Most years are extensions of the year or years before. They are pieces of an era. Each year has its own flavor for sure but some years have a similar feel. Sometimes however things shift, and I think 2015 may be one of those “shifting years.”
Many people break the Bush years and the Obama years into different pieces. For sure Bush, the establishment Republican and Obama the establishment, but most importantly African American and liberal Democrat, are very different in many ways and a good case can be made that the two defined different times.
I believe however that the period since September 11th, and perhaps since the Florida election debacle, up until now constitutes one cohesive era. A period where Pax Americana died, and America entered a period of insecurity.
I was born in 1975. I really started to become aware during the Reagan years. For me, and many of the people of my age things felt very solid. The economy was pretty good. The tumult of the 60s and the 70s was completely behind us. Inflation, Vietnam, hippies, leisure suits, gas lines, bell bottoms, sex without perceived consequence, riots, the draft, all that stuff was of an alien time. Another world. Ours was a pretty steady Eddie place. We had overcome the pain of years before. The country had moved on.
This period extended from the 80s to the late 90s. Things were so good (generally) that at the end of the the epoch we impeached a president for essentially being a letch. A lying letch, but we felt it was OK to expend the country’s energy on such things. What a luxury.
2 movies (both of which I love) Fight Club and American Beauty, define the tail end of the Reagan to Clinton period particularly well. Both deal with men who feel lost in a world of general affluence. In Fight Club the feeling erupts violently. In American Beauty the main character essentially just checks out. But both of the movies are movies of affluenza, a disease which feels as forgotten as polio for many in today’s USA.
I actually saw a recent review of Fight Club on Youtube done by a kid who was probably barely born when the movie came out in 1999. He made the point that in the late 1990s (per the movie) having a steady job, a great condo, and lots of disposable income was a cause for despair. The reviewer wished that he had such problems.
The reviewer has lots of company.
Things changed instantly however when the planes hit the Twin Towers. As soon as I saw both buildings on fire, stark against the blue sky, I knew, we all knew, that things were different. The only America many of us had ever known was gone.
The next thing we all knew the country was thrown into the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The economy teetered. As a response to the uncertainty the Fed eased sharply. Because of the cocktail of deep middle class insecurity and easy credit the housing bubble began to expand at a furious rate.
I had a front row seat. I built a relatively big house on the outskirts of Washington DC. (Though I must say that I never used any of the more insane tools of consumer debt available at the time.) There was a feeling (though unspoken for the most part) that if the shit was going to go down it was better to watch it from a nice house with a big TV. Why not also buy a suburban assault vehicle with a new home equity loan while we were all at it? After all, housing prices always go up. A pool would be nice too.
It was stupid.
But it was a time of widespread stupidity. From the broad American public to our politicians in DC choosing to invade the Middle East, to Mr. Greenspan doing his thing, dumbassery abounded. It was everywhere. And because our world had been so rocked we were (mostly) blind to it.