by Roxanne Tellier
If you had told me, twenty years ago, that this last decade would be one of the most terrifying/interesting/instructive/growth inducing periods of my entire life to date, I’d have laughed uproariously, and then kicked you out of the room.
And yet – here we are. Whether you have been glued to media – either social or terrestrial – or have simply been putting one foot in front of the other for the last ten years, you’ve been buffeted by the winds of change like never before. Or perhaps, like we’ve not seen since the sixties.
If you were around when the ‘youthquake’ hit in 1964, you’ll remember the ripples that spread mere hours after the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night television show. Overnight, what had come before was overturned, and those that weren’t ‘hip’ to what they’d seen took out their shovels and began digging the Generation Gap that would divide the world into those that ‘got it’ and those who would try and hold back the tsunami of change.
As Michael Nesmith put it in his terrific autobiography, Infinite Tuesday:
“It was unthinkable to everyone who had just fought World War II that the music, the fashions, the designs, the whole cultural imperative of the victorious warriors would be torn down by their kids as if it were ugly curtains in the den. Armed with originality and intention, the youth of America would take off their clothes, ties them in knots, and toss them into vats of dye with all the colours of the rainbow, then got skinny-dipping and make love while high on grass and LSD. Put any four in a room and they would start bands like the Grateful Dead. The generation gap was deep enough that one could die from falling into it.
The early rock and roll of the 1950s was subsumed and transformed by the rock and roll of the 1960s. How could this be? I asked a friend of mine at the time why he thought the Beatles had affected such a profound changed. He answered in one word: hair. It was a flip remark, but probably truer than either of us know. It shows how little anyone understood what had taken over.
Many said it was the music. Many said it was the new drugs. Many said it was the new art. Many said it was television. Most said it was all of the above. Certainly, these forces all came together to create The Monkees.”
Something similar, though not nearly as edifying, happened in the mid 2010s. While the catalyst may have been Trump, the move towards a more militaristic society with autocratic governance in the United States had been creeping forward since Americans had had the audacity to elect a black man to the presidency, not once, but twice.
Someone was going to have to pay for that overturning of American history. Trump just came along at exactly the right time to push the already ripe for discontent, economically frustrated, closeted racists into joining a new cult revolving around his personality, that he would attempt to turn into a dictatorship within four years.
In 2016, Robert Kagan of the Washington Post, wrote:
“What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger.
…. What he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the ‘mobocracy.”
Where the Beatles had had magnificent hair, trump had an orange swirled haystack, but his trademark MAGA hats would hide his, and his aging supporters, lack of hirsute elegance. The Beatles brought laughter and intelligence to their interviews; from the beginning, trump’s interviews were laden with malapropisms, garbled slogans, and word salad. The Beatles wanted everyone to love everyone; trump brought the hate, channelling all of his supporters economic and political anxiety into a burning hatred of anyone that didn’t look and think exactly like he and his fan club did.
A broken mirror image, but with nearly the same outcome. Trump had a huge effect on society, but other factors were in play as well.
Prior to 2010, cell phones were gaining in importance, but by 2019, only about 4% of the population did not own a phone.
Cell phones changed more than how we communicated with each other; they changed how people dated, as online dating became the primary way to meet a new partner. Apps that automated your cell phone made the remote control of your home’s lighting, media and security became common place.
The improvements made to those phones also allowed other societal changes; while MTV had first launched new musical acts, now it was YouTube and Vine that propelled the viral videos that made new stars overnight. YouTube and a profusion of specialty channels, also viewable on your phone, led many to ‘cut the cord’ and abandon their terrestrial TV and cable usage.
So much has changed, and yet we’ve barely noticed, as we have become more dependent on our social media, “Pictures, or it didn’t happen;” our new reliance on rebooted dramas or cartoon superheroes to populate our movie screens; a wide acceptance of the once verboten, but now legalized pot in our homes, and the growth of services like Uber Eats to call on when the munchies attack.
Canada legalized same sex marriage in 2005, and the United States finally did the same in 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled that statewide bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. That lead to members of the LGBTQ+ community, along with those that identified as pansexual, transgender, and non-binary to be more comfortable and visible in society.
The rise of the gig economy, along with a relaxing of work constrictions in the white-collar world, lead to a confusing place where would be entrepreneurs learned that working from home or as a contractor for Lyft or Uber meant never actually being ‘off the clock.’ With wi fi, telecommuting, or a ‘side hustle,’ people could work after hours, on weekends, and on their holidays, at least until they finally collapsed from overwork.
And, of course, Facebook morphed into an arm of the right wing, choosing to align with the most contentious of messaging, rewarding all those treasonous ‘likes’ with more exposure, and allowing gangs advocating hate and violence to be exposed to the most viewers possible within the network.
But, saddest of all, we broke politics. Where once it was possible to hope for hands across the aisle on important, national issues, partisan divide on basic issues like race, immigration, social services, and democracy are deeper than ever before. The right thinks the left is insane; the left thinks the right are nuts. You can’t successfully run a country with that kind of animosity.
For every bit of progress gained, there’s been enormous steps back, particularly in the U.S., but also here in Canada, where so many aspire to the same sort of politicking.
To add even more angst to the trump years, the pandemic came into play in 2020 and had a chilling effect on society and the economy. There will be long term consequences to the planet from the ‘pause’, and not just in terms of overall health.
Outbreaks are like black holes; all resources and all expertises are drawn into its maw. While we deal with the problem at hand, other agendas, like education, child survival, and even basic primary healthcare services are interrupted. Kids due for their measles and mumps jabs might fall between the cracks, as might seniors, who typically see their doctors more often as diseases of the elderly progress.
How we work has been forever changed. It’s unlikely big companies will return to leasing large office spaces for their employees to do the things they can do as well, if not better, at home. That will change those large business buildings in the heart of the city; will they remain empty, or be converted to more necessary uses?
Schooling from home has been a double-edged sword. Kids thrive on communicating and getting to know other people. Many kids flee to school for some of their basic needs, like food, and sometimes psychological aid. But for many kids, working from home, at their own speed, has actually enhanced their connections with their families, and allowed the student to learn at their own pace.
Dealing with a deadly pandemic, while trying to right the economic vehicle is tricky, and not a job for the faint of heart. Watching Biden attempt to deal with all of the current societal ‘fires’ in his nation, while also respecting that ignoring COVID and its impact could destroy all they have worked for, has been a spectacle, rather like watching a world class juggler. The more items he’s given to juggle, the likelier that some will fall. But eventually, all the agendas will be back in his hands and moving smoothly.
I contend this last decade has been the most significant since the 60s. We’ve been forcibly required to acknowledge that inequality is rampant in our societies. It has become clear that those with wealth are the most likely to survive, assuming they take advantage of the healthcare and vaccines available.
We have learned that our essential workers are those most likely to make the least money, and to be the most likely to be exposed to the virus. It’s the people who had to keep working, relying on a daily wage, or those who live in crowded housing, that paid the highest price.
A lot of those minimum wage workers have learned that the small amount of pay they received for doing a necessary work was just not enough to warrant their continued labour or loyalty. Many of those workers used the pandemic down time to gear up for a change of career. It will take a few years for there to be people needy enough to queue up for low paying jobs with little future.
Around the globe, people in third world countries often are without access to clean water and soap, or able to enforce social distancing, and those countries are even less likely to be receiving the vaccines, or care when ill. In the case of forcibly displaced populations, like the Haitians fleeing their politics, or the highly vulnerable East Africans, the pandemic is just on more incredible challenge, which they will experience in overcrowded and under-resourced refugee camps, if they’re lucky enough to find themselves there.
We have learned that we don’t need to buy so much ‘stuff’, but that it’s often fun to do so anyway. We’ve made trillionaires out of billionaires. We’ve seen some of the world’s wealthiest people push to the head of the vaccine line, and then use their largely untaxed dollars to build rockets meant for joyriding millionaires, but ultimately turned into machinery for the delivery of arms to other nations around the world.
Some parts of the economy were killed, and will never return, just as the once ubiquitous buggy whip companies saw their day come and go.
Now, in September 2021, Kagan returns to the subject of trump, his cult, and fascism, and makes these predictions:
“The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial…
The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have…
Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.”
It’s been an interesting decade … and it ain’t over yet ….
Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.