The '60s to the 1990s

IN EUROPE, ESPECIALLY EASTERN, THE NEXT decade, and perhaps the next century, is busting out all over. Everything that's not being opened is being restructured, and the status quo of half a century is dissolving into a thrilling, if uncertain, dawn. Meanwhile, in America, the once-New World, we grind on in smug stagnation and nostalgic decay, playing burger-vendor to the world and diving back into '60s anniversaries at every opportunity.

Our politics are without imagination. Our economy, still a bonanza for the rich and famous, promises only insecurity for workers and desperation for the growing legion of the locked-out. Our culture is increasingly defined by cynicism and calculated indifference. That's the dominant picture in the land of crack'n'Uzis and hillside Jacuzzis. And there's no point pretending otherwise.

But all of the news isn't always in the headlines. In these last days of the late, gray '80s there is also, even in America, the possibility of a democratic renewal. At the turn of the decade, it has become an op-ed page truism that, after a decade of "greed is good" individualism, the cultural pendulum is bound to swing back toward compassion and community. And the truism is true. Even our kinder, gentler president knows that there are, out there in America, the first longings and stirrings toward a new idealism. And he doesn't want to be the one punctured by those thousand points of light.

It's also true that this is a time of catastrophic crisis among the American poor. And, not coincidentally, it is also a time of changed, that is, constricted, economic circumstances for the American middle class. Conventional politics of the Right and Left, of the electoral or protest variety, have mostly failed to address these new realities. But there is in this mix of economic frustrations and moral confusions a new decade, and a new American political culture, waiting to be born.

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