So what era are we in?

There was the Era of Good Feelings in the early nineteenth century. The FDR Era was filled with efforts to combat the Great Depression. Truman and Ike may have personified the more modern Era of Optimism. A boundary between Eras is located before and after Roe vs. Wade. There was the Reagan era. I remember when Bill Clinton declared the era of Big Government was over. The Bush era had huge tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, fear-based cowboy internationalism diplomacy.

David Brooks wants to remind us about the era Capitalist Cleansing of the Economy. Robert Reich reminds of the Era of the Corporate Citizen. Paul Krugman suggests an Era of Economics to Benefit the Regular Guy.

The whole concept of an Era is by definition, a simplification, and by ______ , an selective emphasis, a spin. It’s helpful to see things through a filter, one that is based in facts, but paints a purposive picture.

Conservatives are obviously very prone to favor the Era concept because they are all about, “Why can’t things be like the good old days?” Even those guys know that the Era of Leave It to Beaver never really existed, but its concept points us to frame reference. Family values, media void of references to bodily functions, and references to consequences and work ethic. The classic Democrat is also an Era purveyor, too. He longs for restoring the power of unions, government investments and civil rights.

The Tea Party is getting beyond the Era concept. Their advocacy for major reactionary change really has no precedent (though I would guess many of its members have inflated ideas about the past), unless we find examples from five or more generations ago. Frankly, this major change approach is their most admirable characteristic. The mainstream left is more bereft in its forward view. Most every argument I hear from the right makes some kind of reference to an Era. They are the ones stuck in the past, it would seem. To their credit, the Occupy Movement was characterized by a strong progressive flair. It just has not yet found anything pragmatic to say or do, and no leader to embody its new ideals. The world is waiting to see what the Occupiers will actually suggest.

But people can and should learn and change, so can institutions, and – eventually – so can the politics and subsequently, government. I think the left can gain some appeal if it and the Tea Party can find some actual new ideas. I am attracted to political ideas that look for new solutions. We know – at least I do – that pure capitalism is flawed, and proper government regulation is essential. Corporations are so global and nimble that government tends to lag, and new strategies are needed for these times. Politics of the past won’t work or sell. I think we are in an era of “What’s the next Era?” right now. Amidst all of the selfish partisanship there lurks an emerging desire for a government that is as modern, fair and able as the super-financiers and corporations are quick to find creative (a.k.a. dubious) ways to benefit shareholders and raise CEO salaries. In this sense, the criticisms launched on Obama about lack of leadership are justified. Unfortunately, the right refuses to actually act on the leadership Obama has proposed, negating their case. As I have said before, when any politician says, "Doesn’t have a plan…," it should be followed by "for doing what I want." To find a way to steer a course that hopes to appeal to the Tea Party extremes and the more traditional Republican base, they have found a satisfactory course in being general obstructionists. They spew all sorts of talking point rhetoric, all of which that ends up at No.

When some more truly progressive, cohesive and identifiable, but sensible and moderate ideals are identified, I think a body that supports it will emerge too. I thought Obama was supposed to be a master at exactly that, and it is why I support him. I wish his coalition from 2008 would see this too. Too many of Obama’s supporters from last term long for some other Era: the Era of No More War, the Pure Environment Era, or perhaps the Buy American Era. Let’s get past all that and enjoy what lays ahead.

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About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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2 Responses to So what era are we in?

  1. JP says:

    Interesting ideas. I’m not sure I understand all the distinctions. You say the tea party is getting beyond the era concept. I’d say they want the era of No (or extremely low) Government Spending. That seems as accurate as saying Krugman wants an era Economics for the Regular Guy. I don’t understand how one is an era, or wanted era, and one isn’t. Overall I think eras are things for historians, not for the present. They are a way to make sense of the past, a way to mark off periods of history. I don’t think we ever really can say what era we are in. There may be some consensus is 20 or 50 years, and in the present it is an interesting discussion, and for me, I can’t say it is any more than that. The reality of history is always more fluid; dividing into eras is, as you say, a way to simplify, to make the history graspable. If pushed to guess, I’d say the last 30 years will go down historically as the era when the middle class was nearly destroyed. The coming years will determine if the destruction is complete or if the middle class will rise again. In no small way, that will determine whether or not America even survives in any recognizable way.

  2. Jim says:

    In short, what I mean is that looking backward to some Era is a mistake the world has changed too much to render any model of the past of any real use. We need new models, new thinking. Krugman does look backward albeit with good intent, but the Tea Party has no model, just wild beyond reactionary ideas. Your complaint about the destruction of the middle class may be true and even justified, but don’t look backward for the solution to it.

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