(I posted this at The American Catholic last year, and I decided the history Mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)
Attempting to draw historical parallels is usually perilous, especially when the person doing so clearly does not understand the period he is seeking to draw a parallel with. Such is the case with Arthur Levine in the New York Daily News:
On Election Day, the United States voted for the past over the future. In 1896, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, there was a comparable election. It was a time of transition in which clashing visions of America — one agrarian and waning and the other industrial and rising — battled for the soul of the nation. It was a period of dramatic demographic, economic and technological change, producing deep political and social divisions, growing concentrations of wealth and gridlock in government.
William Jennings Bryan, the defender of agrarian America, and William McKinley, the champion of industrialization, contested for the presidency. McKinley won.
In the 2016, presidential election, the reverse happened. Donald Trump, the contemporary Bryan, won.
The context is similar. Once again, America is in the midst of an economic, demographic, technological and global transformation as the country transitions from a national, analog industrial economy to a global, digital information economy.
As in 1896, the country is divided, pained and angry. The poor are poorer and the rich are richer. The number of have-nots is expanding and the number of haves is shrinking. The manufacturing and Industrial Age jobs, demanding no more than a high school diploma, that promised salaries, dreams and hopes sufficient to support a family, are vanishing.
In their stead, there are now knowledge-economy jobs, requiring the highest levels of education in history. The college education required to get those jobs leaves our children with massive student-loan debt.
At the same time, as in the previous transformation, the nation’s social institutions — government, education, media and the rest — appear to be part of the problem rather than the solution. Having been created for an Industrial Age, they are outdated and seem to be dysfunctional. They need to be redesigned for a global, digital, information economy.
As in 1896, the 2016 election gave Americans a choice of restoring what had been lost or building on the changes. It gave them a choice of attempting to repair the existing institutions or replacing them. The nation chose to restore the past and replace our leadership, electing for the first time a candidate who had never held political or military office. (more…)