The Eras of Good Feelings and Their Inevitable End

Chris Morgan asked… where do we go from here?

Living in the Cold War era, it was commonplace to set aside some time of the day to consider, even actively prepare for, the possibility of being nuked. “God may have willed the destruction of the planet in an atomic Gotterdämmerung,” Willmoore Kendall wrote, “but we are still obligated to use the means at our disposal in order to preserve justice in the situations in which we are involved.” Much of the 1990s was spent laughing at this mentality as sheer hyperventilation. The triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarianism was synonymous with the triumph of sanity over madness. The Cold War was seen less as historical procession and more as a collection of interconnected, morally affirming short stories. The atomic bomb became a mythic symbol, perplexing but coated in a protective shell of GI heroism. The nuclear defense program can be forgotten in a world bending toward competent stewardship.

The second Era of Good Feelings was only slightly longer than the first. Competence, it turns out, is very boring, and also not all that competent. The experimental regime under which we currently find ourselves being governed has upended or seems very eager to upend many of the comforts of that bygone time. Among the norms shattered seems to be the pervading security that peaked in the 1990s. This had been on the wane for some time, of course, only now in a way that is rather unavoidable. It is humbling and regrettable to face fears one had long thought behind them, or had only heard of secondhand, but such discomforts call just as much for revisiting how those fears can be better dealt with in the new Era of Precariousness. What better catalyst for change than mortifying discomfort?

I have no grand and comprehensible thoughts on this, but it jarred some boxes off the sheld in my head to pilfer through and I thought I would share.

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11 thoughts on “The Eras of Good Feelings and Their Inevitable End

  1. I think we should now and then pause to consider just what a difficult proposition it is for any given leadership class to maintain competent governance over extended periods, especially across geopolitical eras. To be farsighted enough to understand how governance will have to change when the current era changes to the next one, and then to execute that shift, while having maintained proper functioning throughout the length of the old order, is just almost prohibitively difficult. And it doesn’t make it particularly more manageable to change leadership classes as the switch happens, either.

    Sometimes we need to just cut ourselves some slack and remember that at the end of the day we are a country like any other, not masters of the world (and nor is any other country).

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  2. I do not think the close of the Cold War had as much impact on US politics as he seems to think. I think our current situation is due far more to two other factors: The Reagan Coalition is running out of gas, and the Internet is changing, well, everything.

    We are in a phase change, which means it is turbulent and chaotic. We will settle down to a new equilibrium. I’m not sure what that is, exactly, but it will be different. I mark the last phase change as the 70’s.

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  3. I was expecting one thing from the excerpt (the ongoing search for a coherent vision in geopolitics in the post Cold War era, now over a quarter century long) but got mostly a different thing from the full essay (let’s get rid of nukes).

    I wish there was more of the thing I was expecting.

    It’s not that getting rid of nukes is undesirable or unimportant – it’s just that it’s uninteresting.

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  4. I’m doubtful that the Cold War was an era of good feelings. The Democratic and Republicans Parties might have roughly agreed on an anti-Communist foreign policy. There were still substantial differences. Conservative activists had no problem denouncing every liberal political goal from civil rights and integration to a European style welfare state/New Deal economic regulations as nothing more than Communism. J. Edgar Hoover explicitly saw the Civil Rights movement as nothing but Communist agitation against the natural social order of the United States. Many white Southerners believed that African-Americans wouldn’t be protesting for civil rights if commie Jews like me didn’t egg them on for it.

    In the foreign policy realm, conservative activists accused the Democratic Party of being soft on communism, of losing China and South Vietnam for not being gun ho enough. Red Dawn was taken seriously in what we know call red areas while blue areas rolled their eyes. Democratic voters were concerned about nuclear armageddon in ways Republicans voters were not. There weren’t many good feelings in the Cold War era despite a shared Communist containment foreign policy.

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