Everything old is new again

April 15, 2004
A well-known news magazine published the following commentary on governmental and societal problems.
View other Ron
Khol editorials

I'll tell you more about the source later, but first consider what the magazine had to say:

To begin, it observes that an American capable of time travel and transported suddenly from 1961 would see much that is new. That person would find streets and stores busier and an extraordinary number of young adults in the crowds. These crowds would also show that more informality has crept into daily living, reflected by clothing. Conversations would seem more rough-hewn, sprinkled with unfamiliar words. Anyone freshly arriving from 1961 would note the unusual number of women and minorities working as professionals and executives. The newcomer would spot new and bigger apartment and office buildings not only in cities, but in suburbs as well.

In reading matter and on television, the visitor would be struck by the high incidence of violence and crime, both as news and as entertainment; and by the abundance of four-letter words and nudity depicted.

A sense of depression would sink into the time traveler upon seeing burned-out neighborhoods in cities, congested traffic on new beltways and superhighways, and the thickening pall of smog over suburbs as well as cities. The visitor would see the strangely murky emptiness of downtown business districts at night. All of these changes, taken collectively, might make the visitor wonder: How did the United States get to this point?

The article talks about the economic slowdown and social tensions, which happen to coincide with a Republican being in the White House. But in a larger sense the troubles were years in the making. They were the price exacted by the false assumptions of buoyant planners who viewed the U.S. as having almost infinite power and being capable of waging costly wars. The result of these miscalculations has been a hemorrhaging of lives and treasure that has left capital resources depleted and people frustrated. Skepticism is furthered by the dawning discovery that quick solutions to old problems aren't working well.

The time traveler would find taxpayers disillusioned by mushrooming welfare costs with exceptionally high administrative costs. Meanwhile, environmentalists push for cleanups of rivers and air while at the same time others fear the inflationary effects on costs this will produce. The time traveler would also discover that the right to privacy is being weighed against the people's right to know and police rights to investigate crime.

One think-tank observes that there is a streak of what might be called moral conservatism in the electorate. The country is in a mood to "shape up" and pull itself together, to be less self-indulgent, less unrealistic, and less mindless in what we expect. A main priority must be the restoration of trust and respect between Government and the governed.

Washington sees a world no longer orbiting around superpowers. Disorder has come with the dispersal of power to nonindustrialized nations and political movements. U. S. leaders must negotiate laboriously with once-weak nations able to exercise leverage over us by virtue of their valuable resources. Society and the government must also contend with terrorists willing to take the lives of anyone — including their own.

By now you are probably thinking I should tell you something you don't already know, so I will. The year to which the time traveler in the article was transported was not 2004. It was 1976. The article I've just summarized was a profile of our society published by U.S. News & World Report 27 years ago, yet it still pretty well characterizes the major concerns and cultural shifts of today.

-- Ronald Khol, Editor
Send feedback to MDeditor @ penton.com

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