History Suggests that America is Ripe for a Conservative Resurgence
Aging hippies have a penchant for recalling the 1960s as some amazing, idyllic moment in time. As Jonah Goldberg writes in Liberal Fascism, it’s “bizarre how many people remember the 1960s as a time of ‘unity’ and ‘hope’ when it was, in reality, a time of rampant domestic terrorism, campus tumult, assassinations, and riots.”
Goldberg hits the nail squarely on the head when appraising why aging hippies feel that way. Their “liberal nostalgia” for the 1960s is more about a longing “for victory” than an interest in “unity.” Leftists love the 1960s for the same reason that they love the 1930s, a decade also marred by “political unrest, intense labor violence, and the fear that one totalitarianism or another lay just around the corner.”
Both decades were the times when leftists believed that “we were all in it together,” writes Goldberg. The kind of “unity” that took the shape of “staid conformity” in the 1950s was undesirable for them. “In the 1930s and 1960s, the left’s popular-front approach yielded real power.”
Voters, however, swiftly repudiated that era of massively growing government power and carefully fomented social unrest under LBJ’s Great Society schemes. In 1968, America elected Richard Nixon on his promise to find “an honorable end to the war in Vietnam.” He promised to repeal government regulations, reminding Americans that “progress is achieved not by government doing more for people, but through people doing more for themselves.” He assured Americans that he would “restore respect for America around the world.”
Drawing historical parallels is never perfectly clean but does any of that sound familiar? Did Barack Obama not massively grow government for eight years while fomenting social unrest and racial violence in the later years of his presidency? Can Donald Trump’s election in 2016 be seen as anything but a direct repudiation of Barack Obama’s presidency?
When Trump ran, he stated his opposition to foreign military interventions, while also promising to repair America’s reputation, which Obama had tarnished with his global “apology tours.” And Trump absolutely ran on a platform suggesting that individuals are empowered by getting the government out of their way.
Nixon was reelected in 1972, in a landslide victory. Then, after the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned in 1974, and a disillusioned America fell into malaise. In 1976, Georgia Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford in the presidential election.
Jimmy Carter’s time as president was defined by global turmoil and economic woes. It is for good reason that we’ve begun hearing about the similarities between Joe Biden’s early term and Jimmy Carter’s lone term as president.
For armchair economists, the word “stagflation” has become as synonymous with Jimmy Carter’s America as the word “hyperinflation” is synonymous with the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. Put simply, stagflation occurs with an economy “that is experiencing a simultaneous increase in inflation and a stagnation of economic output.” High unemployment yields stagnant economic output.
Recently reported employment numbers fell wildly below expectations for improvement in an economy that is being superheated by government stimulus. It is also widely believed that lavish unemployment benefits are disincentivizing many Americans from returning to the workplace. Prices, on the other hand, are skyrocketing, as we just experienced the highest level of inflation in over a decade.
Sprinkle in some Iranian-driven turmoil in the Middle East and a gasoline crisis that is making Americans spend more at the pumps and wait in long lines for the privilege of doing so, and you don’t have to speculate long as to why the comparisons between Biden and Carter are being drawn. And while that’s unquestionably a welcome and advantageous comparison for the GOP to exploit and politicize, it’s also pretty accurate and difficult to refute, as historical comparisons go.
And herein lies the crux of our political times. Is Obama a strong analog for an LBJ or an FDR? Is Trump’s exit from the presidency -- after having won it in 2016 on the premise of reversing his predecessor’s efforts and after having earned more votes in 2020 than any American presidential candidate before him (by a large margin), yet arguably having left the GOP stage in disgrace -- a good analog for Nixon? And despite all the pure parallels to be found, can we truly view Joe Biden as analogous to Jimmy Carter?
The short answer is that it doesn’t really matter. These individual politicians are much less relevant than the trends we may be able to identify among the people who voted for them.
So, what happened after Jimmy Carter’s presidency? Ronald Reagan, of course.
In 1980, Americans were again ready to feel good about America and who we are. We had an ideological adversary on the global stage, and we believed in our American exceptionalism, as it was relative to their tyranny. Americans wanted cheap gas, less government, and to find their way toward the American dream, not the pipe dreams of a collective utopia that preoccupied the hippies of the 1960s.
I cannot argue that Reagan was incidental to the equation for that recipe for success and American happiness that generally existed until late in Barack Obama’s presidency. But the American people longed for Reagan’s message at that moment in time, in such a way that it ushered in the popular and constitutional revolution that we saw. It could not have been so received at any other time.
Now, here’s food for thought. Let’s concede that Joe Biden’s America is Jimmy Carter’s America with fancier gadgets. Generation Z, which is handier with those gadgets than any other demographic in America today, is arguably the most entrepreneurial group of Americans to have ever existed in America. An astonishing 54-percent of them want to start their own business. They’re actively choosing to delay or skip college to build something of their own. They are choosing to ignore the primary step that their parents, school counselors, Hollywood, and politicians all tell them that they absolutely must take if they want to be successful, which is to go to college.
What makes us think that they won’t buck all those representatives of the status quo who say that they have to be “woke” by supporting societal racism in the form of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and say that the government has to take increasingly more of what they earn in those newly started businesses and that all of their future happiness depends on voting for a Democrat, as everyone tells them to?
It doesn’t have to be a Reagan. It doesn’t have to be Trump. The Democrats are currently failing on a level not seen since the 1970s, and it stands to reason that Americans will make them pay for that, hopefully beginning in 2022. All we need is someone who can tap into that patriotic vein of American exceptionalism and the boundless potential of the American individual, because if history is any measure, the hopefully short-term struggles with a President Biden may yield America’s best days yet.
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