Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the the future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.
Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US. This entry is a sense check.
Some of the entries are part of a series. Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:
Beginning #378 the entries began focusing on a post-Trump administration and a post-Coronavirus world. We’re headed to a post-Trump world and post-COVID world, even if a ways away. Comments and suggestions welcome.
ENTRY #400: SENSE CHECK. The first entry in this blog was the fall 2013, just over seven years ago. The theme of the blog evolved 9-10 years ago when I began drafting a thesis for an unfinished degree at the University of Michigan. The degree was a masters of liberal studies in American culture.
I started the degree program a few years after we relocated to Michigan. The degree courses were interesting and unlike any I’d taken in undergrad or graduate school. One of the benefits of the program was becoming much better at the TV show “Jeopardy.”
I finished the thesis and submitted to U of M. Then learned I was a couple of courses short. After a number of years in Michigan, we had moved to California, then to Charlotte. I hadn’t been enrolled for some time but thought the coursework was completed. Although U of M indicated the two courses could be taken on line, I decided enough formal education.
However, I didn’t put the thesis on the shelf. When researching material for the thesis, I “discovered” the US seemed to experience a revolution about every 50 years. I assume like many discoveries, this “discovery” was quite by accident.
The working title of the thesis was “The American Revolution.” “The American Revolution” didn’t refer to the traditional American Revolution but a tagline from an old Chevrolet commercial. Much of the content of the thesis focused on how to rebuild US manufacturing (yes, long before the Donald made such a claim), with particular emphasis on how Southeast Michigan could leverage knowledge of the auto industry to become a worldwide center for other products. One example was leveraging skills in product design and electromechanical engineering to develop computer-aided prosthetics, which thankfully are now coming to market.
Because of the title, I wondered how many revolutions had America experienced. Obviously, the American Revolution and the Civil War, but were there others? As an early Baby Boomer, I considered the changes in music, hairstyles, attitudes toward sex, etc. in the late 1960s, early 1970s as a “cultural revolution.” In addition to cultural change, that period included domestic violence with the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK as well as major civil disruptions in Newark, Detroit and Los Angeles.
After a bit more analysis, I decided there have been four (4) revolutions so far in US history with each occurring roughly every 50 years. Since the mid-point of the last revolution was about 1970, if the 50-year cycle was correct, then the fifth US revolution would be sometime after 2020. (More information about the four revolutions and how the timing was calculated in Entry #1.)
Well, here we are just having finished 2020. Time to have a sense check and ask, “Is a 5th US revolution likely?” Unless you’ve been in a cave or on Mars the last few years, I think most people would say “Yes, a revolution of some type seems likely.”
The country seems as divided emotionally and politically as any time since the years leading up to the Civil War. The Donald and the Trump Administration with all the craziness were contributors to this split. But the divide in the country started long before Trump.
OK, Trump was outlandish, arrogant, stupid, childlike and a host of other psychological “isms.” Despite the behavior, Trump was not the first to cause the split. There’s always been some split but the movement toward a chasm started with Ronald Reagan.
Reagan kept proclaiming, even after becoming president that “government is the problem, not the solution.” Reagan would also promote private industry as the solution. While government is clearly not the solution to every problem, private Industry is not the solution to many problems either.
How many private companies would be willing to develop a product or build a system for which there was no known market? The answer is zero, nada, none. So, then how did railroads, the highway system, air travel, ground and satellite communications systems and the internet get funded? Mmm, must have been that incompetent government. There is not a single company that would risk the capital necessary for the development and introduction of these larger scale programs.
At the same time, at some point the government needs to get out of the business it helped develop and let the private sector take over. While one can debate the timing, the government has been diligent about allowing, even encouraging, private industry to take over these industries.
One of Reagan’s strength was communications – after all he was an actor. Reagan should be given an Academy Award for convincing so many Republicans he was a fiscal conservative. In truth Reagan was a spendthrift whose administration ran up huge federal budget deficits. By the end of Reagan’s term in office, federal debt as a percentage of GDP had increased about the same relative amount as under FDR’s New Deal program in the 1930s. (There are number of entries in this blog with more charts and explanations supporting the contention that Reagan started the split in attitudes among the populace.)
Another factor helping split the country was the introduction of cable news, then the internet. Cable news and the internet, combined with a decline in the circulation of daily newspapers, resulted in the proliferation of alleged credible news sources, with emphasis on “alleged.” Unlike old-line mainstream network TV channels and mainstream newspapers, the cable and so-called internet news outlets were not subject to the same FCC standards.
The lack of oversight has allowed supposed news outlets to either radically distort the truth or simply create stories with no basis whatsoever in fact. Without another source of information – daily newspaper, e.g. – many believe the cable channel or social media. Worse still is many people cannot seem to separate commentary from the talking heads on these channels and the real news. Further, some high-profile cable channels, notably Fox, until recently were openly distorting the news to support a certain political position and ignoring the truth. For most of the last four years Fox should have been labeled “Trump TV.”
Back to the sense check about the possibility of a 5th US revolution. If the past pattern holds true and there is a revolution in the next few years, then what form of revolution is going to take? Cultural? Shooting? A bit of both?
Almost certainly there’s going to be a cultural revolution. Just as the Baby Boomers created the cultural revolution in late 60s, early 70s the now teens and twenty-somethings – Generation Z — are going to force cultural changes.
What the Vietnam War was for the Baby Boomers, climate change is for Gen Z. And unlike the Baby Boomers, where jobs were relatively plentiful, most everyone in Gen Z faces a bleak job market, even for many who are college educated.
Gen Zers feel trapped economically and trapped by an ever bleaker outlook for the environment. And some in Gen Z point the finger at Baby Boomers for making these problems worse.
The coffee shop I visit most every morning is staffed with many Gen Zers. One young lady, an excellent college student, said the other day when we chatted about solving social problems, “We’ve got to get rid of these old politicians. They’re too rigid and set in their ways.”
If you are a Baby Boomer, or even a bit older, watch out. The light at the end of the tunnel is a Gen Z freight train that is picking up speed.
The Gen Zers are not alone. High-school grads, whether recent or older are frustrated as well. Where do they find employment in this new world?
Covid-19 demonstrated that many critical societal jobs are being filled by less-educated, lower-paid workers. All of a sudden, the US seemed to depend on those previously invisible grocery-store clerks, hospital aides, delivery-truck drivers, transit staff, etc. But what else can these workers do?
Covid-19 also demonstrated how vulnerable other entry-level jobs were, especially in restaurants, hotels, retail stores and office buildings. Their jobs disappeared almost overnight. And, even with the Covid-19 vaccine, it may be a decade or more before many of their jobs return.
Such service workers, along with lower-paid manufacturing workers, seem to be the most likely to be involved in an armed revolt. By revolting, what does a group have to lose? As a group, they are underpaid; they have no real prospects for upward mobility; they are not adequately educated for, and therefore not qualified for higher-paying technology-focused jobs.
What about support from the political parties? Interestingly, many in this group have been ardent Trump supporters. Yet, Trump and the Republican Party have repeatedly dumped on this group economically. Just this past week Republicans in the Senate refused to consider bumping up the Covid-19 stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. Did the same group of Senate Republicans resist providing more Covod-19 funds to business? Of course not, the Republicans were glad to do so.
When this disadvantaged group finally wakes up, they will be angry and want revenge. That’s why I labeled the anticipated 5th US revolution as the Revenge Revolution. This group will seek revenge for past injustices. As noted in previous entries, many in this group are well-armed.
When there is a group that feels deprived, has no savings, has no job prospects, and has nothing to lose, and that is well-armed, you have an ideal core for starting a revolution. My take on the probability of a revolution? The Gen-Zers will drive a cultural revolution for sure. Probability the deprived start an armed revolution of some type? 75%. To be continued.