How We Got Here

Author: Gary Hart

If current leadership is intent on dismantling a series of institutional arrangements that have provided relative political, economic, and security stability among democratic nations, we should first understand the forces that have led us into this current cul-de-sac.

The most obvious economic tsunamis in recent decades have been globalization and the rise of the information economy.  Historically, we have to go back to the late 19th century to find precedents.  The industrialization of America, that shifted our economic base from agriculture to manufacturing, began in the first half of that century but was most powerfully felt in the 1880s and 90s.  The dislocations caused by Americans leaving farms and small towns and migrating into cities to work in factories most closely parallels the late 20th century decline of steel, auto, textile, and other manufacturing activities and the shift of the economic center of gravity from the industrial East to the high technology West.

Reading The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter (1955) provides eerily similar patterns of social upheaval and political unrest that came to be known as the Populist era that then gave way in the early 20th century to the Progressive era focused on political and economic reforms.  “A great deal of the strain and the sense of anxiety in Populism results from this rapid decline of rural America”, he wrote.

He continued: “Such tendencies in American life as isolationism and the extreme nationalism that goes with it, hatred of Europe and Europeans [Mexico and Mexicans today], racial, religious, and nativist phobias, resentment of big business, trade-unionism, intellectuals, the Eastern seaboard and its culture—all these have been found not only in opposition to reform but also at times oddly combined with it.  One of the most interesting and least studied aspects of American life has been the frequent recurrence of the demand for reforms, many of them aimed at the remedy of genuine ills, combined with strong moral convictions and with the choice of hatred as a kind of creed.”

Added to globalization and information were other powerful social forces: the rise of immigration from the Central America, the culture wars that began in the 1960s over civil rights, abortion, and more recently gay marriage, and the replacement of traditional mainstream media (newspapers and television networks) by partisan media and social media.  A potent symbol of the latter transformation was President Reagan’s abolishment of the “fairness doctrine” as applied to federally licensed radio and television programming.  “Equal time” for opposing points of view became quaint overnight and propaganda poured forth.

Politically, the Roosevelt coalition of the Democratic Party disintegrated, especially with the decline of unionism, and the influence of “Dark Money” (Jane Mayer, 2016) created a right of center Republican orthodoxy that drove out moderates and established the red State system through gerrymandering.

A substantial contributor to the new Age of Anxiety was the transformation of war, the 9/11 attacks on America almost exactly a decade after the Soviet Union, and the Cold War with it, collapsed.  “We will be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, and Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers,” the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century warned the new Bush Administration in January 2011.  Nothing was done to prevent it.

The Age of Reform dated from 1890 to 1917 when it was overtaken by World War I and then the Great Depression.  Out of necessity the latter event produced Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.  Following World War II, the Atlantic Alliance, with its security and economic stabilization rules and institutions was established by Roosevelt, Truman, Marshall and Acheson.  Largely as a result, there has been no World War III.

If we are to abandon these alliances, and presidential utterances seem to vary day by day, we are entitled to know what, other than isolationism, nationalism, and nativism, is to replace them.  So far, there is little evidence of serious, thoughtful, and statesmanlike thinking going into this.

America is greater than any single individual and its people have survived many curious detours.  When this one is all over, we may recall Mr. Dooley’s observation about that earlier period of excess: “Th’ noise ya hear is not th’ first gun of a rivolution.  It’s on’y the people iv the United States batin’ a carpet.”

12 Responses to “How We Got Here”

  1. Tim Conner Says:

    Thanks to Senator Hart for a calm, historical analysis without all the hype and bluster that the media resorts to.
    We will survive Drumpf, although it seems difficult now to imagine.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    Addendum: In this brief survey, on other crucial factor should have been mentioned. Much of the disdain for Washington politics and government is traceable to the large scale onset of corruption, in the classic republican sense of placing special or narrow interests ahead of the common good. The American people clearly understand that both parties share guilt over the access that special interest lobbies enjoy in return for their campaign contributions. Confidence in government will not be restored by electing a president who has no record of public service or understanding of government. It can only be restored by building a real wall, one between the money power and the public good. GH

  3. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Sen. Hart:

    How do you build that wall between money power and public good? With Buckley v. Valeo equating money and speech and Citizens United protecting corporate money as a form of corporate speech, it seems the only possibility is a Constitutional amendment.

  4. Brian C McCarthy Says:


    ‘So far, there is little evidence of serious, thoughtful, and statesmanlike thinking going into this.’

    You have a knack for understatement that is refreshing in an age of hyperbole and wild exaggeration. I have not been abroad in 3 or 4 years and I am anxious to get back to Ireland and the rest of Europe and talk to my family and other people about how they really perceive the new administration. I had the pleasure this evening of meeting a Danish woman who is currently working at the Embassy of Denmark. She was reticent when I first asked what she thought of what was going on in the US right now (she arrived here 2 weeks ago), but after some prodding she admitted, ‘it’s kind of scary to us. Your country holds most of the cards and he is not … we are worried.’

    I responded by pointing out that most Americans who voted did not vote for him – and her response was, ‘well, why do you have a system like that, that the person most people want doesn’t win?’

    I have no answer for that. I said, yes, that’s happened 5 times in American history. She said, ‘it shouldn’t.’ I said, ‘you’re right.’

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    In an age where our leadership inflates all rhetoric, Brian, preserving understatement has become a necessary art. GH

  6. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    I wanted to share a quote from a statesman who along with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt not only elevated the Spirit of the American People during a difficult time but presented a vision for the global common man that I will always hold close to my heart.

    “The moral and spiritual aspects of both personal and international relationships have a practical bearing which so-called practical men deny.”

    Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the United States.

    Given our present situation, both domestically and globally I couldn’t help revisiting him and his offer of a counter narrative to much of what has gotten us here today.


    Indeed the good Senator is to be commended for the subtlety ! One of the many things the Liberal Democratic philosophy brings , not the useage of, liberal , meaning knee-jerk, or bleeding heart, but the mainstream viewpoint that is progressive but is not Progressivism, and is social liberalism but not Socialism, is , moderation ! A very internet age word !

    We need more of this analysis. In the Britain of Brexit , many or at least some of us are pursuing the Art of Subtlety too!

  8. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Excellent historical essay. I wrote multiple papers on Hofstadter’s work as a Berkeley undergraduate history major (one who graduated with distinction in general scholarship I might add, since no one else will). As he virtually always does, Senator Hart knows whereof he speaks.

    BUT, as JFK said while campaigning in 1960: “Our goal is to influence history instead of merely observing it.” I quoted this line on the back of the brochure I created in the first of my 2 (life-time) campaigns for public office here: . (Although it may chagrin him today given my dissent from the Democrats’ current Trump-bashing insanity, I was then perhaps the first Democrat in the country to run on the coattails of Sen. Hart’s successful near-miss 1984 presidential campaign.)

    In a vein related to JFK’s adage, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping famously said: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.”

    Just so with American politics and the public interest. The means don’t always justify the ends but what matters most in progressive politics “at the end of the day” is results.

    Even since President Nixon’s 1972 landslide defeat of Democratic nominee George McGovern, apostate neoliberal Democrats have put subjects such as decrepit- and poverty-, crime-, drug- and vice-ridden urban ghettos; full employment; and what Jesse Jackson used to call “the misery index”, down Orwell’s “memory hole”, where it stayed until…When? Well, 2016.

    When it was revived by…Who? Oh yes. Donald Trump.

    Who came of age…When? Oh yes, in the late 1960s and 1970s.

    Where? Oh yes, in New York City.

    A city that is…What? Oh yes, the most liberal and diverse and dynamic city in the nation if not the world.

    A more cosmopolitan man than Trump (if old school version) you will not find anywhere in the halls of power in America. A veritable John Lindsey reincarnated but without the mush in his brain.

    One of my favorite lines the host ever spoke (right before the 1984 New Hampshire primary) was: “Mondale is mush.” Indeed he was and is. (Sorry Fritz, nothing personal.) As is virtually every establishment Democrat of every stripe today.

    Just look at the way Democrats (who know better) are disgracing themselves with gibberish about Trump being a Russian puppet! Who can take such moronic claptrap seriously? John Brennan, the outgoing CIA Director who evidently came up with this vile trope, apparently hates Putin and modern Russians.

    Why? Is it because they’re NOT Communists!? I kid you not: Brennan admitted that when he was a Fordam University undergraduate student in 1976, he voted for US Communist presidential candidate Gus Hall! . Anyone who was college age in those years (as I was, I’m one year older than Brennan) knows how totally aberrant such a vote was given how irrelevant the CP USA was to ALL progressive currents in those years. It was truly a dinosaur: the oldest of the “old left” that hadn’t been remotely relevant since the 1930s (the right’s largely but not completely delusional anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s notwithstanding). Like Brennan likely does, I still remember seeing the CP USA’s biggest magazine publication, “Soviet Life”, in the library in my youth; it attempted to “normalize” life in the totalitarian USSR (something I recognized although perhaps Brennan didn’t). New left activists abhorred the old left generally and by the mid-1970s only a very odd person would have voted for the CP USA’s presidential candidate. When viewing the Democrats’ anti-Trump propaganda blitz, consider the source.

    The host talked about JFK rolling over in his grave in response to my last comment. Viewing the Dems’ caterwauling about “the Russians” JFK must be spinning like a top now! Most of JFK’s fellow WW2 vets are gone now, in Russia as well as here, but a few survive and it was the Russians who did (by far) the lion’s share of the dying to defeat the Nazis and who largely saved America from being carved up between Germans and the Japanese and oh yes, saved the U.S. from being de-Judaized, in the aftermath of WW2. (Thank you comrades! 🙂

    And let’s not forget: Russians were folks who JFK hoped to end the Cold War with and create a better world (just as Nixon and Brezhnev hoped to do in the 1970s and Hart and Gorbachev hoped to do in the late 1980s, a task GHW Bush inherited and botched, as did Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s).

    JFK appreciated a good political joust and wanted to jointly campaign with conservative Barry Goldwater debating the real issues in 1964. What would Kennedy think of today’s infantile Democratic operatives and their presstitute media allies with their Phil Spector-ish “wall of sound” anti-Russian, anti-Trump propaganda bilge? Not much. Why IS Russophobia the last acceptable form of bigotry? Why didn’t it didn’t make Hillary’s list of outlooks to deplore? Just askin’.

    And just to be clear: Every establishment Republicans without exception are “mush” too. The president is not (either of those — establishment or mush, and if he is really a Republican, he is a moderate one).

    The awful truth is that our country went to seed over the past 45 years under both conservative Republican and neoliberal Democratic administrations. As a once great “cat” of a country (think jazz era slang) we stopped “catching mice”. All our metrics of social welfare and decency — particularly our class and race relations — and international relations, plummeted.

    Eg. the last time Democratic presidential candidates seriously debated the plight of the inner cities and their impoverished residents was 1968! And that year, RFK attacked Eugene McCarthy from the right on the subject during their debate before the California primary (if my memory — albeit I was only 13 — and retrospective study of the subject serves. We in LA were then still very close in time to the Watts riots, and the Kerner Commission Report had just come out, so voters here were paying attention.) And no Democrat since Michael Dukakis in 1988 has even talked about restoring “good jobs with good wages”.

    President Trump has. In office less than a month, he has already partially delivered on some of his campaign promises, which include multiple center-left elements, such as stopping cold the TPP. Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio gave a speech in the House yesterday along with 2-3 other members of her newly minted (though still flyspeck) “blue-collar caucus” (gee, I wonder what caused THAT caucus to form?) The articulate Ms. Kaptur got into the weeds and found fault with the president for not “walking the walk” to match his talk on the subjects of free-trade, buy American provisions of multiple treaties and NAFTA, etc. Such fault-finding may or may not be well-taken (I couldn’t find the text or video online) and in any event is premature, although the president’s record of results in these crucial areas will obviously be complete fair game in due course.

    What I won’t join in (and indeed dissent from entirely) is the idea that Trump’s independent super-wealth disqualifies him from serving as a historical change agent. Here is what I told my Facebook friend Geoffrey Young, already a 2018 progressive Democratic Congressional candidate in Tennessee, who in a recent FB comment derided Trump by lumping him in with the reclusive right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer:
    It’s the billionaires’ world now Geoff. We just live in it. Where we progressives have catastrophically erred is in not persuading our own billionaires to activate politically. Billionaires come in all political stripes. I tried to talk sense to Bernie on this subject, to no avail. I briefly discuss that effort to get through to Bernie in my op-ed linked above (which Counterpunch ignored even though they’ve run my articles twice before).

    Btw, you’re correct about Trump and his fellow billionaire Mercer. But it took every bit of their clout to defeat the neoliberal corporatist Dems, and I’m very, very glad they did. Had Hillary been elected the planet would have been incinerated in a nuclear war within a matter of weeks or months.

    Conservative billionaires are way too materialistic to want to see their private empires destroyed. As Trump said of Hillary during the campaign: “She wants to start World War 3. For what?” G-d bless Trump. He just said the same about Senators McCain and Graham, who are the most dangerous men in America at the moment. Trump tweeted that they’re trying to start WW3. We’re nowhere near out of the woods and owe the president our unstinting support where detente with Russia is concerned.
    In closing: What does it matter the partisan auspices under which progress towards desirable political ends is made? Or the financial means by which progressive messages are disseminated to the public? What matters is that the content and results are progressive! That our society improves. And that the eternal pursuits of liberal decency and world peace are achieved, as opposed to discussed endlessly ala some kind of post-modern Waiting for Godot parody, and steadily evermore put to dross in reality (as they have been for the past 45 — count ’em — years!) Now, finally, there is some renewed hope.

    The short of it is that my fellow commentator here Brian McCarthy was correct in his post in a thread in this space (within the past year or so) about the essential futility of “campaign finance reform.” It’s long past time to let go of that rope and enlist the help of billionaires of conscience who will support the cause of pluralism and democracy in America. If there is to be a new Age of Reform in any of our lifetimes it will be financed (directly and indirectly) by enlightened billionaires. And if there is to be a progressive woman president in that same time-frame, her name is likely to be Ronda Stryker not Elizabeth Warren. And certainly not Hillary Clinton. Never Hillary!

  9. Gary Hart Says:

    I may, or may not, have characterized former Vice President Walter Mondale as mush some three or more decades ago. But, if I did, I regret it. He was the last stalwart in defense of the New Deal which elevated the lives of tens of millions of Americans. That was not our quarrel. It was over our response to globalization and information, something the incumbent president seems not to understand. I don’t know, and really don’t care, who the “neoliberal corporatist Dems” are. But statements that a Hillary Clinton election would have led to nuclear war are nonsense on stilts. I don’t know what has led to (thank God) a few Democrats defecting to the Trump disaster, but try as one might, there is no rational logic behind it. Anyone who clings to the myth that Donald Trump knows what he is doing, is rational, is experienced, is mature, is thoughtful, is anything more than an egomaniac is welcome to his misguided hopes. After the roof falls in, it will be left to the remaining adults to try to put our nation back on its historic course and return sanity and sense to guiding our domestic and international policy. GH

  10. Brian C McCarthy Says:


    You regret a characterization that would not even register on today’s scale of political insults, but it does you great credit to say so. Senator Mondale’s brand of liberalism was outmoded in 1984 but who, then, could have foreseen a 2017 in which white nationalist groups felt free to welcome themselves back to the table of mainline politics? There is no such magnanimity today and the insults that fly are far more disturbing. A debate between New Deal and post-New Deal liberalism is something many of us would pine for nowadays.


  11. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Senator Hart: Here is another of your lines I fondly remember (this one said semi-defiantly at a low point): “Those of us who seek to lead will stand and make our case at the bar of history.” .

    In that spirit although at a vastly lesser station, I will respond to your “nonsense on stilts” dismissal of my conviction (not just concern or belief) that Hillary Clinton’s recklessness, hawkishness and Russophobia could- and likely would have taken us over the edge into the abyss of a nuclear weapons-detonation-wrought holocaust (“like none other”, as the president responsibly described it in what I thought was the most serious highlight of his free-wheeling entertaining and news-making press conference yesterday).

    I do so further mindful of your identity as perhaps THE most stalwart foe of former President Reagan’s nuclear arms build-up, an initiative (including a purported Star Wars missile defense shield) which you correctly told the nation and world in your 1984 Democratic National Convention speech, threatened Americans, Russians and the world itself with the specter of “nuclear megadeath.” The exact text is here: [“At issue in this campaign is the fate of all of us living in the world and all of those yet unborn whose promise of life is held hostage to the growing arsenals of nuclear megadeath.”]

    The crux of my conviction about Hillary (which btw I did not arrive at lightly) is set forth in the following passage of an op-ed I wrote and published online on Nov. 21, 2015, one week after the first of the 2016 Democratic presidential debates between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and your protege of sorts, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. Note that in the first paragraph of the excerpt below I was NOT talking about Donald Trump; nor was I talking about Bernie Sanders; I was talking about yourself (albeit on what I knew to be the essentially nil chance you had a mind to conduct a “last campaign”).
    Historical crises have a way of summoning leaders to the fore who would not otherwise have emerged. Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century and Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in the 20th century, are prime examples.

    With U.S.-Russian cooperation becoming an international imperative in the wake of the present crisis [the Paris terrorist attacks of Nov. 13th, 2015] (and with no one else doing so yet): I write in part to mention the crucial fact that former Colorado Senator and 1980s presidential candidate Gary Hart is the ONLY national political figure who still believes we can and should be working with the Russians to create what Ted Turner used to refer to as a “better world”. See eg. Hart’s December 2011 article “Russia and the United States in the 21st Century”. .

    Hillary Clinton, in sharp contrast, went out of her way in the last Democratic presidential debate (held the day after the maniacal Islamic State’s terrorist attacks in Paris) to assert the neo-conservative mantra that Russia is a threat to the U.S. because (get this:) they are building a “drone submarine”. The actual “news story” refers to a self-disclosure by Putin and his defense officials of a document that “includes PLANS to develop an underwater drone that could be launched from submarines in order to carry out nuclear strikes at key coastal areas. The project is known as ‘Ocean Multipurpose System ‘Status-6.'” .

    Assuming this “submarine drone” report isn’t a mere public relations ploy (or disinformation) on Russia’s part, the spirit in which Hillary mentioned the report is not reassuring. Any responsible presidential candidate, if he or she had chosen to note the purported Russian weapon development at all (directly on the heels of the Paris slaughter) would have done so in order to point up the dire need to resume arms control talks with the Russians and prevent a new round of the nuclear arms race. But Hillary Clinton would never do that.

    As Maureen Dowd has written, Hillary is a (Thatcheresque) Lady Hawk, one who served as a “mid-wife to chaos” in Libya and then (my characterization:) gloated about Muammar Gaddafi’s death in a disgusting display of primitive blood lust. Moreover Secretary Clinton (like so many ugly American elites today) is an inveterate Russophobe (AKA an anti-Russian bigot) who has maliciously compared Putin to Hitler and has falsely asserted that Putin is attempting to “re-Sovietize” his nation. .

    Indeed, the Obama Administration has spent the better part of 7 years (4 of them under Hillary’s active co-authorship as Secretary of State) disrespecting, goading and antagonizing Russia and its democratically elected leaders, most recently with regards to Ukraine (the details of which are beyond the scope here).

    Former Secretary of State Clinton is also reliably reported to have displayed a fierce temper toward her husband Bill Clinton and White House staff members. See : book excerpt by author of The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House (Harper Collins 2015) detailing Hillary’s hurling of a lamp at Bill, which missed and broke and further stating: “The first lady’s temper was notoriously short during those difficult months” following the public disclosure of the Lewinsky affair.

    No sane American should want Hillary Clinton’s finger ANYWHERE NEAR the nuclear button.
    Flash forward to today, with the Russian intel ship (distantly) off the eastern seaboard. If Hillary were president, just as was said in 1964 of her first political hero, Barry Goldwater, in a twist on Goldwater’s own political slogan (“In your heart you know he’s right”):

    “In your heart, you know she might.”


    Eric Jacobson seems to be dreaming something Richard Kiley never dreamt , not impossible, but improbable ! The host is correct on every aspect of this ludicrous so called president. To mention him in the same breath as JFK or for that matter favourably compared with John Lindsey, is laughable !

    Much of the panic on this president is misguided because it focuses on his politics. They are not , Mr. Jacobson is right, all bad on issues where they are not all bad !But the same could be strongly said for Reagan or Bush one and two . It is the personality of Trump that is as never seen . In that , he is the exception, for that certainly cannot be said of his recent Republican predecessors.

    On Russia , our worries, any who do worry or care, are not about Russians ! I am , a member of the Liberal Democrats in Great Britain, a party a member of Liberal International. A sister party there is Yabloko, a moderate , liberal and democratic party . Gorbachev has endeavoured to create a moderate social democratic party several times ! Instead we have a party in Russia called Liberal Democratic which is not in Liberal International, the greatest , by the way, political international, which celebrates seventy years this year and whose founding document predates the United Nations declaration by a year or so and is as good, and the reason that party which has the name of Liberal Democratic in Russia, is not in this great political international, is because it is a far right nationalist party , like Putins, and , like the leader of the country , is a charlatan and a political fraud !That is why some of us dislike the leader , not the country , including the much abused and maligned but far from perfect Hillary Clinton !

    Though some of us always saw at least a third of Republicans , and their leaders, like Reagan ,as not as right wing as others said, but products of a time, and a move away from the me first beatniks that alienated the generations that had fought in the wars against totalitarianism hot and cold wars, and had won, we do not , those of us in our middle age or younger , see reds under the beds, but Putin for where and what he is. Lousy !

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