The United (and Divided) States

Page 1

This book examines the divergent experiences of American generations, the widening gaps between social classes, longstanding regional tensions, the diversity of American racial and gender identities, the weakening allegiance to a shared civil religion, and the disruptions caused by the new digital economy.

The United (and divided) States offers a new framework for understanding the United States, written in the accessible style that a generation of readers have enjoyed in the same author’s Contemporary American Society.

David Nye

THE UNITED (and Divided) STATES

by David Nye

Professor David Nye founded Denmark’s first Center for American Studies at SDU in 1992, and for many years he served on the board of the Danish-American Fulbright Commission. His 225 publications include 11 books with MIT Press. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Charles Babbage Institute and a By-Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University. He has been a guest professor at Harvard, MIT, Virginia, Warwick, Leeds, and the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study. His work was recognized by the 2005 Leonardo da Vinci Medal, DM’s Forskningspris in 2015, and a knighthood in 2014.

Has the discord culminated in the Trump presidency and the 2020 elections? Can President Biden overcome the animosities that are tearing the nation apart? Or is the American Century coming to an end?

THE UNITED (and Divided) STATES

Abraham Lincoln observed on the eve of the Civil War, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.� In 2021 the United States seems so polarized that it again is in a profound crisis. How did it become so divided?

AKADEMISK FORLAG



THE UNITED (and Divided) STATES

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” – Abraham Lincoln

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THE UNITED (and Divided) STATES David Nye

AKADEMISK FORLAG

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The United (and Divided) States David Nye © 2021 Akademisk Forlag, København – et forlag under Lindhardt og Ringhof Forlag A/S, et selskab i Egmont Mekanisk, fotografisk, elektronisk eller anden gengivelse af denne bog eller dele heraf er kun tilladt efter Copydans regler, se www.tekstognode.dk/undervisning. Forlagsredaktion: Vibeke Nørgaard Sats: Tine Christoffersen | C-grafik Omslag: Berger Joa Tryk: Livonia Print All rights reserved. Mechanical, photographic, or other reproduction of this book or parts of it is only permitted in accordance with Copy-Dan's regulations. 1. udgave, 1. oplag, 2021 ISBN: 978-87-500-58-15-1 www.akademisk.dk

To Helle

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Contents Introduction 9 I. Generations and Classes 13 The Greatest Generation 14 The Silent Generation 16 The Baby Boomers 18 Generation X 20 The Millennials 22 Generation Z 25 Generation Alpha 26 Comparing the Generations 26 Classes 27 34 Conclusion: Social Mobility II. Regions 37 The Atlantic Coast 39 Southern Uplands and the Appalachians 43 The Mississippi Valley 45 The Intermountain West 49 The Pacific Coast 51 Population Movement 53 The geography of longevity 54 The geography of education 56 The geography of Federal Assistance 57 The geography of COVID-19 58 Conclusion 60

Contents

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III. Race and Gender 61 The Women’s Movement 62 African Americans 65 The Geography of Murder 71 Native Americans 74 Racialization in American politics 75 Gay Americans 77 Hispanic Americans 81 Asian Americans 82 Race and Gender in the 2020 Pandemic 84 Conclusion 85 IV. The Old Economy 87 The Meaning of the Old Economy 87 Why North America? 89 Economic Regional Diversity 92 Industrialization 94 Centers of Invention 102 Consumption 103 Welfare Capitalism or Revolution? 105 Conclusion 109 V. Digital Nation 111 Origins 112 The Changing Office 115 Three Stages of the Computer Revolution 116 Interpreting the Computer Revolution 117 The Digital Lifeworld 119 Surveillance and Crime 121 Disinformation and Conspiracy Theories 123 Digital Corporate Dominance 125 6

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Winners and Losers in the Pandemic of 2020

128

Conclusion 130

VI. Religion and Civil R ­ eligion 131 Religious Groups and Beliefs 131 Civil Religion 135 Sacred Texts of American Civil Religion 138 141 Nature’s Nation 144 Battlefields: Blood Sacrifice 145 Flags and statues 151 Independence Day Technological Marvels 153 Conclusion 154 VII. The Political System 157 The Legislature 157 The Presidency 162 The Supreme Court 168 The Bill of Rights 171 Checks and Balances 174 Election rules 175 Conclusion 178 VIII. The 2020 Elections 181 The Issues 181 The House of Representatives and the Senate 184 The Presidential Election 185 Running for President 188 Strategy 191 Race in the 2020 Election 193 194 Swing States in the 2020 Election

Contents

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Voting patterns

198

Gender and the 2020 elections

200

Conclusion: Why did Biden Win?

202

IX. The State of the Nation in 2021 205 The Parties and Polarization 205 Deeper Issues 211 215 Long-term trends 217 The Banality of Evil 221 The Constitutional Crisis Conclusion 225 Bibliography 228 Acknowledgments 237 Index 238

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Introduction This book examines the contemporary domestic condition of the United States. It does not address the equally compelling subject of foreign affairs, which requires a separate volume. Yet it should be obvious that American domestic upheavals affect the rest of the world, particularly at this historical moment. The United States has reached the end of a century of global power and cultural hegemony. The year 2020 was one of explosive tensions. An already politically polarized society confronted the COVID-19 pandemic, massive unemployment that came with it, and widespread social protest in response to violence against unarmed Black men and women. It also was an election year, where billions of dollars were spent on advertising, much of it negative. What kind of America has emerged from this turbulence? To answer this question, this book is divided into three sections. The first three chapters examine the ways in which the United States is divided. It begins with the six generations of Americans who were alive in 2020. Each has experienced distinct historical circumstances, with different defining moments, economic conditions, social tensions, and technological innovations. Those who grew up with the Cold War have a different perspective from those born before or afterwards. People who listened to Frank Sinatra when young are not the same as those who grew up with the Beatles or with rap music. After surveying the generations, the discussion turns to differences of class, region, race, and gender, which further divide Americans. For each of these topics a brief historical perspective is provided, and political consequences are noted. The differences identified

Introduction

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0.1 Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, completed 1993, architect Frank Gehry. Carol Highsmith, photographer, April 18, 2007. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

in these introductory chapters establish a wide range of social identities. The second section consists of three chapters about the ways that Americans are connected by economics, digital media, religion, and civil religion. Yet in each of these areas the United States has undergone changes that undermine consensus. Finally, the chapters of the third section focus on the political system, the divisive elections of 2020, and the state of the nation as it enters 2021. The United States is dynamic and frequently turbulent. The country seems constantly to be in transition or crisis, and to a considerable degree this is part of its identity. In the 1940s the crisis was World War II, followed by the Red Scare, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights movement, the

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1960s youth rebellion, the dissent against the Vietnam War, Watergate, and a string of further crises down to the present day. But in 2020 the tensions appear especially acute. Americans seem to be at a historical turning point. Briefly, for roughly twenty years after the Cold War ended, the United States stood alone as the world’s superpower. This was a temporary condition and it is rapidly coming to an end. The European Union, Japan, India, China, and many other nations have successful economies and cultural industries that are more competitive with the U.S. than they were during the Cold War. The era of American hegemony is drawing to a close. At this moment of transition, the United States is distracted from the rest of the world by its domestic troubles. In contrast, after Woodrow Wilson’s re-election victory in 1916, he looked outward. He wanted to “make the world safe for democracy.” A century of American influence followed, as the United States exported its politics, industrial goods, manufacturing methods, literature, and mass culture to the rest of the world. In contrast, after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, his agenda was “America first.” He focused inward, rejecting a leadership role in the world. His administration withdrew from trade agreements. It denied the reality of global warming. It withdrew from the Paris climate accords and the World Health Organization. It strove to limit immigration into the U.S. It was not firm in its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At the same time, the Trump presidency exacerbated internal problems, and it became evident that “American First” was a slogan that applied less to racial minorities, to women, or to liberals than to the president’s fervid White supporters. By 2020, disputes between generations, social classes, regions, and races were tearing the nation apart. This book examines the domestic tensions and quarrels that afflicted the United States during the divisive 2020 election, in the midst of a deadly pandemic. The election spotlighted the fierce oppositions at work in American society. This book has been written in the conviction that during the next decade the United States will make fateful choices. It must choose between racial equality or continued inequality, between more social mobility or a more rigid class structure, between political dialogue or polarizing diatribe, between decision-making based on historical evi-

Introduction

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Washington Montana Oregon

New Hampshire Vermont

North Dakota Minnesota

Idaho

Wisconsin

South Dakota Wyoming Nebraska

Nevada Utah California

Arizona

Colorado

New Mexico

New York

Michigan Iowa

Pennsylvania Illinois

Kansas

Oklahoma

Texas

Missouri

Ohio

Kentucky

Arkansas

Louisiana

Indiana

Tennessee

Mississippi

Alabama

West Virginia Virginia North Carolina

Maine

Massachusetts Rhode Island Connecticut New Jersey Delaware Maryland Washington DC

South Carolina Georgia

Florida Alaska

Hawaii

Map, The 50 States

dence and science or decision-making based on short-term political calculations, and, ultimately, between renewed unity or greater division. It is by no means certain what choices the divided nation will make. But its domestic turmoil will force Americans to make decisions with long-term consequences. The outcome will test the proposition that, in Martin Luther King’s words, “The arc of history bends toward justice.” Four centuries after the European conquest of North America began, the United States has come to a fateful crossroads.

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I

Generations and Classes Every society recognizes a rough division into at least three biological generations: grandparents, parents and children. For much of human history, life expectancy was short, and it was unusual for both parents to live until all their children reached adulthood. The average American lived to be about 40 in 1850 and 47 in 1900. When lives were that short, the young acquired practical information from their elders in early life, but soon they were on their own. It was unlikely that both parents would still be alive when a person reached the age of 25, and few children knew many grandparents. Life expectancy increased in the twentieth century, but at the same time historical change accelerated. The lifeworld was less stable and shifted radically during the course of each lifetime, diminishing the usefulness of what one generation could pass on to the next. In 1915, a father who knew all about horses had children who drove automobiles. In 1925, a mother who had a large garden and canned vegetables for the winter brought up children who bought food in supermarkets. A child born in 1960 took television and the Cold War for granted. A child born in 1990 never experienced the Cold War, and grew up with, and therefore took for granted, personal computers, which were novelties to the child’s parents and difficult for its grandparents to use. As these examples suggest, technological innovations, such as automobiles, canned food, radio, television, and the computer, help shape distinct generations, each of which needs new skills. Moreover, powerful historical experiences also shape generations, including economic depressions, wars, and terrorist attacks. Biological generations were 20 to 25 years apart. But the rapid pace of

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events and technical change now shape new generations roughly every 15 years. This means that children born a decade or more apart, who are part of the same biological generation, nevertheless can belong to different cultural generations. Between 1900 and 2010, historical experience accelerated at the same time that life expectancy lengthened by 25 years, and it has become common for a person during their lifetime to know not three or four biological generations but rather six or more cultural generations, each with distinctive experiences that shaped its cultural and political values. More old people survived, but their expertise and perceptions often seemed dated or quaint.

The Greatest Generation

In 2020, there were six generations alive in the United States. The oldest of these were born before 1927 and in their later years they came to be called the Greatest Generation. The dominant generation of the American Century, they were shaped by the memory of the Roaring Twenties in sharp contrast to the Great Depression. In youth, their president was Franklin D. Roosevelt. They knew exactly where they were when they heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and their lives were never the same afterwards. They helped in the immense war mobilization, fought in the Pacific and in Europe, celebrated D-Day and the defeat of Hitler, and were stunned by the sudden surrender of Japan after the US dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Prosperity followed victory, as well as a new dominant role in world affairs. The Greatest Generation provided all the presidents of the Cold War, from 1946 until 1993: Harry Truman (1945-1953), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Lyndon B. Johnson (19631969), Richard Nixon (1969-1975), Gerald Ford (1975-1977), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and George Bush (1989-1993). These leaders had learned that the world was so interconnected that the isolationism the United States had embraced in the 1920s and 1930s was impossible. War had disciplined them to make sacrifices for the greater good, and the Greatest Generation supported the establishment of the United Nations, the expensive Marshal Plan to help Europe recover from

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1.1 Attack on Pearl Harbor, USS Shaw explodes. December 1941. Office of War Information. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

World War II, and the creation of a new military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Indeed, they had little choice but to play a major role in world affairs, because both the British and the French overseas empires were in rapid decline, creating a power vacuum. The Cold War took place on every continent, and took the form of foreign aid, military assistance, and exchange programs. In some places a shooting war also broke out, notably in Korea and Vietnam.

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In 2020 the Greatest Generation was over 90. They are frail and rapidly passing away, but all Americans knew some of them, and many are nostalgic for their times. Once they danced to Big Band Jazz and listened to Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Judy Garland and a young crooner named Frank Sinatra. They heard Bing Crosby sing White Christmas in 1942. They enjoyed movie stars like Jimmy Stuart in It’s a Wonderful Life and Humphrey Boggart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. They read new novels by Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Norman Mailer. In the theater, they saw Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and they enjoyed musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Oklahoma. Most of the Greatest Generation had retired by the time the older Bush left the White House in 1993. By 2020 the imperfect world they were born into had disappeared. Yet, it was not forgotten. Americans recall their times with nostalgia.

The Silent Generation

The 47 million members of the Silent Generation were born between 1928 and 1945. They were too young to fight in World War II. All but the youngest could recall exactly where they were when that war ended. Some of them served in the Korean War. They grew up in an insecure time of economic depression and war rationing, which made them frugal and appreciative of the simpler things in life. They have a strong work ethic, dislike waste, and seek security without ostentation. (They typically regard the younger generations as a bit profligate.) They married younger and had children sooner than any of the other generations. As young adults, they worried about atomic annihilation during the brinkmanship of early Cold War. They watched the McCarthy Hearings and were told to fear communists hidden in their midst. They worried that the Soviets were winning the Space Race, as they watched Russia’s Sputnik satellites circle overhead. These experiences may explain why they prefer to read biographies, memoirs, and history or murder mysteries. Many of them bought homes in the suburbs that grew up rapidly after 1950, and some built bomb shelters in their backyards so that they might survive nuclear war. They drove on the new Interstate Highway system and

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1.2 Display of personal belongings, Elvis Presley Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada, c. 1990. Carol Highsmith, photographer. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

went into the city less often once shopping malls emerged. They ate McDonald’s hamburgers after the first restaurant opened in 1955. They could afford to go to the movies even more than their parents, and some of their favorites were South Pacific, West Side Story, Ben Hur, and The Sound of Music. They were the first generation who could take electrified homes for granted, and they purchased a huge array of gadgets and appliances. They loved the new televisions, which had been displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York but did not become widely available until the 1950s. Sitting in their living rooms, they watched a great many shows about cowboys on the frontier and comedies like I Love Lucy. But on TV they also saw atomic bombs detonated in Nevada. Television broadcasts were only available for part of the day in the 1950s, but radio had been available day

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This book examines the divergent experiences of American generations, the widening gaps between social classes, longstanding regional tensions, the diversity of American racial and gender identities, the weakening allegiance to a shared civil religion, and the disruptions caused by the new digital economy.

The United (and divided) States offers a new framework for understanding the United States, written in the accessible style that a generation of readers have enjoyed in the same author’s Contemporary American Society.

David Nye

THE UNITED (and Divided) STATES

by David Nye

Professor David Nye founded Denmark’s first Center for American Studies at SDU in 1992, and for many years he served on the board of the Danish-American Fulbright Commission. His 225 publications include 11 books with MIT Press. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Charles Babbage Institute and a By-Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University. He has been a guest professor at Harvard, MIT, Virginia, Warwick, Leeds, and the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study. His work was recognized by the 2005 Leonardo da Vinci Medal, DM’s Forskningspris in 2015, and a knighthood in 2014.

Has the discord culminated in the Trump presidency and the 2020 elections? Can President Biden overcome the animosities that are tearing the nation apart? Or is the American Century coming to an end?

THE UNITED (and Divided) STATES

Abraham Lincoln observed on the eve of the Civil War, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.� In 2021 the United States seems so polarized that it again is in a profound crisis. How did it become so divided?

AKADEMISK FORLAG


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