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What We Feel Are The Labor Pains Of A Social Revolution (Washington Examiner) June 9, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

A political revolution is rare — a social revolution rarer still. We have not seen a social revolution since the 1960s, and you’d have to go back to the 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal followed the Great Depression, to find a political revolution and a social revolution occurring at the same time.

The country is now experiencing the labor pains of what could be its next social revolution. That’s the discomfort and pain people are feeling when 80% of respondents told Wall Street Journal/NBC News pollsters that they think America is “out of control.” Sustained racial protests and massive unemployment, all topped off by a pandemic, will cause that uneasy feeling.

Unlike a political revolution launched by party leaders, the people lead in a social revolution. In the 1960s, it was primarily college students out in front, persuading the country that the Vietnam War was wrong and that the economic and moral values that drove policies were misguided. Political leaders were left to play catch-up, with Lyndon Johnson deciding not to run for reelection and Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon left to pick up the pieces, both in Vietnam and on city streets across America. As songwriter Bob Dylan put it, people today are still living off the music and ideas of the 60s.

Likewise today, the people are on the streets and on social media leading the way while political leaders struggle to keep up. This is now the third week of major protests across the country, which have been prompted not only by the brutal death of George Floyd but also by the pandemic laying bare questions of economic inequality and racial injustice. President Trump has chosen to respond to this as primarily a law-and-order issue, and Joe Biden, still mostly in his basement as far as we can tell, has not been out in front.

Another sign that this is more of a social revolution than a political one lies in the nature of the issues themselves. Income inequality, for example, is not something that the government traditionally tries to regulate. Although we have a graduated income tax, it is not structured to take away large sums from the top and give them to people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. If America wants more of a middle class and less of a lower class, it would take a broad movement to get there. With lots of civil rights laws on the books, racial injustice seems to be more in people’s hearts and daily lives than in government policies. Maybe the government can reform the police, but systemic racism is much broader than that.

Two questions follow the protests. Will this social protest lead to a political revolution? The last time that happened, the 1930s, progressives who had long been ready to carry out major change to the economic and political systems and the Great Depression, along with the charisma and political leadership of Roosevelt, created the opportunity. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which came in response to the Great Depression, changed America forever, instigating major government controls over the market economy and, with the advent of Social Security, created the welfare state.

There is little evidence that the ideas and leaders are aligned for that today. It is one thing for the government to take greater control over the economy but another to lead a society out of racial injustice and inequality. There is legislation proposing a “Green New Deal,” but no one is really talking about it as the answer. Biden does not seem to be a revolutionary leader, and a Trump revolution would fly in the face of today’s protests. Young people’s record of turning out to vote is not great either. Only half as many of them voted in 2016 as did older voters.

Will current struggles result in major changes? It is entirely possible given the frustration and feeling of hopelessness felt by many young people and people of color. But strong as they are, protests are only the beginning. It will take a sustained push and more concrete solutions to give birth to a sustained social revolution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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