There are no easy answers.
Things are reaching the point where even many avowedly feel-good media sites can’t help but notice how rapidly the Official Line on a given topic shifts from ‘controversial’ to ‘It Is Decided, You May Not Dissent Or Else.’ Some have even described it as ‘creepy,’ in spite of the fact that American political discourse (note: this is in no way implies political realities before the current time were not horrifying in their own ways) crossed the line from ‘creepy’ to ‘terrifying and Lovecraftian’ sometime back in the 1930s. This isn’t anything new: since the creation of our national media, American political consensus has always ricocheted rapidly from one position to the complete opposite without pause for breath or self-reflection.
Here are three examples:
-The Hollywood blacklist and McCarthyism. In the early 1950s it was considered subversive to criticize them; by the late 50s it was beyond the pale to even make a hint at possible support for them.
-In 1973 the countercultural consensus affirmed the Viet Cong was good and the North Viets were America’s friends. In 1975 they annexed the South of Vietnam and instituted mass terror there. The consensus immediately switched over to being anti-Viet and pro-Khmer Rouge.
-In 2002 the media was on the side of the War on Terror and the Afghan War. In 2003 they covered the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq breathlessly. Once the deed was done the consensus immediately switched over to the whole ‘Stop The War’ efforts.
The timing of these examples isn’t coincidental, either. During the 1950s the propaganda machines constructed during the 1930s and 1940s reached the upper limit from which they have never since come down, having obtained a monopoly over the collective worldview of Americans. People lost the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, and the horrors of the previous decade were painted over with feel-good utopian dreams. Probably nothing demonstrates this better than Wernher von Braun (who used thousands of slave laborers at the Peenemünde test facility) designing the ‘Rocket to the Moon’ ride for Tomorrowland in Disneyland. His companion, Heinz Haber, received some perfunctory scrutiny, but who remembers that these days? This total detachment from reality is so pervasive that you have conservative commentators like Bill Whittle castigating the movie Tomorrowland as liberal propaganda. On what grounds? Well, because he went to Tomorrowland as a kid and “socialism” isn’t the way to that promise, “capitalism” is the way. This is essentially a mainstream figure in Conservatism.Inc explaining we need to defeat socialism to be able to achieve a sci-fi universe.
‘But the 60s counterculture! The SDS! The revivification of agonizing about fascism and the Holocaust!’
Well, just to focus on that last point, what was revivified during the 1960s was a sanitized and mythologized version of the Holocaust, just like the sanitized and mythologized versions of the war as whole. What people remember are Auschwitz and Anne Frank and Josef Mengele and Nuremberg and Wiesenthal, whereas the reality absolutely cannot be even *slightly* appreciated without the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Aktion Reinhard and the Trawniki men and the Ypatingasis būrys and the Odessa and Bucharest pogroms. Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau are two separate places, one a physical location in space and time, the other existing purely on the spiritual plane, in the realm of the Great Manichaean Struggle between Good and Evil.
So if the 60s and 70s were largely captured by a spirit of phony #wokeness, then consider what came next. I’ve heard many compare US politics in the 1930s as being far more similar to politics today than to the political atmosphere of the 1920s. And, extending that, there seems to be an idea that politics from roughly 1979 to 2003 bears more resemblance to the 1950s than to our current milieu. It was a more innocent age, before Gitmo or Abu Ghraib or Stop The War. The neocons actually had power, and weren’t mocked or reviled. Everyone lived in the shadow of Reagan and Brzezinski and the Gorbening and Yeltsining. It was the great age of US intervention and democracy-building, with interventions in Granada, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, both Iraqs, and Afghanistan. You had the UN-sponsored coalitions and protectorates not just in Bosnia and Kosovo, but in Cambodia, Somalia, and East Timor. The fall of apartheid, the fall of Suharto! The Oslo peace accords! The democratization of Africa and Latin America, the opening of China, reform in Russia! The End Of History!
But of course the Official Discourse Of Politics during this period was extremely naive and childish and full of, well, derp. It’s not just Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ and everything about Clinton; the 1992 campaigns had hardly anything to say about the Los Angeles riots, undoubtedly the most important event of that year. Joan Didion put it down as the Focus Group Effect, the attempt to make politics and public relations ~*~scientific~*~, and it’s no coincidence she was the one to come up with the term ‘Vichy Washington.’
The tide has turned again, and the ‘halcyon’ days are behind us. Instead there is the advent of insistence that “what the people want” is some kind of ‘political revolution’, whether Feeling the Bern, or, I don’t know, more free market reforms; getting ‘back to the constitution’ or something, and America appears on the verge of more 1960s and 70s- style #wokeness. Only the great Jacksonian beast that is American democracy appears to be bucking under the activists; yet, this isn’t the 1830s, this isn’t the 1930s, this isn’t the 1960s. This an era where the US has already achieved apex predator status, has no serious competition, but now has several centuries worth of technical glitches and declining social trust. At some point, that reality has to come home to roost – the question is, can the body politic believe in anything beyond themselves (individually or collectively) enough to transcend total nihilism when it does?