As America nears the end of a terrible year; 2020, in its history, I have to wonder what other eras in history that resemble our own.
Being a history buff, I have a few thoughts on this matter. Unfortunately, some historical parallels to our age are frightening.
Frightening parallels to our era in history include:
Late 1930s Britain
Disturbingly, modern America resembles Late 1930s Great Britain. In the late 1930s, Britain was a declining nation split by terrible economic inequality that considered itself a global superpower.
During the 1930s, Britain’s elite suffered from the delusion that the British Empire still ruled the world. Moreover, in 1930s Britain, nostalgia for past golden ages drove national thought and politics. Political leaders and ordinary people pretended the year was 1900, Queen Victoria was still on the throne, and the British Empire was all-powerful.
In the 1930s Britain’s political debates centered on maintaining the Indian Empire; rather than rebuilding the country’s industry or countering rising Nazi military power. Parliament argued about India, while the Royal Air Force begged for money for planes.
The policy of the ruling Conservative Party was preserving the British Empire at all costs and ignoring economic decline at home and rising threats abroad. For example, the Conservatives argued Nazi Germany was no threat to Britain and increased defense spending was unnecessary.
Finally, in 1937, Britons elected a leader dedicated to returning the country to normalcy; Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. To preserve the illusion of normalcy, Chamberlain clung to the fantasy that Adolph Hitler was a normal leader whom Britain could trust and work with.
History exposed Chamberlain’s policy of Peace for Our Time; like the British Empire nostalgia as a fantasy. By 1940, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany and lacked the military resources to wage that war. In the summer of 1940, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill was literally begging for American aid.
Similarly, modern Americans just elected a leader dedicated to restoring normalcy at all costs President-Elect Joe Biden (D-Delaware). Likewise, nostalgia for the 1980s or the 1950s is the obsession of American politics. The most influential modern American politician President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) runs on the mantra “Make America Great Again.”
1930s Britain was unprepared for the modern world and the cataclysm about to engulf it. The obsession with preserving or restoring Britain’s Imperial Glory and Victorian normalcy made it impossible for the British to prepare for Hitler or World War II.
Similarly, many modern US leaders are so devoted to preserving America’s status as the world’s sole superpower they refuse to acknowledge problems. Those problems include rising income inequality, growing poverty, deindustrialization, growing social unrest, and rampant technological unemployment.
For example, President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and his advisors discuss preserving America’s alliances in Europe while ignoring industrial decline in the Midwest. Industrial decline in the Midwest threatens America’s future while there is no security threat that requires an American presence in Europe.
However, America coming to Europe’s rescue from imaginary threats makes leaders such as Biden feel proud. Examining the growing poverty and increasing decay in Youngstown, Ohio, makes Americans feel bad.
Instead, our leaders spend their time trying to preserve America’s European alliances and special relationships while ignoring the mess at home. Much as 1930s British leaders ignored the growing menace from Germany and the industrial collapse in the Midlands while concentrating on efforts to preserve their decrypt Indian Empire.
The 1980s Soviet Union
During the 1980s the Soviet Union was a supposedly invincible superpower with a dysfunctional economy, in a similarity to 2020 America.
Moreover, in the 1980s an ideological cult the Communist Party governed the Soviet Union. In 2020, an ideological cult, the Republican Party dominates the US Senate, our State Legislatures, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
They dedicated the Soviet Communist Party to the delusion it could create utopia through Leninist terror. Fake conservatives dedicate the American Republican Party to the delusion it can create utopia through small government and an unrestrained free market.
Furthermore, the Soviet Communist Party had an obsession with military power and wasted most of the USSR’s resources building up an enormous military machine that proved useless. Similarly, the American Republican Party has an obsession with military power and spends unbelievable amounts of money on weaponry.
For instance, The Balance estimates Congress will budget $933 billion for the US military in 2020. That spending includes $636.4 billion for the Department of Defense, $228.4 billion for base support, and $69 billion for overseas operations (the wars and other missions).
Similarly to the Soviet Union, there is little justification for America’s military buildup. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation claims the US spends more on national defense than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil combined. Hence America, like its dead Cold War rival, is wasting its resources building a pointless military machine.
Finally, the USSR was a gerontocracy, a government of the old and out of touch. The General Secretary of the Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev was 74 in 1980. His successor, Yuri Andropov, was 68 when he took power in November 1982. Tellingly, Andropov, the former KGB director, died less than two years later in February 1984.
Andropov’s successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was even older; at 72 he took power. Tellingly, Chernenko died in March 1985, a little over a year after taking office.
The result of the gerontocracy was that a leaderless Soviet Union was incapable of dealing with a radically changing world. Nobody in Russia noticed the technological revolution in the United States, growing prosperity in capitalist countries, the rise of Japan, and the shift of developing world leaders into the American camp.
A little over six years after Chernenko’s death in 1985, the Soviet Union collapsed completely in 1991. Today, Russia is a third-rate power that has minimal international influence.
In 2020, a similar gerontocracy rules America. US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is 80 years old. Pelosi’s chief lieutenant US Representative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) the majority whip is also 80 years old. US House Majority Leader US Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) is 81 years old.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is 78 years old. President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) is 74 years old. US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is 69 years old. US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) the leader of the American left is 79. Finally, US President Elect Joe Biden (D-Delaware) turned 78 years old on 20 November 2020.
Thus America’s political leadership is now older than the 1980s Soviet gerontocracy. Moreover, America like the 1980s USSR could soon find itself without leadership. Google estimates the average death age in the United States was 78.54 in 2017. Thus, most of America’s political leadership could be dead in a few years.
The USA like the Soviet Union could find itself without leadership at a time of crisis. A young and vigorous leader dedicated to change; Mikhail Gorbachev arose in the Soviet Union. However, history records that Gorbachev’s efforts were too little and too late to save the USSR.
Gorbachev dismantled the Communist Party’s ideological cult. However, history did not give Gorbachev enough time to reform and rebuild Russia’s economy and political system.
I wonder if history will give America’s next generation of leaders the time they need to dismantle the political infrastructure left by the gerontocracy. Although Trump; to his credit, has partially dismantled the Republicans’ ideological cult. If those leaders cannot overcome America’s problems, the United States could follower the Soviet Union into the ash heap of history.