Old Words for a New America
As hellfire rains down upon the land and the world grinds slowly toward a Covid19-induced coma, there is much to be said and written about the perfect storm of a viral contagion, incompetent leadership, and eviscerated government institutions. But, today I want to lift our eyes above the flames lapping at our feet and look—longingly—at the horizon of what seems today a distant tomorrow. For this moment, while the orange orb in the Oval continues to flail in dyspeptic fits as the truth closes in on his presidency, we need to consider setting targets for a better future. This period of crisis in American history, which I call the Age of Deceit that began with the Bush-Cheney lies and (hopefully) ends with the fetid stain left on our flag by Donald Trump, also provides an opportunity for transformation. The good news is that deep crises not only allow transformation, they demand it. The cycles of history suggest that a new normal, framed by a new American identity, will rise to put the Age of Deceit in our rearview mirror. Everything, from the values that define us to our modalities of behavior will change for better or worse. Let’s focus on the better.
Given the state of affairs in America, which may, in the end, rival the effects of two prior crises—the Civil War and the Great Depression—the words we choose to express our feelings, frame our thoughts, and describe our plans must be chosen wisely. The features of any targets are relevant, but the words we use to describe them tell a tale of their own. In studying the cycles of American history, I found a rather stark contrast between the words that dominate discourse during periods of high idealism, which precede periods of crisis, and the words most prevalent during the periods of objectivism that follow. I won’t go into the ~70 year cycles that contain periods of crisis, objectivism, liberalism, and idealism; a complete illustration of them will be in my forthcoming book, Saving America in the Age of Deceit. Today, I will simply introduce the words—the colors we choose from the palette to paint our future.
I describe periods of idealism as those times when mixing tequila and steroids somehow seems like a good idea. The most recent period of idealism began in 1980 and ended in 2003 with the onset of the War on Terror, followed by the Great Recession, and now the Trump/Covid19 disaster. The linguistic modalities of the idealism period bled through the onset of our nation’s fourth crisis—the Age of Deceit—and will expire as we emerge from this crisis and enter the next period of objectivism. During idealism, zealotry, rectitude, and righteousness—from all participants on all sides of every issue—become the prevailing modus operandi. Hubris and certitude, grandeur, conspicuous consumption, hyper-individualism, speculation, deregulation, class inequalities, invincibility, abundance, and high religiosity are terms that dominate discourse. These are often very entertaining and unfortunately reckless times to be alive in America, which is no doubt why the hangover—periods of crisis—always follow.
As we emerge from crisis, new words replace the old. In this phase, terms like unity, reason, inclusion, pragmatism, tolerance, risk aversion, stability, containment, self-reliance, standardization, meritocracy, frugality, humility, redemption, secularity, family and community are prevalent. In short, realism, rationalism, and humanism reign. Presidents with military backgrounds like George Washington, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower have traditionally performed well in these periods. In many ways, the nature of the objectivism phase is the antithesis of the crisis phase. The political upheavals from the crisis phase give way to a settling of political modality around a common theme: the federal government must recede from its high levels of engagement at all levels of society as a result of both budget realities and electoral fatigue. People and the communities they live in take higher responsibility for their fate. In periods of objectivism, tribalism gives way to communalism and stewardship prevails over isolationism. Nationalism is set aside for localism which, as I wrote last fall at this blog, is why our focus must shift now to building stronghold communities and demanding a return of authority and resources from the federal government to our state and local governments. See https://ameritecture.com/hope-at-home-shifting-our-focus-to-developing-stronghold-communities/.
One thing is certain, the current crisis will end someday. To affect transcendence sooner rather than later, we should begin to adopt a new language to inform our dispositional values and the social, economic, and political policies we craft. Lift your eyes; lift your mind; lift your heart. The path forward is ours to choose. Old words can create a new America.