How did the West get to this point again?

I once attended a lecture featuring Jonathan T. Gilliam, an ex-Navy Seal who spoke about how terrorists exploit vulnerabilities for their attacks. It was quite informative, but I was mostly interested in meeting other people right-of-center as I was new to Manhattan at the time.

After the event, I met a pair of guys—I believe they were lawyers—toward the back of the room. The conversation shifted toward the increasing violence developing in New York City. It was 2018, and AntiFa had already bashed windows, set fires, hospitalized anyone who dared attend an event without their prior approval. Maybe these lawyers were too busy with work to pay attention to the news, but they flat-out gaslit me when I mentioned these riot groups.

            “I mean, I think the news media just hypes these things up a lot to get ratings. I don’t think there’s anything that terrible going on for the most part.”

            “Yeah, and that’s just part of living in a big city. Stuff like that happens all the time in New York.”

I was taken aback, to say the least. These weren’t some Upper East Siders who read The Village Voice and agreed with the violence anyway. Nor were these guys at least validating what I had witnessed, even if they hadn’t. These were republicans who, I guess, thought I was making this all up for shits and giggles. What I later realized, is that these were typical New York Metro republicans, who just like to give themselves that label to feel special. I remember responding by getting flustered and warning them to be “very careful” when they ride the subway or walk on the streets at night. They looked at me like I had three heads, and I wondered if maybe I was the crazy one here.

Welp, it would be great to know what these guys think about my observation now.

Maybe it’s the rose-colored glasses of ‘90s nostalgia, or maybe it’s a fact of human nature, but it seems that certain things used to be less bad than they are right now.

Maybe the crime rate’s up, or maybe it’s actually down but crimes are being reported more frequently, or maybe it’s up, but in certain areas of the country. Maybe people are dumber now, or maybe they’re smarter but are having a harder time competing in the information age. Either way, it’s clear the very ideas of crime, education, humanity, rights and responsibilities are being challenged. And not in the naïve sense of our parents in the 1960s, when they felt they were expanding freedoms toward all people. No, more like the corrupt sense of the 1970s—when cities were deteriorating, a general malaise permeated the economy, America was still in Vietnam, the entertainment industry cynically fed its audience crap knowing they’d watch it, and scammers and drug dealers were only a few examples of the day-to-day ripoff.

The Strauss-Howe generational theory suggests that every 80-year span in American history has contained 4 “turnings”: High, Awakening, Unraveling and Crisis. The theory suggests that our most recent cycle began after WWII, when the baby boom brought a period of rapid economic growth up until about 1960, right when JFK was elected. The authors then mark the beginning of the Awakening in 1961, when the Civil Rights era and hippy trend gained momentum. I, however, prefer to take some liberties with this timeframe, as Strauss and Howe admit it is not an exact science, and mark the Awakening from 1955 to 1970. The first Civil Rights Act of the 20th Century was passed in 1957, the beatnik trend predated the hippies, and most of the subsequent social reforms reached critical mass around the early 70s, with NARAL and Greenpeace entering national politics at the time.

It was at this moment, when most major forms of government-sanctioned discrimination had faded away (although, yes, there were still gays and lesbians who needed to hide their significant others from the neighbors), that protests grew more pointlessly violent. Sure, there had been violent anarchists at the turn of the century (e.g., Alexander Berkman’s attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick), but there were men and children dying in steel mills back then, working 12-hour shifts and limited to shopping at the company store. Frick and his friends at the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club had also caused the Johnstown flood, which to date remains the third-largest loss of civilian life in American history. As a more nuanced Chris Rock might say, I’m not saying that these anarchists were justified, but I understand them a little better.

The political violence of the late 1970s was committed mostly toward or after the end of the Vietnam War, after Medicare and Medicaid had been established by LBJ, after uber-liberal Jimmy Carter had already won his election, and after talk of equality had already become part of the mainstream. All In The Family was the number-one TV show for five straight seasons by 1976, and the whole point of it was to laugh at the old-fashioned, close-minded Archie Bunker. Still, groups like Weather Underground and Animal Liberation Front were upset enough to plant bombs and commit deadly terror attacks. The goals of such organizations were becoming more and more unclear, and their actions more unpredictable, toward increasingly innocent targets. So, too, was overall crime evolving from feuding mobsters to withdrawn loners who simply got a thrill out of murdering unsuspecting citizens. It no longer needed to be about money, drugs, revenge or desperation, but was rather a means of satisfying the criminal’s fleeting whims. This mindset is still seen in today’s street gangs, as well as run-of-the-mill teenagers.

Strauss and Howe feel that the Unraveling of American society lasted from 1982 until 2006, and that the Crisis period began with the Great Recession, but that may be looking at the situation through an anti-Republican lens. The socialism of 1970s culture was somewhat abated in the Reagan years—after all, he did play a pivotal role in ending the Soviet Union—but the crime, drug war, illegal immigration, political division, decline in public education, growth of the federal government, foreign policy entanglements, and moral decay continued well through the 1990s. Not only was youth culture becoming more about rebelling through one’s CD collection than contributing new ideas, but Bush, Sr. got us involved with Iraq and Janet Reno went after the Branch Davidians. Millennials had grown up knowing peace, a volunteer-only military and a growing economy. We were spoiled in this way, and only those with at least a cursory knowledge of history would be able to track the absurdity that followed the 9/11 attacks—which I believe were the true beginning of the Crisis era.

The immediate aftermath of the attacks, what Glenn Beck used to refer to as the “9/12” period, soon fizzled into arguments over what should be done in response. Before Obama’s presidency, it could be said that 2004 was the most divisive year since the 1968 election, and the lessons of two decades of war have yet to be learned. It’s 2024, and there are new wars, new government schemes, new corporate schemes, new ways for teenagers to kill themselves or end up in prison, new philosophies that are doomed to fail. Moreover, far too many U.S. citizens aren’t even sure what the U.S. is anymore.

Americans at least for a time used to frown upon things like murder and rape. When the average American saw public nudity or college students flailing their arms hysterically, the reaction was one of dismissal and/or disgust—or at least laughter. This was still a time when militant activists were the weirdos. There was also an understanding that, as irritated as a liberal might be by a conservative, they weren’t going to physically harm anyone. What would that accomplish, anyway?

Blame Obama, blame Trump, blame Hillary, blame Biden, blame whoever. The current crises were not spawned in any particular year. The seeds were planted long before my grandparents were even born, with progressivism pushed by Woodrow Wilson at the latest. One could trace leftist lunacy back to the more benign ideals of social justice introduced by Jane Addams in the 1880s, or even further to Karl Marx. Hell, you could blame Cain for starting a trend of envy toward the more successful in biblical times. Regardless, we now live in a society that shrugs at death, deviancy and dishonesty. The media protects murderers from name-calling, George Floyd is shown more respect than Dr. Ben Carson, a staffer who fucked in the Capitol Building is given more slack than the guy who put his feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, and public figures lie after they’ve already been caught.

But there can no longer be the excuse that this craziness came out of nowhere. Things were clearly headed downhill to anyone who cared to notice. Granted, it may have been too gradual to track, and the timing couldn’t be pinpointed, but most people should have seen the logical conclusion to kicking these major problems down the road. Teen substance abuse and pregnancies. Unchecked illegal immigration. Increased government control over private businesses and daily life. Erosion of what used to be understood as basic founding freedoms of this country. Most disappointing, the American public volunteering in its own oppression.

Everything will return to equilibrium at some point, but how and exactly when that happens is anyone’s guess. Could be a civil war, or a more civilized national divorce. Could be another country taking us over at our weakest moment. Could be a revamping of the Constitution. Could be decentralization toward cryptocurrency. Colonization of Mars seems to be a far way off, but maybe we will see a number of self-sufficient anarcho-capitalist societies pick up the torch where the federal presidential republic left off. In fact, I predict at least one U.S. state leaving the union within the next 60 years if there are no drastic changes to the status quo.

The Crisis, or “Fourth Turning,” is expected to end between 2028 and 2030. At that point, Americans can look forward to an economic upswing, perhaps another baby boom, a return to shared values, and a resurgence of innovation. It’s just so frustrating a thought that such unnecessary and often artificial horrors must precede this prosperity. All because the complacent among us were so willfully blind.