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Great piece, Michael. Always good to have perspective; in this case that viciousness has long been a feature of American politics and that elections have been hotly contested in the past.

A big difference between 1876 and now is that in 1876 the country had just been through a terrible civil war and was war weary. Now, many seem to be spoiling for war. "Burn it down!" is a common rallying cry the leftists. Maybe another important difference is that back then the foreign ideology of socialism wasn't a factor. It was more a question of who would be in control of a capitalist system; not what kind of system of governance we would have.

We will see soon enough how it shakes out.

Good points, Eric.

By the way, here's an interesting historical tidbit I couldn't fit into the main post. Both Hayes and Tilden ran against the patronage of the spoils system, but Hayes, as a seriously weakened president, was unable to get reforms passed. His successor was James Garfield, who also ran as a reformer. But six months into his presidency, Garfield died of an assassin's bullet (the killer was a deranged low-level political operative who thought Garfield had cheated him of an ambassadorial appointment). This elevated the VP, Chester Arthur, to the presidency.

No one had any hopes for Arthur, a creature of New York's political machine who was put on the ticket as a sop to the anti-reform bloc of the Republican Party. But after assuming his new office, Arthur underwent a near-miraculous transformation, threw off his old bosses, and was able to implement a thoroughgoing reform of the civil service. He is said to have slowly embraced the role of reformer during a lengthy correspondence with an earnest reform-minded citizen, a woman who appealed to the better angels of his nature and gradually won the day.

Which just proves that you never know about people, I guess.

Another tidbit: In his early years, Tilden worked in the law office of John W. Edmonds, who happened to be one of the first serious investigators of mediumship. Edmonds was personally convinced that some mediums communicated with the dead and was not afraid to announce his findings. His openness hurt his career; when he published a book on the topic, the resulting controversy forced him to resign from New York State's Supreme Court. See Michael Tymn's article:

https://psi-encyclopedia.spr.ac.uk/articles/john-w-edmonds

" His openness hurt his career; when he published a book on the topic, the resulting controversy forced him to resign from New York State's Supreme Court."

I had heard about that tidbit, but had forgotten it. Yep, something else that hasn't changed; savage systemic scientific materialism.

This set of images (below at the link) - political cartoons of the 1800s - is more proof that dumbed-down soundbites and memes attacking others are not new to the culture. We could say that today that it comes at us faster than ever and it's difficult to evade, but back then ordinary people didn't have as many alternatives (other than the Bible). So when they did read, what they read was just as bad as today. Their perspective was getting just as skewed. There is nothing new under the sun.

https://www.google.com/search?source=univ&tbm=isch&q=vicious+political+cartoons+1800s&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjsrIb9_P_rAhUrTt8KHfkADyAQjJkEegQIChAB&safe=active&ssui=on

"merged into one, comprised of eight Republicans and seven Democrats."

"comprising" should have been used, just as "including" should be used instead of "included of." ("Comprising" is a restricted form of "including," implying that only the entities listed constitute the whole—i.e., there are no others. E.g., "Our flag comprises the colors red, white, and blue.")

A recent WSJ poll puts Biden 8 points ahead of Trump. Maybe that gap will be halved by November, but more would be unlikely.
An almost as important contest is for control of the senate.

I think "comprise" is one of those words that are used incorrectly so often, the formerly incorrect usage has become acceptable through repetition. Anyway, I don’t worry about it, at least in a blog post. For a book, I might worry a little.

I'm doubtful that the polls mean anything. Biden is running such a lifeless, empty campaign that it’s hard to imagine much enthusiasm for him. But we'll see. Trump might be doing better if he hadn’t surrendered so much decision-making power to a superannuated crank like Dr. Fauci. Just today, Fauci said masks and social distancing need to remain in effect until "at least" late 2021.

Truthfully, a country this stupid doesn’t deserve to survive. Increasingly I root for chaos and collapse. If we all die out, maybe the cockroaches will take over North America and do a better job.

I presume you’re excluding Canada from your invitation to the cockroaches to run America? :)

No, I pretty much want Canada to go cockroach, too.

Michael,

First, good, interesting post. It was a real mess that has largely been forgotten. I took an interest in Hayes in junior high and read a lot about it the encyclopedias we had in school (remember those)?

You wrote:

||Truthfully, a country this stupid doesn’t deserve to survive. Increasingly I root for chaos and collapse. If we all die out, maybe the cockroaches will take over North America and do a better job. ||

One thing we need to do a better job of in the US is connecting our problems to global problems. The type of malaise and political issues we have in the US are currently found all around the world. Some countries are behaving in the exactly the same manner as well, with frustrations over current institutions (Brexit) and the rise of extreme right-wing politicians (Hungary, Brazil, etc.). Argentina already had its recent turn to the right with Macri and has already gone back to the left.

Of course, I could go on and on about the malaise and lack of vision that has afflicted Japan since their bubble burst in 1989.

If we are a stupid country, then there are a lot of stupid countries around the world. Why is that?

I think the answer is simple but the solution is complex to the point of nonexistence: we are in late-stage capitalism, and it isn't working very well. The last time capitalism had as big a problem, we saw the rise of Mussolini and Hitler.

But wait, you say: The economy was doing great before the pandemic hit--capitalism isn't the problem!

We could have a big discussion about that, but here's a problem with capitalism as it exists now that perhaps we can agree on: the rate of growth goes down as an economy develops. At first, the fruit are hanging low, and people see their standards of living rise at a rapid pace. As the economic and technological base is built, things seem to accelerate even more. People see their kids doing better than they did. The future seems bright.

But then, inevitably, that growth isn't sustainable. Japan was the wonder of the world, then hit a wall from which it never recovered, either economically or psychologically. Today, Japan is on track to lose one-third of its population by 2050. It is literally dying.

Speaking fertility, the world average is 2.4, whereas replacement is 2.1:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependencies_by_total_fertility_rate#Country_ranking_by_most_recent_year

There are barely any developed countries above 2.1, and most of those are just barely above that level.

But wait a sec, these are rich countries--so the average person should feel they can enough kids to replace the population, right? And the economy was "doing great," so fertility should be high, right?

Apparently not. People feel, rightly so, that having kids is more or less unaffordable. Expectations are high. Each child must have the best medical care, education, and so on. Anything less is socially unacceptable. Well then, better to pour all one's resources into one child than raise two at a less than perfect level.

According to this cite (https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/fertility-rate),

"The current fertility rate for U.S. in 2020 is 1.779 births per woman, a 0.06% increase from 2019."

According to the same cite, the last time fertility in the US was above replacement was 1972 (though it got close again in the 1990s and early 2000s). It hit 3.528 in 1958.

Things have changed, but one problem is that many people alive today remember "the good old days" when capitalism hit what was arguably its sweet spot in the years 1945-1970. They remember when a person go just go out and get a good job without a college education, and people could raise a largish family with one breadwinner. They remember things not just being good but getting better all the time.

Conservatives (and now fascists--they deserve no other moniker) in the US have preyed upon this collective memory and told us we could have it back again--if only government would get out of the way. Here again the choice has been made not to compare the US to any other country in the world or cite a country that has actually done this and could teach us best practices (one possible reason: there isn't one). No, the US is a cultural and economic island, and we need only worry about ourselves. Far be it from us to learn from others (I think in this sense, yes, we are a stupid country).

I think it is this environment of *global* stagnation and frustration that has been the breeding ground of political polarization in the US. Neither party has had the secret recipe for getting us back to the good old days or creating an amazing new future, so the Democrats have become the adult-in-the-room party trying to govern with what we've got, and the Republicans have become the oppose-everything-and-sell-the-past (and now the sell-white-supremacy-and-rage) party.

Mind you, I don't think it was really clear until after the year 2000 that we *couldn't* get back to the economic sweet spot. I don't think, for example, that Reagan was disingenuous in what we was trying to do, and some of what he did worked for a time. Now, however, that Communism is gone and we have enough examples from other wealthy, well-socialized countries (like Japan) about how late-stage capitalism progresses, denial is just denial, and it's no longer responsible.

So what's the solution? Not Communism! Not socialism, either, though some socialistic programs such as universal health care and housing the homeless are no-brainers (they will ultimately produce more genuine wealth and happiness than they cost). I think fertility is a genuine crisis that no one is noticing (well, almost no one: https://www.amazon.com/Empty-Planet-Global-Population-Decline/dp/1984823221/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=empty+planet&qid=1601155060&sr=8-1) or that Liberals tend to blow off with a stupid, "Well, the planet is overpopulated anyway--plus climate change!" Republicans also have the stupid idea that, if we ban abortion, people will have more babies and things will be fine (hint: a lot of people getting abortions because they don't feel they can afford to raise a kid will be correct).

So are we a dumb country? Or a dumb planet? I don't think so. I think the issue comes down to our having believed that technology and economic development would only make things easier and never make them harder. We are at a difficult place in history, but we were a lot more "stupid" in the 1940s when we were dropping bombs on each other and committing genocide, thinking that that was some type of solution.

"Democrats have become the adult-in-the-room party trying to govern with what we've got."

Wow, the one expression I would never use to describe today's national Democrats is "the adult in the room." Seems to me that their answer to everything is, "Give us what we want or we will burn things." If you reelect Trump, America, we will burn the country down ... If you appoint Amy Barrett to the Supreme Court, Republicans, we will "blow up the whole system" ... If you disrespect the transgender movement, J.K. Rowling, we will burn your books in public bonfires (which they are now doing) ...

But then, I don't think modern conservatives are fascists, either. They're populists with a rightward tilt, which is not the same thing, though there can be points of similarity.

And yes, the economy was very, very good before the COVID panic and the entirely unnecessary, hugely counterproductive lockdown.

In the Obama years, I predicted we could double our rate of growth (from below 2% annually to around 4%) just by cutting regulations. If I recall correctly, you told me that even if we rolled back regulations to 1980 levels, it would make no difference, because late-stage capitalism entails low growth.

Well, Trump cut back regulations and we had something close to 4% growth until Dr. Fauci shut it down with his magic wand.

I don't actually think there is such a thing as late-stage capitalism. "Late-stage capitalism," to me, makes as much sense as saying the dinosaurs ran into trouble because they were "late-stage reptiles." Capitalism does not know what year it is or how long it's been around, and besides, it's constantly evolving. Today's capitalism is not the same as FDR's or Teddy Roosevelt's or Andrew Jackson's capitalism. It's a very flexible and resilient system - at least until the Sweet Meteor of Death comes along.

Japan, unfortunately, is not a flexible and resilient country; they did well for a while by copying the West, but when their system broke down, they couldn't fix it. I don't think their culture encourages independent thought. It seems to be more about conformity, which can be good for promoting civil order, but not so good when you need to think outside the box. (The US, on the other hand, has probably gone too far in the opposite direction, with many people having little commitment to social norms and a fair number seeking actively to destroy them.)

From 1945-60, the US was in the historically unusual position of being the only industrial power that was still intact. Unlike our rivals, our factories hadn't been bombed into rubble. So the livin' was easy - not because of an inevitable historical stage of capitalism but because of temporary circumstances.

Circumstances changed, and we faced renewed competition from reviving economies. Our policies didn't change fast enough. We continued to think we could compete even while hamstrung by high taxes and burdensome regulations.

Even today you hear people like Bernie Sanders say we did just fine with a 95% marginal tax rate for high earners, not comprehending that we did fine because we had no competition and could afford to indulge in bad policies.

But yeah, sadly, we are a stupid country. A lot of people think Bernie knows what he's talking about, which is demoralizing enough. Even worse, we threw away a world-class economy so we could collect unemployment bonuses and virtue-signal with useless masks. A goodly percentage of us don't want the lockdowns to end, ever. They *like* being under house arrest. And while our elected officials are having people tasered, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail for not wearing masks, they are doing nothing to curtail the ongoing riots that have already reduced major US cities to no-go zones. And plenty of Americans support both policies - they are gung ho for arresting and jailing social-distance violators (one guy in California just got a year in jail for hosting a house party!) and blasé about hordes of "peaceful protesters" putting whole neighborhoods to the torch.

Come onnnnnn, cockroaches ...

\\"reduced major US cities to no-go zones." - Michael Prescott//
----------------------

That has been my feelings about big cities for decades. I don't like any of them. When I have to drive through Atlanta when I'm driving down I-75 on our way to Florida I make sure I got a full tank of gas before I even close to the city so I don't have to stop until I am well on the other side. I went to High School in Atlanta, Georgia and then a few years ago I had to drive my wife to a meeting in a big hotel in downtown Atlanta and it was sheer and utter torture. The traffic was horrendous.

I originally was thinking about staying there in the hotel with her but after that nerve wracking drive down I-75/85 to get to downtown Atlanta I decided to get the hell out of there and drive over to Athens, Georgia where I have family and stay with them. Athens is about 70 miles due east of Atlanta so there is a good bit of rural buffer between Atlanta and Athens.

My nerves just can't take big cities anymore. I think they are horrendous and I'll be honest... I hate them. People living in those cities reminds me of experiments with overcrowded rats that I read about in psychology books. It's no wonder that the people who live there end up acting insane.

And by the way when I was working at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine for 17 years about once a year I had to fly to AALAS meetings in big cities around the country. I hated everything about it, especially having to fly to get there. I prefer trees and forests and meadows and mountains and lakes and rivers and oceans and natural settings with lots of wild animals roaming free.

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