The Darkness Before the Dawn

Author: Gary Hart

A very astute friend has been discussing changes in popular culture, occurring so gradually as almost to be unnoticeable, that will have the cumulative affect of producing a different kind of society with as yet unclear political implications.

He says, for example, that many, if not most, people will quit going to movie theaters and will watch movies at home.  The same is true of dining out.  We have only to wait for first run movies to appear on DVD and, with a somewhat larger screen, watch them at home.  Meals delivered to the home are expanding exponentially to a growing consumer base, especially for two wage-earner families.

In both cases the savings are the same: car parking, theater tickets, large restaurant bills, tips here and there, baby sitters, expensive sodas and popcorn at the movies, and on and on.  Not to say also maneuvering through urban traffic and the danger of a DUI after the restaurant.

These trends are not new, especially among the working middle class whose incomes have become stagnant.  And young people have to be from wealthy families to afford a dinner and movie date.

These trends also involve shopping and merchandise.  The popular shopping malls of the 60s, 70s, and 80s have been surrendering to the bulldozers and wrecking balls years ago as the rise of catalogue shopping and Amazon rendered them obsolete.

Even as the investment world, driven by equity firms, retirement funds, and concentrated wealth, produces a rosy economic picture, some see that picture turning into a sunset.  Wealth is swirling upward, middle class wages stagnate, human hands are replaced by robots, and the third and fourth quintiles of workers become more frustrated and angry.

An ugly fog of stagnation seems to be settling in…permanently.

The social implications, and therefore the politics they produce, are becoming clearer.  People still socialize, but mostly among family and close friends.  But the community represented by popular entertainment, dining out, and shopping is narrowing.  Attendance at religious services, another locus of community, is markedly down.  Attendance at city council, county commission, and school board meetings is sparse.

It is one thing to neglect participation because things seem to be going well.  It is another to opt out because it doesn’t make a difference.

These patterns are replicated in one way or another in many, if not most, Western democracies.  Populist demagogues hone popular frustration by blaming immigrants, internationalists, and liberals.

And then, like a bad dream, a man appears to lead the world’s greatest democracy who sees government as a reality show, a source of never-ending chaos and drama, a new form of Survivor, a source of distraction, and a circus in which he is ringmaster.

No cohort is more confused than the intelligencia of the political party he has highjacked.  The man in the Oval Office does not play by any rules ever devised.  Every day is a new show with a drama based on a new set of assertions—never facts—and empowered by random family members, ever-changing cronies, a leaderless, somnambulant former party, and cabinet henchmen whose only talent is to break the rules, disobey laws, rig federal largess for corporate buddies, and then head for the door as investigating hangmen appear at the door.

Meanwhile, the large majority of Americans tune out, convinced by anti-government media that this is just a tip of total corruption in Washington, and who increasingly live their lives behind closed doors, in danger of leaving their communities to their own devices.

But all is not gloom.  As the Fallows, Jim and Deb, have shown in their recent book, Our Town, there are vibrant recovering communities, largely small and midsized, where citizens are volunteering, local businesses investing, schools teaching, and there is hope for the future.

Despite the chaos in and around the White House and the fog of stagnation it creates, emanating from a man who could care less for this country, and despite the cultural changes shrewdly observed by my friend, there must and will be a return to sanity and to a brighter day for the country we love.  We are optimists because we are Americans.

As Revered Jesse Jackson used to say about himself, God is not done with us yet.

2 Responses to “The Darkness Before the Dawn”

  1. Brian McCarthy Says:


    Your observations reminded me of the writings of Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse, one of the founding political theorists of modern (as opposed to classical) liberalism. His writings pointed out, rightly, that liberalism fails if it limits itself to controlling the power of government and leaves the masses to the mercy of countless other private entities that have the economic and social power to enslave people.

    Today it may be technology itself, and an over abundance of sources of so-called “information” that enslave. The technology makes it possible to see almost any movie, and even to get burgers and fries from McDonald’s, without even leaving home and encountering other people – the high school student who sells the movie ticket or burger, the senior citizen who sells the popcorn or tears the ticket or works the drive through window. It is much easier to forget about the underemployed when we don’t encounter them in person. The Uber Eats driver who hands over the brown bag likely owns their own vehicle, at the very least, and is encountered for 2-3 seconds, if that. The same is true of not encountering checkout clerks, as in the case of the shopping mall, if we can have everything delivered.

    However, the rapid change also affords greater opportunities for outreach to those who might be too shy or introverted to get involved in public policy discussions in person but who can find their voice writing their opinion online. The technology is not going away or turning backward. I agree we must find ways to make it open as many doors to social and political interaction as it closes.


  2. Joel W Says:

    It is worth wondering whether a nation the size of ours can be meaningfully governed in the way that it is currently constituted. Also (but unrelated) it seems to me that the Sexual Revolution is the dividing line that brings us to an impasse in our current politics. The Democrats fervent embrace of Roe v. Wade and attendant ideologies vs. the GOPs equally fervent opposition to it mean that even if the Democrats proposed ideas that might appeal to a broad base of citizens, they are ruled out without a hearing, and likewise for the GOP. These issues are not secondary to life, but rather are at the center of it. Broken homes, emotional distress, depression, etc. result from the poor choices that upper class families can absorb, but which destroy many in the middle and lower classes.
    Senator Hart, would it be possible to update this website? It renders poorly in modern browsers. Thank you.

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