Sinclair Lewis foresaw ghosts of fascism future, while a former Reagan official recently bemoaned the "brownshirting of America." And Keith Olberman's outstanding contributions to journalism and democracy aside, for the most part, questions about election irregularities, like those about WMD assertions, are scoffed at by the media -- bringing at least two characteristics of fascism to mind.
Most agree that if America devolves into a fascist state, religious zealots will be leading the charge. The introduction and passage of discriminatory legislation that marked Bush's first term will likely become commonplace, and as Tom Delay has hinted, the Christian Right will proceed with its plans to cram its agenda down everyone else's throats. ("We're going to put God back into the public square," he announced, the day after the election.)
"Small wonder that everywhere I go, people are talking about moving to Canada. That's the kind of joke you make when you no longer recognize your country," Leonard Pitts mused, pointing to "the soldiers of the new American theocracy" and our brave new world where a looming Armageddon shapes U.S. foreign policy and creationism trumps rationalism.
And so it follows that as Christian soldiers battle heathens at home and Evangelical Marines battle barbarians and Satan in Iraq, reason is viewed as an enemy of the state. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," Voltaire said, possibly with Bush and his supporters in mind.
If cataclysmic change is in our future, however, it could also bring welcome relief. The end result of this next turning could be something to embrace. "By the 2020s, America could become a society that is good, by today's standards, and also one that works," Strauss and Howe wrote.
In other words, this could be the dark before the dawn. Perhaps security moms and armchair warriors need a rude awakening? Maybe those who voted for Bush need to be shaken from their slumber? Maybe will be there will be a rebirth, after the weeping and gnashing of teeth?
"Thus might the next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse -- or glory, " Strauss and Howe concluded. "The nation could be ruined, its democracy destroyed, and millions of people scattered or killed. Or America could enter a new golden age, triumphantly applying shared values to improve the human condition."
In time, perhaps, citizens will see that Bush has not made America any safer and that the internal threats we face are far greater than our differing points of view, and we can usher in an era rooted in truth, fairness and democratic principles. After all, though there are plenty of people who strive to win at all costs, for the most part, Americans (when they're not brainwashed or scared out of their wits) are a decent lot -- and value what is true and fair and just.
I don't know what the future holds, but I do not doubt for a moment that the Next Big Thing is upon us. Here's to the Fates. Let's hope that they are kind.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell