(first published in North State Journal 10/31/18)
Every election is important. That is why our founders instituted two-year election cycles for the offices closest to the needs of the people: the U.S. Congress and state legislatures.
Delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut explained why regular elections were necessary during the Constitutional Convention in 1787: “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of Govt. they would acquire the habits of the place which might differ from those of their Constituents.”
AKA “Potomac Fever.”
Delegate Rufus King of Massachusetts pointed out the balance biennial elections would bring to the new democratic republic: “It seems proper that the representative should be in office time enough to acquire that information which is necessary to form a right judgment; but that the time should not be so long as to remove from his mind the powerful check upon his conduct, that arises from the frequency of elections, whereby the people are enabled to remove an unfaithful representative, or to continue a faithful one”.
We are about to elect our 116th Congress next Tuesday. Just how important can any single election be, really?
According to sociological historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, the 2018 elections are very important. As a postscript to 2016 and a prelude to 2020.
In 1991, they co-authored the book “Generations” in which they meticulously chronicled the group dynamics, characteristics and identity of every generation of Americans from Colonial days to 30 years in the future and beyond in 20-year age cohorts.
Everyone knows that succeeding generations are different from their older siblings and parents and grandparents. Boomers see life a lot differently from their “The World’s Greatest GI Generation” parents mainly because of far different life circumstances that shaped their formative years.
Howe and Strauss identified four generational identities that have been repeated in 80-year cycles dating back to before America’s founding. After a crisis — such as World War II in 1941; the Civil War in 1861 and The Revolution, ending in 1781 — America has experienced roughly the same cycle of generational attitudes toward government, institutions and individualism three times now.
By their reckoning, we are entering “The Fourth Turning” of American history, which is also the title of another book they published in 1997.
After a “Crisis Era” subsides, a high period of renewed faith in public institutions is followed by an “Awakening Era” where social discipline starts to falter and spirituality and personal awareness become more important to people. An “Unraveling Era” ensues where institutions become more distrusted, as government has been for the last 20 years, and special emphasis on individualism, freedoms and rights become paramount. The next Crisis Era creates “heroes” who emerge to lead our country back to its foundational roots to start the cycle all over again in a generational “turning.”
If this sounds like hocus-pocus this Halloween, consider the fact that each war above was almost exactly 80 years apart from the previous one.
2020 is 80 years from 1940.
Hopefully, we will avoid such bloodshed and mayhem. However, Howe and Strauss predicted in 1991 and then in 1997 that before the year 2020, we could witness a major terrorist attack on American soil (2001); a major financial meltdown (2008-09) and the rise of angry rebellious voters (Tea Party 2010; Antifa 2018), so maybe they are onto something.
Maybe they are crackpots like soothsayer Jeane Dixon.
They foresaw the elections of 2016, 2018 and especially 2020 as being pivotal to what America would look like for the rest of the 21st century.
Will the 2018 election bring back more socialism as we saw under President Obama? Or will the 2018 and 2020 elections end the modern Progressive Era for good as it was defeated in the 1920s during its last heyday?
It sure feels that way.