Here comes the 70s | The American Conservative
We appear to be destined to relive the turbulent decade that produced President Biden.
It’s kind of absurdly fitting that Joe Biden, who entered the United States Senate in 1973 at the age of 30 opposing the race bus, presides over a return to the 1970s. The 1970s is one of the few decades when the popular notion – economic decline, decadence, environmental disaster, much great football – is correct. While the differences between our present moment and the world half a century ago ultimately outweigh the similarities, the latter should be enumerated.
More than a year after bans were imposed, unemployment remains high even when wages stagnate. Whatever professional economists say on the matter, inflation is undeniable here and, if the Treasury Secretary is to be believed, sooner or later higher interest rates will follow. Meanwhile, there are gas shortages on the east coast, but strangely, fewer reports than one might expect. (This time we are hostage, not at the whims of oil sheiks, but by teenage hackers.) In many of our cities, memories of riots are fresh, and abroad there is civil war in Ethiopia again and the threat of major conflict in Israel. Ineffable sacrilege is committed by radical clergymen.
Like its immediate predecessor and the leaders of our two major political parties in Congress, Biden is a product of the tumultuous decade in which we seem to be reliving fate. But his generation is better off than their own parents in the early 1970s, while their children and grandchildren are in a worse position in almost every way imaginable. A young married couple with the husband as the sole breadwinner made more for the price of everything from home ownership (which then was unimaginable for workers in a way that seems unimaginable today) to tuition fees and basic household items were more durable and not made from East Asian sweatshirts imported.
The country where a young Joe Biden made political his own was one where there was a sizeable industrial base, with large swaths of the economy still to be drawn into high finances, dominated by uncreative Fordist assumptions that are now Many meeting rooms seem unthinkable for companies. Racial relations were bad, but Angela Davis was not a full-time professor of anything, and instead of therapeutic stereotypes for the company’s lecture group, radicals spoke with moral urgency, if not always with clarity.
Now he and his Septuagenarian colleagues are facing the same crises to which they once responded with carefree optimism. For example, will they handle stagflation better than Nixon? Or will they, too, shake their heads in surprise when faced with a new decadence that almost certainly does not include quadraphonic LPs or another Raiders Super Bowl?
From the decadence of the 1970s a number of new political arrangements arose, the semi-invisible ones, which we try to describe with epithets like “neoliberal”. What we consider to be the legacy of the Reagan administration began with the dissolution of the postwar consensus on the mixed economy by Paul Volcker and Jimmy Carter.
Now that the new consensus seems just as exhausted as the one it replaced, it is worth asking: what will emerge from the dark decade ahead?
I can’t pretend to be optimistic here. While it would be tempting to imagine that a new synthesis will emerge from the current chaos of atomization, based on social and economic solidarity, it seems more likely that we are entering a new era of neoliberal hegemony, in which even the traps of the old Fashionable liberalism is being abandoned in favor of blind arithmetic accumulation and algorithmically optimized digital entertainment, the delivery of fast food and cannabis, and goodness knows what else. Nixon led the opening of Mao’s China. It is believed that 50 years later the former junior senator from Delaware will half-wittily open the United States to authoritarian capitalism based on the Chinese model.
I would prefer polyester and Jack Tatum.
Matthew Walther is editor of The lamp Magazine and a contributing editor at The American Conservative.
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