This is an idea put forth by Michael Barone of Washington Examiner. I think it has merit.
Barone noted that American history can be broken into several eras of 76 years — he thought that sounded appropriately American. These intervals were characterized by periods where the country was moving in a certain direction, then conditions began to break down and a great change came along.
From 1637 to 1713 (when the Treaty of Ulrecht settled one of the British-French colonial wars, the American colonies were being peopled by very small numbers of colonists could carved out distinct cultures that persist to this day. The Treaty of Ulrecht brought more British attention to the colonies. From 1713 to 1789, an increasingly diverse America became disillusioned with colonialism, launched a revolution and created a democratic republic. From 1789 to 1865, America pursued its manifest destiny and made great technological strides, but struggled with slavery. The system became unsustainable and we tore ourselves apart in war. From the surrender at Appomatox to Pearl Harbor in 1941, we reconstructed the country and remade the market economy, but then things fell apart in the Great Depression. From 1941 to present is 71 years, so we’re right at the point of the other 76-year cycles where things started going south. Since 1941, we’ve seen the rise of the entitlement society and now we’re seeing the unsustainable aspects of that starting to eat the economy.
Barone wonders what will follow this sea-change. Who knows? Let’s speculate a bit.
I see a lot of similarities between the 1850s and our current era. We are a divided country over issues of fundamental freedoms. Then it was slavery — whether is was right for a man to own another man — that was the flashpoint, but it was by no means the only reason for the Civil War. The South was refusing to modernize for the Industrial Revolution and refusing to pay its fair share of the tariffs that were the taxes in those days. The North was trying to be patient (that 3/5th representation thing was starting to work), but there were those who were tired of the struggle. The South was refusing to accept the end of their preferred way of life, so they seized control through secession and, ultimately, forced the change that would have happened anyway.
Today, we’re a divided country over fundamental freedoms. It’s entitlements this time. Is it right to enslave some Americans through high taxation to provide a perceived basic standard of living for other Americans? Entitlements are a symptom, not the cause of the problem. The crux of the matter once again centers on liberty, but there are wider issues. The political class wants more and great services without paying for them … or expecting just some of us to pay for them. Conservatives had thought the country might be learning, but eight years of a progressive GOP president, followed by four years of a disastrous Democratic president who has, inexplicably, won reelection and we’re getting tired of the fight.
Who is it that is refusing to accept the end of their preferred way of life? The Democrats would like to believe its conservatives, but let’s be honest — red states are more likely to survive the collapse of the entitlement system than the blue states are. So which of us is going to try to take our marbles and go home?
I don’t know. I’ve already said I think the United States is ripe for multiple secessions. I suspect the country will break up into three to five regional cooperatives that may (if we’re smart) work together for mutual defense. I think this may be the only way the American culture survives — if we admit we can’t continue as we are and we adapt. That leaves room to rebuild the constitutional republic that our Founders created. But recognize that hard times always precede change and I don’t think we’ve quite reached all-out hard times yet.
Our ancestors did not know what was coming in the maelstrom of change they faced and neither do we. We can hope, we can pray, we can fight, but we cannot know the future. All we can do is try to be ready for what every the season throws our way.
To everything there is a season. If winter is coming our way, we might want to plan for it. For those who are expecting summer …well, winter in July will probably catch them unawares, now won’t it?