In an earlier blog post, I went in to some detail on the differences between the red zone and the blue zone – the two sides of the partisan political divide. As I stated, it’s something I’ve been opining about for a long time. It’s amazing to me that the split continues to this day, after a timeframe spanning a generation, to the point that it feels almost surreal. How can anyone really care about these Culture Wars issues any more, given that there are more fundamental problems with our socioeconomic system?
Or could it be that partisanship has simply become what is being called “tribal politics” now? To me, it seems that most of the Culture Wars conflicts are over. The notable issues that remain unsettled are pro-life vs. pro-choice, and 2nd amendment vs. gun control. But we’re never going back to the 1950s, MAGA notwithstanding. So is partisanship now just loyalty for loyalty’s sake?
In the case of supporters of the current President, it does seem that they exhibit blind loyalty to him, no matter how egregious his words and actions. Some people might call them a cult. One thing I’ll say, that cult-like behavior gives the red zone an advantage – they have a cohesiveness that the blue zone lacks. Politically, the blue zone is still torn between the moderate and leftist wings within the Democratic party, whereas the red zone has pretty much aligned the Republican party with the current regime.
Now, the red zone is in the minority, but it has a lock on power thanks to tactics of voter suppression. In the long run, however, their influence is bound to wane, as a younger, more diverse demographic takes over the population. So they are currently using their power to secure their Culture Wars position by filling the judiciary with conservatives. That will prevent blue zone values from being implemented in law in the future, particularly in the two unresolved areas which I mentioned above. That is likely to be the only legacy of the current administration, aside from tarnishing the reputation of the United States of America and its government.
The blue zone has the political majority, but its party is out of power. Their only hope to take back control of the government is overwhelming electoral victory (hence the red zone’s scramble to suppress the vote). This is the “blue wave” you always hear about, which is always just around the corner, but then it doesn’t happen. Maybe it finally will this election; if not, I think that will be the last chance for democracy.
That’s why there is this sense everything is at stake in the upcoming election. It will determine if the current regime is the Red State’s last gasp, or its fatal grasp on the machinery of state. We know the election is going to be a drawn out process, and it’s uncertain if it will even end in a, shall we say, normal manner. We’re not in a Culture War any more, but in a raw struggle for power. This is what it’s like to go through the gates of history, and if you’re terrified, I don’t blame you at all.
The Red-Blue Wars: Fighting in the Midst of a Global Pandemic
My last blog post went in depth on political partisanship in the United States, with its split between the red zone and the blue zone. I wanted to add a brief note about how the Covid-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on that partisan divide. I’ve noted before how Covid-19 is also spotlighting the defiencies in our economic system. The pandemic is a major social stressor, and because we’re in a Crisis Era, it is starkly revealing long-standing problems that have been building up without any resolution for a generation or longer. It’s apocalyptic in the sense of the word’s Greek roots – it reveals what was previously hidden (or ignored).
As serious as the Covid-19 pandemic is, it is bizarre and disturbing to me that it has become a partisan issue. But it can’t be denied: which side you stand on in the partisan split does to some degree determine your beliefs about the nature of the disease and the appropriate response to it. It even determines what facts you believe, about the efficacy of measures such as wearing a face mask, or the accuracy of case counts and death counts.
Pro-Trump red staters generally believe that the threat is overblown, and are against lockdown measures, which are inherently anti-freedom and disrupt the business of doing business. Meanwhile, the anti-Trump blue wave resisters use the administration’s failure to respond cohesively to the pandemic as political ammunition. To this, red staters simply respond that Covid-19 is not as bad as the mainstream (read: anti-Trump) media makes it out to be, and that the cure should not be worse than the disease.
Since the President chose to hand the responsibility for the pandemic response to the state governors, their different responses also highlight the partisan split. Red zone governors like Ron DeSantis were Covid-denying, refusing to take any measures until absolutely forced to by the unfolding situation nationwide. Blue zone governors like Andew Cuomo, in the initial epicenters of the pandemic, were Covid-accepting, responding quickly and earning the enmity of Trump and his supporters as a result.
Despite all this, I do think that the compliance of the vast majority of the public with mask mandates (I base this assertion on my personal observation) shows that our society is ready and willing to follow restrictions for the sake of public safety. It’s like the “grey zone” as I’ve called them – the majority who are not particularly partisan – is out there, waiting for effective leadership. You could even argue that big business, the major retail corporations who have all readily gone along with social distancing and mask requirements, are taking over regulatory functions where the government has failed to act.
But unfortunately, extreme partisan conflict shuts down the moderate voice, and that’s where our politics are. It’s gotten so bad that, in one state, red state militias, goaded by words of the President, have terrorized and plotted insurrection against the blue zone governor. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine any kind of unified response to the pandemic in the near future. It will rage on in a society utterly ill equipped to manage it from the top down.
The 1918 influenza pandemic, regarded as the worst in modern history, caused 675,000 deaths in the United States over a two year period. That was 0.6% of the population. The equivalent in deaths today would be 2,165,000 – a number we’re unlikely to reach. But the death toll already is bad enough, with no end in sight. For the forseeable future, Covid-19 will remain in the background of these trying times, shining its bleak light on our failing state.
In Strauss & Howe generations theory, there is a concept that the social mood changes as distinct generations pass through the different stages of life. In each social era, there is a distinct generation type occupying each life stage, bringing its collective peer personality into that phase of life and interacting with the other generations to bring about the social mood. This set of generations occupying different life stages is called a “Generational Constellation.”
For example, in a Crisis Era like the one we are in today, the constellation consists of visionary elder Prophets, pragmatic mid-life Nomads, heroic young adult Heroes and suffocated child Artists. I’m using the archetype names here; note how each generational archetype occupies a different life stage: elderhood, mid-life, young adulthood, &c. In our time the archetypes Prophet, Nomad, and Hero would correspond to the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials, occupying elderhood (60+), mid-life (40s and 50s) and young adulthood (20s and 30s) respectively.
Presumably, in the Crisis Era, the vision provided by the elder Prophets guides the younger generations in overcoming the challenges facing society. The Heroes provide the youthful energy and the Nomads the savvy leadership. Together the generations repair the damage from the preceding decades of civic neglect to bring about a new civic order in accordance with the Prophet vision.
But what if there are two competing visions within the society? That is exactly our situation in the United States, with the partisan divide between the Republican “red zone” and the Democratic “blue zone.” It’s come up on this blog before and in earlier writings of mine – going back twenty years. It’s a deep rift, and so seemingly irreconcilable that there is talk of the country being in a sort of civil war.
It might therefore make sense to speak of two different generational constellations – one red, and the other blue – coexisting and in conflict within society. Each has its own vision of what our values should be, each has its leaders and its followers. Each generation, like the country as a whole, is split between the red zone and the blue zone. So let’s take a look at the two constellations that result.
On the red side, the Chief Prophet is clearly the current President. Behind him, other red zone Prophets include the fundamentalist Christian leaders who have accepted the President as the “imperfect vessel” of their agenda, as well as whatever GOP officials remain loyal to him. Their values vision is very similar to that which I listed on the Red Zone vs. Blue Zone chart so long ago – conservative, traditionalist, Christian, capitalist, nationalistic.
Supporting these red zone Idealists is an army of hard boiled Pragmatist Republican office holders. It doesn’t get remarked on much, but Gen Xers in politics lean to the right; it’s like all the blue zone Gen Xers went into other careers (I presume tech and entertainment). These red zone Xers are the disciples of the Reagan Revolution, and are hard core free market capitalists, though less culturally conservative than the red zone Boomers.
The red zone Millennials, whom I will call “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” after the famous play, include all the groups of young people going out onto the streets to represent red zone values. Among them are the Charlottesville marchers, the pandemic-protesting militias and the Proud Boys coming out to battle antifa. Online, they are the denizens of 4chan and r/the_donald, busily trolling the libs.
Who are these red zone Heroes fighting against? That’s pretty obvious – their blue zone counterparts are the BLM protestors and antifa activists on the streets, and the wokesters driving hasthtag movements and cancel culture online. These Millennials also deserve to be called “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.” It’s like we have two sets of Heroes, that sometimes come out en masse, goaded by their respective media machines, and on rare occasion, even die for their cause.
The blue zone Nomads include a legion of recently politically energized Gen Xers, decrying the current state of affairs on social media and drumming up support for the Democratic Presidential candidate. You probably know some of them; you may even be one of them, like me. Professionally, blue zone Gen Xers are the media personalities parodying the current administration, or, in the more serious formats, deconstructing its failures.
Blue zone Prophets are also major figures in the mainstream media; they’re the ones being insulted and vilified by the current President. The antagonistic nature of the current media environment, with its personal attacks and cries of “fake news,” can be attributed to the combative peer personality of the Boomer generation. It’s such a contrast to the gravitas of the old television medium, when it was run by the GI (Greatest) Generation.
In politics, blue zone Prophets are out of power, many even out of office. From the sidelines, they promulgate a values vision that is progressive, diverse, multicultural, social justice-oriented, and social Democratic. A common theme of their message is how unfairly the economy is structured in the United States, in contrast to how it works in other Western countries. Some kind of structural reform is needed, which will take us in a new direction from the one we’ve been on since the Reagan Revolution.
Examining the chart of the red zone vs. the blue zone, which I made almost twenty years ago, and then thinking about the partisan political split today, really underscores how we are at the culmination of the Culture Wars of the last social era. Which side will have its vision prevail in the new order of the ages?
I’d say the red zone has the advantage of a more gelled together constellation, as evidenced by the energy of their rallies. They also are more amenable to authoritarianism, and willing to follow their Dear Leader come hell or high water. But they are in the minority. The blue zone has the majority, but can they leverage that given the unbalanced electoral process? These next few months are crucial for the resolution.
I honestly think that most of the Culture Wars differences are settled, and a lot of the political conflict feels like overblown theater. There is much at stake in the struggle for power, so the leaders keep pushing on the same buttons in their efforts to control the people. But consider the possibility that the true majority is neither red nor blue – after all, more people in 2016 didn’t vote than voted for either Presidential candidate.
It might make sense to speak of a grey zone of neutral non-partisans. What is the grey zone constellation? Washed out Prophets fading away after a lifetime of indulgence, indifferent Nomads hiding from the pandemic, and confused Heroes unsatisfied with either the red or blue visions, waiting for better leadership? If someone could speak to this hidden majority, they might be able to build a new consensus and harness the potential of the Crisis Era generational constellation.
Until then, we’ll continue to frame our political discourse along the tired old lines of the red vs. blue Culture Wars. We’ll do this even as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic overtake us. If political leaders continue to insist on doubling down on the rhetoric and pressing on the same issues time and again, they will only encourage more and more extreme behavior. Only when the fires of rage have burned themselves out will a new order be able to emerge from the ashes.
The Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) is known for never having produced a United States President. Every other generation older than the Millennials has, even mine, Generation X (b. 1961-1981). There have actually been more Silent candidates for Vice President than for President – 7 vs. 5, and that’s counting Ross Perot (b. 1930). The Baby Boomers (b. 1943 – 1960) reverse those numbers. Now I suppose you could consider Dick Cheney (b. 1941) to have been the power behind the throne in the Bush era, but even that demonstrates how Silents like to influence the world – from 2nd place.
Rather than being in the forefront of public life, the Silent Generation has preferred to work behind the scenes, in the role of helpmate or enabler. Early in their collective careers they served an older generation, the GI or Greatest Generation (b. 1901-1924), refining the powerful institutions created in their elder’s climactic World War II-era coming of age. Later in their careers, they mentored the younger Boomers, joining their energetic juniors, in a guiding role, in the mission of transforming the values of American society.
The last time a member of the Silent Generation was a major party nominee for president was in 2008, when the late John McCain (b. 1936) ran against GenXer Barack Obama. To find another example, you have to go all the way back to Michael Dukakis (b. 1933) in 1988. That’s not to say that the Silent Generation isn’t politically powerful; as I noted in an earlier blog post, they are still prominent in the U.S. Legislative Branch. They just don’t tend to take on the role of Chief Executive.
That takes us to Joe Biden (b. 1942), who has already served in the executive branch for eight years, in the background during the Obama administration. I have to admit that I wasn’t excited when he announced that he was seeking the Presidential nomination, and even made fun of him a little. That was way back when the field was full of candidates, some of whom aligned closer to my beliefs. That feels like another age (it was, what, January?)
But here we are, near the end of 2020, the most traumatic Crisis year in almost everyone’s living memory. Most of us, including me, are disgusted by the callousness and corruption of the incumbent President. We’re ready for someone to restore duty and honor to the office, and Joe – a man who has known loss and grief – is just the right guy to lead a traumatized nation.
For stepping up in our time of need, and for possibly becoming the first member of his generation to be elected to the highest office in the land, I hereby declare Joe Biden to be the Silent of the Year.