I have many friends who are terribly upset over Alberto Gonzalez’ threats to imprison journalists, about the NSA-Bell database merger, about all the "worse than Watergate" abuses of this Administration.
I take it with a grain of salt. It is the price of history.
I have written before here about the generational theory of American history, of great crises appearing every generation, forcing change on the old, imprinting lifelong lessons in the young.
The Civil War. The Panic of 1893. The Great Depression. Vietnam.
Each crisis, at the time, threatened to tear the nation apart. The first one literally did.
It’s easy to minimize the second, until you look into the background. (The above is from Jacob Riis’ "How the Other Half Lives," describing the New York slums in the 1890s.) Things like the Pullman Strike, and Coxey’s Army, the rise of Populism, the New York tenements, the Trusts. To the generation that fought and won the Civil War, it indeed looked as though the whole world was collapsing.
For the generation that fought and won against the Great Depression and World War II, the 60s were much
the same. The drugs, the hippies, the colleges, the blacks, the
negative reporting, the complete disregard for law and order, all created a
profound demand for the changes Nixon was offering. For many, even
Nixon was weak brew. George Wallace won nearly as many states as
Goldwater had four years earlier.
Once you understand a Thesis, and the rationale which created it, the
fears and desires, you can see what must happen before it unravels. I
thought 2004 would mark the change based on simple math. Dean was 36
years from Nixon, Nixon 36 years from FDR. I ignored how much more
slowly we age, so I was shocked when the Democrats chose a Vietnam
Veteran, and the Swift-boating came, and the knees jerked, and the
whole 1968 plan worked to perfection.
But I should not have been shocked, because the suffering of the nation
under the expired Thesis of Nixon had, through November 2004, been minimal. The economy looked
sound, the war still looked winnable. Especially to those who believed
in The Thesis. That was never challenged, except with the failed
Anti-Thesis of a generation earlier. It was as though Republicans had
dug up Hoover himself for 1968, it was playing right into their hands,
fighting the old battles, Pickett’s political charge.
For a Thesis to be overthrown, it takes a crisis that is caused by an
excess belief in that Thesis, a crisis that takes that Thesis to its
logical (or illogical) conclusion. Trying to do everything at once,
never mind the cost. Trying to kill all enemies, foreign and domestic,
never mind the risk. That kind of crisis is necessary for the catharsis
And the Thesis we’re living under is that of Richard Nixon, in all his paranoid glory. Republicans may prefer to think it Reagan’s legacy, but it was Nixon who built the beliefs that must be broken. The idea of the enemy. The enemies list. The media, the academics, the nay-sayers, sex, drugs, moral relativism. The idea that if we just kill enough of "them" then "we" will finally be "free."
And the catharsis needed to overthrow a generational Thesis is never pretty. The system itself must be in real danger for the catharsis to take hold.
The crisis has barely begun. It’s still just 1966.