My due diligence for a trip to southeast Asia has taken me down an obscure path. Exploring French efforts to regain their Indochinese colony after WWII has led me to Theodore White’s Fire in the Ashes: Europe in Mid Century. Teddy White went on to write the Making of the President series of books starting with the 1960 Kennedy election, books that made his career.
He started his book with a lengthy description of intercontinental air travel because then, few people had had that experience. He wrote, “in our years almost as many men cross the great ocean by wings as travel it by boat,” revealing not only a no longer acceptable sexism (“men” cross the ocean) but also that when the book came out in 1953, more people still traveled across the Atlantic by ship.
But the quote I mean to highlight comes a few pages later:
“It is obvious that new leadership in both America and Russia is now wrenching the whole course of world affairs into new patterns and perspectives. What is less obvious is that in this wrenching process Europe, forgotten through the postwar years as a factor in power, must contribute as greatly as either of the two new titans.”
The Americans have urged the Europeans to take more responsibility for their own defense for as long as I’ve been grown up. Here is an exhortation to Europe to rise up and carry its weight in world affairs that is sixty-six years old.
Umair Haque has a question:
“Is freedom being murdered at school, but never having healthcare or retirement, even if you’re not (murdered) — just so the economy can keep growing, as the profits of the people who sell the guns and the medicine rise ever higher? If that’s all freedom is, why should anyone want it? But if freedom’s something more than that, what is it, really?”
For a long time after the fall of the Soviet Union, all of us (other than Francis Fukuyama) waited for a new order to take shape that we could label with a term more descriptive than the “Post-Cold War Period.” And waited, and waited.
Nowadays though, with the rise of “populism,” however you define it, the general disillusionment with “neo-liberalism,” however you define it, global austerity-fatigue and the arrival of what increasingly looks like late-stage capitalism, we’re clearly no longer in the Post-Cold War Period. But where are we?
When we’ve begun to question the very nature of work, when “what is freedom” sounds like a reasonable question for Americans to ask, wherever we are, it’s a crossroads.
And that’s the post as I published it. But I revise it here, to pull a comment up into the body of the post so that people will be sure to see it. This is from the author of the blog WheatyPete’sWorld:
“Well I am a teacher and I became a teacher because I was not happy just making money for someone else, or even just for myself-me-me-me. I wanted to give something rather than be a taker. I had my tyre slashed on my pride and joy VW camper by a parent whose child told him a lie about me last week. I work evenings and weekends. I am in debt and can not afford to replace the tyre so am driving on the spare which is bald, nor have I money to get new lenses for my glasses which are too scratched to see through. But I am still a teacher because I believe in what I am doing. It is a poorly paid vocation, but I still believe in what I am doing. OK I drive for 45 minutes with minimal vision to get to work every day, but if any a-hole told me I need to carry a gun to do this… well that would be time to look for a new planet to live on. How could anyone believe that the answer to young people who are so disillusioned that they shoot people is to get their teachers to shoot them first? What sort of planet/society is this? I have many American friends and respect so many things about the country, but this president is … well words fail me. I am very sad for all those who lost sons/daughters/loved ones this week … but someone needs to take the guns away from people who think that freedom is the right to shoot anyone else. It is really quite simple, why can’t Trump or the NRA see that: if people don’t have guns then they won’t shoot each other. Do I need to draw a picture for Trump and his supporters in the NRA? No guns = no shootings. That’s all.”
Remarkable. According to Leonid Bershidsky writing on another matter at Bloomberg, the Berlin Wall has been down now for as long as it stood:
“The Berlin Wall divided the city for 28 years, two months and 28 days starting Aug. 13, 1961. It ended on Nov. 9, 1989, when Guenter Schabowski, a top East German official, erroneously announced that crossing into West Berlin was now permitted. Now that the same amount of time — 28 years, two months and 28 days — has passed, it’s fitting that the next German government is expected to end the solidarity tax created to even out economic differences between both sides.”
These photos are from a few weeks later, New Year’s Eve in 1989, the only time I’m pretty sure I was where the most important thing happening on earth was happening that day.
Just off to the left of the midnight photo, David Hasselhoff had been standing way up in a bucket raised above the crowd, singing all night. Okay, so there’s no accounting for taste.
The world has been waiting for Donald Trump since 9 November, 1989. It’s not often we can calculate the end of a political era to the exact day, but the breach of the Berlin Wall on that date set off a dénouement to the Cold War, a 776 day countdown to the final dissolution of the authoritarian model represented by the Soviet Union.
The ensuing interregnum had its own name, the Post Cold War period, highlighted but not defined by the 9/11 attacks. Its defining events were the Yugoslav wars, the GWOT and the continued strong dominance of neo-liberalism in the United States, which many believe led to the other defining event of the period, the 2008 financial crisis.
During the Post Cold War period political scientists grew impatient for the world to get on with things, to get past this pause in history. Now the new era is well and truly here; out with the old, a half century’s balance of power between representative government and authoritarianism, in with the new populism.
Few get to watch an inchoate new era take form, and that is our great good fortune. I look forward to reading future writing about the underlying dynamics that set this unnamed new era in motion. It will earn its own name in due time, but whatever we call it, who on earth would have thought one of its founding fathers would be Donald Trump?
Berlin Wall photo from EarthPhotos.com. Other photo from Wikimedia Commons.