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.

The Democrats and Climate Change

The Democrats and Climate Change

The concern surrounding the climate change crisis seems to finally be reaching its target audience, the world. This is in large part thanks to Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and her powerful campaigns as well as a growing consensus on the part of liberals that bold action is needed ASAP. So which Democratic candidate has the most to offer future generations in this debate and which plan should we be standing by? It may be a matter of simply adding the numbers against scientific projections but unfortunately in the world of Washington, political capital is just as important.

Bernie Sanders, the wild haired independent from Vermont, has naturally put up the largest number in his addresses to tackling this issue. His plan would involve spending $16 trillion over the course of 15 years, aiming for zero emissions from transport and power generation by 2030, while supporting the Green New Deal proposed earlier this year. Elizabeth Warren is rated highly by GreenPeace too; she too desires 100% clean energy and has tied her approach into a more general economic restructuring. Some candidates like Andrew Yang and Beto O’ Rourke have also discerned where funds should be appropriated for coastal inhabitants being relocated and measures being implemented like sea walls, acknowledging that the crisis is already at hand. Indeed, most of them agree that clean energy, disaster relief funds, and taxation will be necessary to some degree or another; where they differ is in funds (Bernie’s plan costing the most, Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion among the least) and attainable goals by time (Bernie’s being the most ambitious with the likes of Julian Castro’s or O’ Rourke’s 2045/2050 in contrast.

They’re all more or less admirable approaches and where specifics arise, like Biden’s plan for half a million renewable power stations, there is some room for hope. But not too much. Yes, there has been a 17% growth since 2013 in Americans seeing climate change as a major threat and yes, there is a rise in renewable energy in parts (e.g. in wind turbines in Texas). Unfortunately, there’s also been an increase in energy consumption, with 2018 seeing a significant spike as a result of post-recession spending (with the last peak year being 2007). As of last year, petroleum and natural gas still dominate this consumption, with renewable sources adding up to a mere 11% (Energy Information Administration). Plus, although 3/4 Americans now believe in climate change (a still embarrassing figure), only 56% Republicans surveyed in August (by AP VoteCast) agreed, with even less (41%) believing human activity was a factor in this.

The odds are not great, especially with the way the Senate is tilted currently and time is running out for the nation that produces 15% of the world’s emissions. To effectively tackle the crisis, a World War 2 level of mobilization will be needed. Perhaps in an economic model of some kind then, we can place our best faith. After all, wind and solar and hydro-electric energy make sense, whether you believe the science or not. Coal is not making a comeback, despite what Trump may have suggested and fracking is coming under an increasing amount of scrutiny. Over half the candidates are for a ban in that area (Castro and Klobuchar support limiting these resources).

The next president, God willing, will face America’s and the world’s greatest challenge. For all the fear-mongering rhetoric the right and idiots would associate with such a statement and what Greta Thunberg has said, the reality is alarming. So should the candidates propose these measures with an air of restraint, lest they alienate voters, or put it out on the line, with the severity it deserves? I hope it will be the latter. After all, the Democrats finally started to impeach Trump, they won the House handily in 2018, and they’ve brought ideas like Sanders and Warren’s into the mainstream (a far cry from five years ago). Hillary tried to walk the line, the same way so many Democrats have in recent decades, positing a centrist alternative to issues the Republicans had the mic on. This time, the Democrats need to be strong and unapologetic because for all the urgency of their other priorities, e.g. health care, climate change is the only one with a non-negotiable time frame.

Reflections – Election 2016

Reflections – Election 2016

A state of shell-shock remains. Although we’ve had nearly two days now to process the results, I still can’t help shake the feeling that we are living in some kind of dark, twisted timeline; one in which Donald Trump has won the presidential race. What’s most terrifying of course is that this most simple statement will soon feel natural to the tongue: Donald J. Trump is president! If shudders could echo, the world would burst apart at the seams. Alas, we must now accept this. And so, even though it feels slightly disheartening and pointless, we must try and diagnose exactly what went wrong.

Why Trump Won 

1. Voter Apathy – The facts are not clear yet but it seems that 130 million out of 230 million (approximately) went out to vote this year. The ones who didn’t presumably had something better to do, like catch all new episodes of ABC’s The Middle. This long-held popular belief among many however that voting “doesn’t make a difference” and that “they’re all the same” has cost humanity dearly this time. To any who chose not to vote; you only have yourself to blame – do not try to hide behind some miscalculated notion of being too dignified to get your hands dirty. It may well emerge that the real victims of a Trump presidency are minority groups in the U.S., particularly African Americans, and Latinos. The tragedy here is that voter apathy played a significant role within these demographies. For example; a woman in Alabama littered her front yard with signs that read, “African American’s Don’t Vote November 8, 2016 Presidential Election,” which coincided with a t-shirt and flier campaign to discourage blacks from voting. The central argument here is that a larger number of the electorate were simply dissatisfied with the choice they were presented with. This, though, is simply not good enough. Remember, where apathy festers, mercy is not forthcoming.

2. The Media – The mass media gave far too much time to Trump from the beginning and they calculated the spirit of the American voter so poorly that they influenced not only the course and outcome of this election but the threshold for what would become acceptable in American political rhetoric. Bernie bemoaned this in nearly every televised interview he gave but the priority always lay with whatever crap Trump was up to. As for the pieces on celebrity endorsements and their reactions to the results; really? Next time around, pay serious attention to the people of America, not just their idols. It’s condescending, it’s click-bait cheap, and it’s irresponsible! On another note, the reputation of pollsters now hangs by a thread. Placing faith in polls has always been a worthless endeavour, as has been proved through the recent referendums on Scottish Independence, and Brexit. The Media’s pitiful dedication to spurious poll figures throughout this year’s election coverage has cast a serious shadow over the public’s faith in various agents of information.

3. American Culture – While it seems the Religious Right may not have been as pertinent to the outcome of this election as others, the clear divide in liberal and conservative circles has become more evident than ever. We cannot ignore the people of the Midwestern states any longer; they are as much a part of the American fabric as liberals are. The states of Wisconsin and Michigan hung in the balance for much of election night, which indicated the Democrats risky strategy of targeting densely populated urban areas like Detroit. The same can even be said of Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  Also, bigotry, sexism, and racism are apparently no longer on the blacklist.

 

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The State of the Nation 

 

What Does This Mean?

1. Global Warming – Climate change is the most significant issue for our generation. Trump, if we are to believe him (and I don’t know whether to) believes it is a hoax- so do many Republicans and they control the House and Senate. This is the most dangerous repercussion of the election as a result, as the US could withdraw its support from the Paris accords and its commitment to a cleaner future.

2. Obama’s Legacy – This was my first thought after “oh shit…” On November 8, I expected to wake up the next morning to a comfortable Clinton lead and a Democratic Senate. There would be change undoubtedly but for the most part, programs such as the Affordable Care Act would be upheld. Now, it could all be undone. Obama’s pages in the history book could effectively be erased. It was a glum, knee-jerk reaction and I can only hope, these darkest fears won’t be realized. It’ll take two years of intensive marshaling on the Democratic Party’s part against Republicans on the floor of the Senate (thankfully the GOP majority is not a 2/3 one) but beyond that, Congress must be regained in the 2018 mid-term elections.

3. Perhaps It Won’t Be Too Bad? – There’s Republicans all around him but I’ve always believed that the office of the presidency eschews overt partisan influences. Presidents have to tackle problems as they arise and with many issues (especially foreign ones), that calls for what is simply, the best response. Sometimes at home, that can mean playing the middle ground. Let’s not forget, George Bush Sr. raised taxes despite an election pledge and Bill Clinton chose to work with a Republican majority where he could. Admittedly this is a thin veil of hope. Let’s consider another desperate avenue then- Trump’s ego. It’s big and I doubt he would like to go down as the worst president in US history. Right? Again, we’re clutching at straws here.

Hillary’s Concession

Clinton’s concession speech was indeed “painful” but it was also beautiful because it revealed something a great many of us had forgotten; that she’s just a human being too. With this speech, it likely dawned on many people what a big mistake had been made, not only at the polling booths but throughout the entire election cycle, when people chose to take her up on every minuscule non-controversy. Her political career may be at an end now (it may also not be) but her example for women and girls out there should never be forgotten. She did not moan. She did not contest the election. She did not say she lost because she’s a woman (although, I think we’ve got to accept there’s an element of truth behind this idea). Rather, she accepted the result with grace and eloquently said that we owe Trump the “open mind” he refused so many.

Obama’s Last Months

As the transition from a Democratic to a Republican White House takes place, a great deal of the Walrus’ attention will focus on the legacy of Barack Obama. Time has a way of clearing perspective which will undoubtedly change much of what we have to say on his domestic and foreign efforts. The class with which he has conducted himself these past two days however, cannot be repudiated. He’s undoubtedly disappointed, angered, and upset by the results. He has also recognized however the effort Bush II’s team made for him upon taking office in 2009. Trump’s success is America’s, he stated. What else can a true patriot say?

Ten Years On: An Inconvenient Truth Remains

Ten Years On: An Inconvenient Truth Remains

It seems America is not the only nation that can boast its share of Climate Change denying morons. Last week, most of you will have heard Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae’s bamboozling testimony on the case of Global Warming. You will be glad to hear that there’s nothing we have to do anymore to save this world because God, of course, controls the weather. How could we have been so foolish? As much as the voters of Kerry should feel ashamed of themselves for having enabled this crackpot’s rise to power, we should remind ourselves first that these ludicrous distinctions hold a great weight and advantage in the arena of politics. Let our focus now turn back to America; where the stakes are considerably higher.

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Healy-Rae’s election should also prove the point that just because they’re not in a party does not mean they’re smart.

 

It is now ten years since Al Gore’s groundbreaking documentary, An Incovenient Truth, was released and as Bill Maher put it recently, we are perhaps in need of that sequel, An Inconvenient Truth 2: What The Fuck Is The Matter With You People? Out of the three candidates remaining in the 2016 election, one of them firmly believes that Global Warming is a hoax. Can you guess who? The trouble is that such views create a dialogue, in tangent to the more crucial debates we should be having, in which areas to build turbines and on what level our investment for renewable energy should be, i.e. the specifics. The question still remains as to whether we can really trust the 99% of scientists who believe in the accelerated rise of global temperatures or to what degree  human influence has been felt. And the Republicans who begrudgingly accept this theory (that is essentially consensus) have simply adopted the defeatist viewpoint that ‘well… it’s too late, innit?’ For many it seems this reality is too daunting. They’d rather bury their heads in the sand.  Well that reality is upon us already; California is drying up, the Great Lakes of the US-Canadian border have reached record lows, and worst of all, the melting of Arctic ice has caused our beloved walruses to seek salvation off the coast of Alaska- where Sarah Palin lives!

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We here at the Washington Walrus are fond of these guys. For those of you who aren’t, polar bears and fish will also be gravely affected.

 

To be fair there’s been some progress. President Mic-Drop, for example  stood against the Keystone Pipeline and last year’s Clean Power Plan called for 30% more energy renewal generation by 2030 with a 32% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels. Economically, this makes sense too in that renewable energy will be the future. Obama’s plan is still not good enough though, considering scientific projections. A lot can happen in 14 years too: we may yet see President Yeezus and the great Kardashian Deficit of 2022; we will certainly hear about more politicians putting big money ahead of the environment; and naturally (with a pinch of irony) a barge load more of pollutants and fossil fuels will be ejected into the atmosphere. So just as President Kennedy ambitiously called for man to walk on the moon before his decade was out, why shouldn’t Obama or the next president switch that 30% to 50% and begin to prioritise the foremost issue of our day; the one which should dominate this election cycle because it the one which cannot wait.

Al Gore said ten years ago: “Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will. But in America, the will to act is a renewable resource.” Since that great renegade Carter before him was thrown out of office for tearing up the flag with his “Energy Programme,” America has fallen back on its worst habits of greed and self-consumption. Sacrifice is not a word anyone likes to hear but the eleventh hour has by this point surely been reached. So whilst we must never pay respect the likes of Healy-Rae, we must accept that their assertions are crucial in the greater scheme of things.

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Al Gore in 2006- forever standing by his slide shows.

 

Andrew Carolan