Every 80 years or so this country has been rebooted. Long-felt tensions exploded, and the country took a new direction. We’re at that point now. There is an outright criminal in the White House, there’s been a massive death toll from an easily-handled pandemic, and only the rich have gotten richer for the last 40 years. Since I’m a technical, I’m also dismayed that the US’s historically high rate of innovation has been choked by monopoly, and that has been dragging the rest of the country down.
Here’s how the phases have worked up until now:
America 1.0 ran from the Revolution to the Civil War. It started out well, with an extraordinary expansion of liberty compared to anywhere else in the world. The Northern states all got rid of slavery, and there was huge economic growth, thanks to power looms, then canals, then railroads. But the clever new machines also made slavery far more profitable, and the South saw no other route forward than maintaining it. The country locked up over the issue, and it was only resolved by a cataclysmic war, one that left half the country in ruins.
America 2.0 was from the Civil War to the Great Depression and World War II. The country expanded enormously, settling all the lands to the Pacific and displacing the Natives. The Second Industrial Revolution happened, with electricity and automobiles. There was vast immigration from the Old World. Again it was a time of huge growth, but the profits were kept by the robber barons. Union organizers were simply murdered. Then the plutocracy showed their incompetence by being unable to deal with the Crash. Herbert Hoover was actually a real businessman and engineer, but he was locked into the mindset of Wealth Makes Right, and couldn’t deal with it.
America 3.0 took us from the Depression to today. The country rose to actual world leadership. It was central to the Third Industrial Revolution of semiconductors and information technology. The period from the 1940s to 1980 was probably the most innovative in history, and the wealth was widely shared. But starting with Reagan, the oligarchy started a long, slow right-wing coup. Unions were crushed and inequality soared to levels not seen outside the Third World. Widgets got cheap, but the important things like housing, education, and medical care got crazily expensive relative to median income.
So here’s where the US finds itself – locked in a power struggle between the oligarchy and reactionaries, and the upper middle class and liberals. Nothing gets done any more. The last significant Constitutional amendment was the 26th, lowering the voting age to 18, and that was almost 50 years ago. That’s the longest gap between amendments in the nation’s history. It’s ludicrous that the ERA is not passed, and that there is no established right to vote. Basic flaws like the status of Puerto Rico and Washington DC are unfixed. Projects of the scale of the Interstate Highway System or the Apollo program are inconceivable. The only infrastructure plan the GOP proposes is one that privatizes public assets. Enormous financial crimes were committed in the run-up to the Great Recession, and went unpunished for fear of political blow-back. Obama’s caution was rewarded by an all-out attack on his Administration, one that deliberately delayed recovery by many years, and aided Trump’s election.
Progress gets made in the margins, like gay marriage and marijuana legalization, but that’s stuff the oligarchy doesn’t care about. Things that involve real money are stagnant. It took an immigrant from South Africa to even get the obvious tech of electric cars going, and the main auto companies are still not into it. Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon are doing about the same things that they were ten years ago. They’ve become trillion-dollar companies by not letting anyone else compete. The stagnation even shows up in the arts – the music and movies of 2000 and 2020 are a lot more similar than those of 1960 and 1980.
We need a reboot. I had hoped the 2020 election would be one, but no. Biden is an even more cautious politician than Obama, and did not get a mandate. 47% of the electorate still went for Trump, literally the worst person to ever be elected President. They also backed Republican senators, who allocated more money as tax breaks to foreign stockholders than they did to the pandemic unemployed. I had thought the reality of GOP rule would be brought home to people as their relations died in the ICU, but many go to their graves insisting the virus is a hoax. People haven’t woken up yet, even as armed thugs parade for Trump, the West is on fire, and the South is flattened by hurricanes.
But they will. Reality is that which does not go away even when you don’t believe in it.
So what should America 4.0 look like? That’s for another post, but I will say that it should be a big dose of what has always restored the country – liberty and equality. Stop people from being preyed on by police fines, and opioid makers, and scam schools, and rapacious financial companies, and brutal labor rules. Don’t let the rich live by separate laws and tax codes and environmental rules. Treat other nations and non-citizens as partners, not as suckers and victims. And above all else, treat each other as citizens, not tribal enemies. It may take something even bigger than COVID to do it, but it’s got to happen.