Monday, September 30, 2013

Excerpt From A Future History Textbook

When our descendants look back on our present day, they will surely judge us harshly.  Here's what I imagine a textbook (or more likely e-text) on American history will say in a century.

Like the fall of the Roman empire, America's collapse took place over a long period of time, and there are conflicting interpretations as to how and why it happened.  Different historians have stressed factors such as imperial overreach, the erosion of America's education system, unsustainable income inequality, and a long term decline in the production of goods.  However, scholars almost totally agree that irresponsible political leaders made the nation ungovernable at a crucial point when changes could have been made to avert collapse.

Traditionally America's two political parties had hewed close to the center, but from the 1970s onward, the conservative wing of the Republican party exerted greater control, exemplified by the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  (See chapter 19)  During the early 21st century, a group of ultra-conservative Republicans dubbed the "Tea Party," far to the right of even conservative heroes like Reagan and Bush. went from being the fringe of the GOP to its dominant force.

Unlike politicians of times past, this group refused to compromise or play by the normal rules of behavior.  It took radical moves entirely unprecedented in America's history.  During the presidency of Barack Obama, it commonly threatened government shut-downs and even to default on the nation's debt. This reflected the Tea Party's longer term tendency to deny the legitimacy of any Democratic president.  A precursor to Congress's fight came in the late 1990s, when many future Tea Partiers had attempted to remove Bill Clinton from power over charges of sexual misconduct.  Just as in the 1990s, in the early 21st century conservatives had a power propaganda network on the now obsolete media of talk radio and cable television.  The "talking points" on Fox News, which acted as a mouthpiece for conservatives, had a large influence on narratives in the broader media.  For that reason, as well as the corporatization of the media landscape, most Americans were told that "both sides" were extreme, and saw the Republican party as it had once been: a center right institution.  Most Americans blamed the ungovernability of Washington on all politicians in general, allowing the newly radicalized Republican party to get the votes of moderates and not pay the price at the polls for their behavior.

By mid-century, however, the Tea Party would be an irrelevance, and once the Baby Boomer generation passed on, Fox News and conservative media greatly declined in popularity, much like the Hearst empire of the 20th century.  Demographic and generational changes in America weakened the strength of the older rural and suburban whites who made up the Tea Party's base.  Despite that fact, three decades of chaos at the high level of government had left the nation poorer, less able to pay off its debts, and unable to stop the rot that had set into an economy that was increasingly unsustainable in its inequality.  While the name of the Tea Party has faded from popular consciousness, the effects of its extremism are still being felt today.

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