The 2010s: A Premature Evaluation

The 2010s: A Premature Evaluation

Hindsight Is Key

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History… suggested that with the end of the Cold War, humanity had reached an end/block point to the ideological evolution of the 20th century resulting in a broad acceptance of Western liberal democratic values. It was a stupendously general claim to make and one that would be criticised as new problems rose to take the place of the old. But if you take a step back, you’ll see how it is sometimes crucial for our understanding of history to get a broad overview before splitting stones because back then the US had very much started a new chapter of its story.

Hindsight is key for any proper historical evaluation. This article will simply not be able to capture the essence, key themes and ideas of the last decade; at least, not in a lasting way- primarily because, we don’t know what’s going to be important six months from now, let alone in 20 years. New information always becomes available and our core values change with each generation. Obama may be considered left of centre today but for future generations, he could be positively right-wing. Heck, Richard Nixon (the most flabbergasted of Republican presidents) established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Enough dawdling though; this context is important for the purpose of humility but it does not advance the story of the 2010s. What was this decade all about? How did America get from point A to point B? From Hope to Trump.

A New Generation

The millennials came of age this decade. Cast in the shadow of global austerity measures and economic hardship following the Financial Collapse of 2008, theirs (I say theirs, ours really) was a generation fraught with a unique level of anxiety. Many degrees were becoming increasingly less advantageous as job opportunities dried up and the unpaid internship net widened. It’s no wonder why, in this context, a sea of resentment festered; particularly against Boomers who wreaked prosperous opportunities in less tech-automated times whilst ignoring the most pressing issues facing the youth of today. As such, we’ve seen more people living at home for longer, trying for MAs, and adapting to a range of career positions; fluidity and creativity all the more pertinent.

Wall Street

Did the Obama administration fail this generation then by following in Bush’s lead in bailing out the banks? Intentions are certainly important; Obama did save America from the brink of a depression but the seeds of discord were planted in 2009 and the early 2010s. If millennials were to be denied the opportunities of their fathers or grandfathers, they’d at least strive to make their voices heard- which they very much have; for better and worse.

With regards the better, they (and Generation Z) have called for increasingly liberal stances on issues such as student fees, climate change, and health care. Whilst not altogether effective yet, the knocking on the government’s door has been getting louder and louder in recent years. How else would one explain the sensation that is Bernie Sanders; a candidate who probably wouldn’t have prospered this way in the 2000s. In another area, they have been more effective; calling for increased diversity in workplaces, media, and arts. Today’s music, TV, and film scene is a lot less white than it was 20 years ago.

With regards the worse, millennials are often seen (seen, don’t cancel me) as petty and entitled by the older generations (who in turn, have seemingly forgotten their responsibility to rear and guide their children). Is there truth to this? It’s a wild stereotype that’s limited but keeping in mind, the general overview from the intro, I’m inclined to believe that for all the good done with social media justice, there is an equal and lamentable drive for over-reaction. It is far too easy to get a rise out of people on social media or to have their television or film contract reassessed due to some stupid but ultimately unimportant remarks made in the past. On college campuses, speakers are protested for merely holding non-liberal views and as a result, many fear the very idea of free speech is under threat (especially when the term “hate speech” gets added to the mix). Outrage is an industry in and of itself.

Millennials can be said to be tolerant of anything but intolerance. Again, generally. At first glance, this may seem amicable and perfectly reasonable. Look at the strides made by the LGBTQ community this decade; today, people assess sexuality and gender in a far broader context than ten years ago. On the other hand, judgment has become popular and forgiveness is in short supply. This is not meant to advocate some false equivalency of opinion between liberals and conservatives but rather to point out that to effect change among certain groups, it is sometimes wise to speak rather than shout, listen so as to at least be cordial. This is as much a question of generational divide as it is political ideology; a great gulf has split people on subjects ranging from health care to gender neutral bathrooms. I believe we should let decency prevail where political correctness fails because there are numbers to be gained from the other side, especially in 2020.

With all that in mind, I don’t think millennials can be faulted for their intentions. Climate change does need to be addressed and for this reason alone, there is more hope to be found with 20- to 30-somethings than with our elders. The question looming over the 2020s on this issue, among others (like gun control) will be did they manage to tackle the problem effectively as well as righteously.

The Culture Wars (On Steroids)

To explore this generational/ideological gulf further, we must assess why and how everything became so political. What do I mean? What talk show today doesn’t feature a joke about Trump? What books or movies or genres of music do well with one camp or with another? This isn’t exactly a new idea- the culture wars have long been prevalent in American society but nowadays, even a movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is read by some as a feminist assault on traditional cinema. The reactions to divisive projects like this are often downright ridiculous but they do have origins tales of their own; for just as diversity promised to enrich America’ cultural experience, there were those who felt the pendulum was moving a little too fast and in places with a little too much force (e.g. female reboots, politically correct re-workings). With the recent reaction to John Legend’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, it’s fair to say that “woke culture” (to broaden this horizon) was given a bit of a slap in the face. The condemning of past opinions too (like John Wayne’s on race relations), while right, also seem trivial and petty. Will it be a case that liberals have to learn to pick their battles or will a dignified if self-righteous sense of morality prevail?

John Legend and Kelly Clarkson’s new version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been criticised as an example of the left pandering to minute sensitivities and PC culture.

Of course, the culture wars don’t matter to most people and outrage (built on Twitter feeds) has never truly reflected the actuality of common opinion. Clickbait journalism and not-even-trying-to-be-objective-anymore news stations have amplified once barely prevalent tensions. Controversy sells and as long as people relinquish their sacred duty for critical thinking (on the left and right), the battleground will continue to get muddier.

It’s also become harder to blend opposing facets of oneself. You vote Blue so you must adhere to every liberal constitution, right? Your favourite movie is Moonlight and you drive a hybrid? Where the divide between Democrats and Republicans has intensified on the actual issues, so too have the values associated with social liberals and conservatives. It may not come across on your social media field but there have been gay republicans and fervently religious but vegan democrats. Contradictions may arise if you take everything literally but people aren’t just what they wear, what they vote, or what they listen to. The idea of groupthink and identity politics may be useful for our understanding of certain privileges and economic disadvantages but it is fundamentally important to remember the individuals (sometimes) trapped within.

From Hope to Trump

So far, we have largely explored the emerging tide of liberal values among millennials as well as their shortcomings. While their voices may be heard across social media and campuses however, the real power now lies with a bizarre authoritarian right wing. Is this a reaction to political correctness? A reaction to an America older white people don’t recognise? To the failure and stalling of democracy? Obama? It’s hard to pin it down to one reason but most people would agree it is indeed a reaction.

Let’s go back to 2010. The economy is poor and health care legislation has been passed. The Republicans have amped up their objection to an 11. Will they undo Obama’s key piece of legislation? No. But they will use it as bait to take back both the House and Senate later that year and for the next six, make Obama’s presidency as much of a struggle as possible. Every time, a shooting occurs, they will keep focused and ensure protection of the NRA… I mean, the 2nd Amendment. Every time, a liberal piece of legislation comes forward from Obama, they will block it because they understand it to be good politics; the attack strategies of the last twenty years have worked, so why not? Thus, Obama is confined to foreign policy measures and acting where he can. To many, he appears weak.

Obama’s team is not willing to give up that easily however. There are cards to play and victories do emerge, even if they take time. One such victory was the assassination of Bin Laden in 2011, which undoubtedly helped push the re-election campaign along nicely. Beating Romney the following year also cemented his popularity, meaning he could argue his case to the public more frequently. The Iran Nuclear Deal and Gay Marriage followed in 2015 and all things considered, Obama had done a pretty good job with what he was given. So why was there such a fundamental shift in 2016?

For one, people underestimated just how important the appeal of Obama, himself, was. Hillarys politics may not have been miles off his but she simply couldn’t inspire the loyalty he did; he was one of the greatest orators of all time. As well as that however, Obama was unable to translate his messages across as those of the Democratic establishment. After all, they lost handily in 2014, even before Trump entered the picture. Perhaps because, for all their gesticulation, they couldn’t advertise themselves half as well as the GOP. Confidence it seems can be as toxic as it is appealing. That’s where Trump comes in.

Trump won, not because of the substance of his arguments but because of the way he projected them and himself. The Republican field toppled in the debates of late 2015 and all the while, throughout the primaries, we fooled ourselves into thinking this was some kind of joke. Brexit should’ve rang alarm bells. Trump getting the nomination should have too. But like an age-old tragedy, we followed the path blindly and suffered as a result.

If Trump wasn’t a traditional conservative, it didn’t matter at all. As stated earlier, Nixon established the EPA; so clearly this party’s open to whatever. And just like that, they all relinquished honesty and their duty for the sake of power (… Paul Ryan). The Democrats, on the other hand, may not have exactly appeased their camp but they did little to persuade voters, who could be turned, why theirs was a better one to join. Many liberals simply took to labelling Trump supporters stupid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. This continues to be a mistake, in my view, and a crucial one differentiating many working class people struggling with every day economic opportunities from the elitist self-righteous liberals who know nothing of them.

Trump’s impeachment may get rid of the man but it won’t get rid of the problem because he’s as much a symptom of the ills dominating the bi-polarity of politics this decade as obtuse NRA support or further tax breaks for the 1% are. In a strange way, it’s odd that it’s taken so long for a clown to ascend to the throne considering the acrobatics and pantomime politicians perform but if anything should be clear to the Democrats now, it is that their battle will not end in 2020. Complacency has always been their problem.

A New Left

There is a spark of hope to be found in the Democratic Party however as we end the 2010s. For just as the right has moved beyond any nuance of centrism, the left has recognised its need to stake its own ground too. The campaign of Bernie in 2016 mobilised a movement the corporate Democrats simply didn’t understand; one that has already flourished with the election of candidates like Alexandria Occasion Cortes last year and the adoption of more liberal stances in the election field this year. The party is undergoing a period of transformation, having essentially spent the last 30 years meeting their adversaries in a compromised middle. Whether this will prove wise remains to be seen. Two schools of thought are currently battling it out to see who can take back those Trump voters; the more centrist likes of Joe Biden and the others like Bernie/Warren. Again, we see the political and the cultural dominoes of America falling in tandem.

As I’ve often stated in pieces on this site, I believe the issues should remain central to Bernie’s and other’s campaigns, not the bait Republicans masquerade as issues (e.g. patriotism) nor the scandals that get blown out of proportion (e.g. Hillary’s emails). So far, they seem to be on track but as the other elections of the 2010s have shown, the Republicans aren’t bad at winning.

In Summation

How strange the Clinton-Blair years now seem to us in a world turned upside down. Forests are burning, debts are rising, automation threatens millions of jobs, racism appears more openly acceptable, and James Corden has a chat show. The 2010s have been a scary time and they’ve only gotten more so; the fresh fruit of the Obama years now rotten to its core. Were we misguided by hope as we may be now? Possibly. I think, more likely however, voter apathy and perennial compromise by liberals beset on preaching without acting led to desperation.

In times of economic upheaval and vulnerability, radical ideologies become all the more appealing. That is not to say we will face a direct parallel with the 1930s and devolve into a fight between fascism, democracy, and communism but this sharp split is somewhat reminiscent. It will play out dramatically in next year’s election, which will be about much more than electing a new president; it’ll be about ratifying the course American culture will head in under the auspices of ideological, generational, and human values (or as Joe Biden put it, the “soul of America”).

The 2010s are yet foggy and there was a great deal more I could have explored (e.g. foreign policy, keyboard warriors, police brutality, #metoo, etc.) but a feint trajectory permeates this hew nonetheless; one linking our apathy and disinterest to upheaval and renewed activism. The people of today speak of politics far more than they did ten years ago. This is both a good and bad thing.

A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

On the evening of March 22, the residents of Maricopa County, Arizona, left their homes to vote in the Grand Canyon States’ primaries. Little were they aware that excruciatingly long voter lines would obstruct their path as residents scattered the pavements that wended from the bloated polling stations. The evenings polling swiftly descended into farce, leaving many locals without a vote, and seething at the poorly handled event. But, what went wrong, and who was to blame?

Maricopa County Recorder, Helen Purcell, fell on her sword, proclaiming that she “screwed up”. Purcell was responsible for planning polling locations ahead of elections, which were reduced by a whopping 70 percent this year in contrast to the 2012 primaries, from 200 locations to a paltry 60. This was a ludicrous decision – the agency of hindsight is not required. Maricopa County is the most populous statewide, and includes its largest city, Phoenix, which just happens to have a non-white majority and is predominantly a Democratic Elysium situated within a Republican Nirvana.

To put things in perspective, four years ago 300,000 citizens voted compared to the 800,000 that were trying to cast their ballots last month. Looking at it from another angle: there was one polling facility for every 21,000 voters, compared with one facility for every 2,500 voters throughout the rest of the state. This is a serious oversight particularly with the knowledge that this years primaries have been acerbically divisive, resulting in huge voter turnout nationwide, it is simply deplorable that this was allowed to happen.

Purcell nonchalantly claimed afterward that the number of polling stations reflected the early voting lists and that one third of the people registered in the county could not officially mark a ballot, as they were Independents. The latter is an unfortunate, obstructive by-product of Arizona’s closed primary system in which one must be registered to vote for a designated party.

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Maricopa County residents faced lengthy queues while trying to vote in Arizona’s primaries last month. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Much to the chagrin of many Independent voters (who have the option to change, or choose a party at the time of voting), many were left disillusioned as they were turned away upon reaching the top of the lengthy queues. Some were given provisional ballots, or simply told that their votes would not be counted, fueling the frustration.

In the aftermath of the fiasco and bearing in mind that many Independents would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they had been given the opportunity, a whitehouse.gov petition emerged that charged voter fraud and voter suppression in Arizona. As of April 8, there have been 213,306 signatures meaning that the White House is required to provide an official response (the threshold being 100,000 signatures).

What transpired at the polling stations across Maricopa County is hardly a new phenomenon, yet it serves as a useful, and worrying precedent. The Mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, illuminated the saliency of the issue and disparaged the lack of organisation. He expounded that the allocation of stations was more favourable in predominately Anglo communities and that there were fewer voting locations in parts of the county with greater minority populations.

Furthermore, Stanton highlighted the plight of poorer voters, “if you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” he added that “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.” This iniquity is nestled in the bosom of voting bulwarks that have been mainly constructed by the GOP across the United States in recent years.

Leading the way with such studies is the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Michael Waldman, president of the center, argues that Republicans have been positioning to pass laws around the U.S. with the end goal of making it more difficult and convoluted for people to cast their vote. According to the Brennan Centre, in 2016 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. These new laws vary, from strict photo ID requirements, to early voting cutbacks, to registration restrictions.

Some of the more punitive and heterogeneous cases feature an amendment in Texas that stipulates residents must show a state or federal issued form of ID to vote, or that the only ID issuing office in Sauk City, Wisconsin, is open 8:15am to 4:00pm on the fifth Wednesday of each month (there are only 4 fifth Wednesdays this year).

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Voter ID is an increasingly pressing issue facing the Presidential election (AP Photo/Matt York)

The presentation of relevant identification at polling stations was the cause of puzzlement during the Wisconsin primaries last Tuesday evening. Wisconsin has been thrust centre stage over the last few weeks as it became apparent that Governor Scott Walker (formerly of the presidential hopeful parish) signed a bill into law that would make it harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The new legislation will allow Wisconsinites to register to vote online.

While this sounds like a positive step in the right direction, many community organisers, such as the the League of Women Voters, et al, have argued that it will disenfranchise the poor or marginalised as these groups are more likely to register through voter registration drives. There are other obstacles that face these groups too, such as the lack of a driver’s license.

Historically, a larger voter turnout for presidential elections has favoured the Democratic nominee, a philosophy that the Sanders’ campaign has firmly grasped. That being said, high turnouts this primary season for Donald Trump have helped catapult him to the top of the withering GOP tree. Yet, it is apparent that the GOP establishment is holding out hope for a contested RNC. The abjectly handled primaries in Arizona, and Wisconsin on Tuesday evening are telltale signs of an ominous portend for the general election in November. Voter suppression is a cog in a larger machine that asphyxiates the very fabric of American ideals, a moralistic tapestry that continues to fray with much contrition.

Matthew O’Brien 

Should You Vote?

Should You Vote?

In Ireland, 2008, when the infamous Bertie Aherne stood down, only a year after re-election, we were given our proverbial white knight, Brian Cowen. A man of superior intellect, yet lacking experience and know how, his fate was already sealed as he assumed the highest office in this land. While dealing in hypothetcials is often trite, it’s fascinating to cogitate on the following: what if the Fianna Gael/Labour coalition had won that day in 2007? Let’s face it, that election was a poisoned chalice that could just as easily have had Enda’s lips pressed against the rim. If that was the case, what would have happened in 2011? Would the Irish people have re-elected the current government in a back to the future style election? We honestly don’t think so. There was something rotten in the state of Ireland and this was met with a prevailing current of mistrust towards government officials. But let’s not get bogged down in hypothetical situations because they can be as unrealistic as the person who posits them wants them to be such as, what if Donald Trump became POTUS? Shudder!

Still, all around the world, the question remains: Does voting make a difference? Are we actually participating in a democratic system? They all look the same! Indeed, one might nod along just to give the impression of comprehension but with the US election in full swing and an Irish one right around the corner, it’s important to actually take some time to consider this question. Done? The answer is yes – it makes a difference. You might not change the colour of the sky, you may have to wait a little while for a bill to pass but that doesn’t mean you should just give up, shake your head and turn on The Big Bang Theory. Allow us to explain…

Without voting, democracy would crumble and fail. Without it, the margin between public interest and political rhetoric simply widens; oligarchies develop, corruption thrives, and the people lose. Yes, we may feel this if often the case when taxes are raised and any worthwhile bills get frozen in deadlock. What we need to understand and ultimately appreciate however is that any worthwhile change requires this time and care. It’s frustrating but necessary if we mean to be part of a reasoned society and believe me, every last vote can count.

Take for example the U.S. Presidential Election of 1960, the closest race for the White House in history. Kennedy eeked out a .1% victory over Ticky Dicky, and became the youngest ever American president. Fueling the embers of the much anticipated election were the inaugural televised presidential debates, which presented a new platform that the American population embraced, well, those who owned a television set. So, it simply doesn’t matter if the margin of victory is .1% or 60%. What does matter, however, is that the vessel of democracy is kept afloat through its virtuous axiom, and that as members of the electorate we recognise the importance of the responsibility and indeed power that we wield.

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Our responsibility extends further than merely casting a vote for the sake of a vote, however. By that we mean that people should know what they’re talking about. In his seminal body of work, Democracy in America, the French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville commented that any true democracy requires the ‘enlightenment’ of its people. In short, people who vote need to be smart about it. On the radio a couple of weeks an average Joe called in to rant against the ‘waffling’ of People Before Profit, whilst claiming he would support Michael Martin because he seems like a ‘nice’ guy. Well, that’s all very good if you’re choosing someone to go drinking with but is that what elections are really about? This should be obvious, but elections should be treated more like job interviews. So don’t be an idiot and vote for someone only because you like them. Don’t vote for someone you know, your friends recommend or who has an amiable poster face. Vote for the person who actually knows what they’re talking about and has the nation’s interest at heart.

This brings us to a crucial point; personal bias. So you might know someone who seems fairly tuned in to the whole political process but who also puts their own interests forward as the most important. We all have a point to make about how our own class or family or club has been affected by government cuts, e.g. a middle class earner may gripe about having to pay higher taxes, while lower earners may feel just as hard done by paying what they pay. Yet sometimes, you need to put the country before yourself; vote for what you think is right rather than what is beneficial for you.

When the campaign trails start, make an effort to absorb all the information you can. Ask the important questions. Challenge your own pre-conceived notions and make a smart decision because when smart decisions are made, the game is raised. When you test these politicians, it follows that they naturally have to become a bit smarter, themselves; a bit more accountable even. Then you get the changes you want. When you sit at home and don’t make the effort but spout out vague nonsense about revolutions, well, you might get a few Facebook likes but you won’t be taken seriously. Remember, a government is only as good as its people. Don’t be so naïve as to think all politicians are naturally bad.

Andrew Carolan & Matthew O’Brien