Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 6-Jan-08
Anxious Americans become euphoric over Barack Obama

Web Log - January, 2008

Anxious Americans become euphoric over Barack Obama

This kind of euphoria has occurred twice before recently.

Part of the euphoria we're seeing over Obama is rational. Most blacks, and also many whites, are excited by the possibility of the first black President. This was apparent several weeks ago with Oprah Winfrey's full-throated support of the first major black candidate, and how Obama is the potential fulfillment of Martin Luther King's dream. Ironically, there's been very little similar support for Hillary Clinton as the possibility of the first woman President.

Covers of <i>Newsweek</i> and <i>The Weekly Standard</i>
Covers of Newsweek and The Weekly Standard

The excitement is plain from the latest news magazine covers.

The cover story in liberal Newsweek Magazine was titled, "Inside Obama's Dream Machine."

Even the conservatives are excited, as can be seen from the cover of The Weekly Standard, referring to "The Fall of the House of Clinton."

But what's been going on the last couple of days goes well beyond rationality. We've seen this kind of euphoria twice in the last 13 months:

From the point of Generational Dynamics, widespread euphoria is a very important phenomenon, because it indicates a viewpoint, and often a change in viewpoint, of large masses of people. Recall that Generational Dynamics is concerned with opinions and behaviors of large masses of people, entire generations of people, and rarely concerned with the opinions and behaviors of politicians, except insofar as they represent large masses of people.

Chris Matthews is very popular among the so-called "anti-war Democrats" because of his open vitriolic hatred of President Bush, his abysmal ignorance of what's going on in the world, and his belief that he knows more than anyone else. He's a good barometer of the views of many Democrats.

In the coverage of the Iowa caucuses on Thursday evening, Matthews was extremely giddy about Obama. Here's some of what he said, as transcribed by Media Research Center:

"If [Obama] wins tonight that's the shot heard ‘round the world. This is Lexington and Concord with the target being not King George but President George this time. ...

If Obama wins this caucus it will be the biggest political story in maybe 20 or 30 years our of this country. ... There's no doubt about it. And there's no way to read it except as a rebuke to President Bush. ...

This country and this is not a partisan comment, this is the country's view right now. We are in a rut. We are stuck in this rut. We are stuck in Iraq. No one has any idea how to get out of Iraq. Sure we've had the surge succeed but that's not the way to get out, that's just more stuck. We're more necessary. We've got a situation on every issue where the two sides are divided 50/50. Nancy Pelosi gets whacked everyday because she can't get the job done because she doesn't haven't the 60 senators to get the job done on the Senate side. So we have climate change, we're not doing anything really. We're not doing anything on energy. We're not doing anything on social security, Medicare reform. We're not doing anything on the war or on foreign policy. Everything is stuck. It's intractable. And I think the American people feel that. It's coming across in our NBC polling. People don't like the direction. They want something to happen. Now here's the question. Will they follow through and pick one side or the other to run the government and get something done? Or will they pull back again and clinch and divide power again? Which they've done before, which does bring about gridlock. ...

It's all a big picture here. You know I'll bet there's not a Peace Corps volunteer in the country who served in the Peace Corps in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s or recently that won't vote for this guy. He is so emblematic of our attempt, I think, to rejoin the world."

Matthews' giddy ranting does, I think, capture the feelings of many Democrats.

The problem with this euphoria is that it represents a kind of mass bipolar disease which we've seen many times before.

Investors, for example, have had wild swings in emotions, going from huge anxieties one day to near-depressive panic on other days, depending on a word or two from almost anyone about what the Fed is going to do.

It's it's worth remembering about the aftermath of the bizarre 6-Dec-2006 that I described above. On January 13, right after President Bush announced the "surge" of troops being sent to Iraq, Chris Matthews went on a lengthy vitriolic and hysterical rant on MSNBC.

Also important is that this kind of hysterical ranting does not lead to good decision making. The "surge" appears to have been extremely successful in Iraq. If we had listened to the hysterics of Matthews in January, we might have suffered a major defeat in Iraq.

And this brings me to an important point: The vitriolic rantings of someone like Matthews are exactly the kind of thing that lead to panicked reactions during generational Crisis eras.

If the Administration had panicked the way Matthews did, then the "surge" might not have taken place, and America might have suffered a defeat.

And if you have "anti-war" views to the point where you wish the "surge" had never been tried, then you're going against the tide in a generational Crisis era. If America had suffered a defeat in Iraq, then there might well have been another panicked reaction, this time to declare all-out war against insurgents in Iraq.

We saw this kind of war panic in summer, 2006, when two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped near the Lebanon border and and Israel panicked and launched the Lebanon war within four hours, with no plan and no objectives.

We may be seeing exactly the same sort of thing now in Sri Lanka, where the government has declared all out war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

When the Iraq ground war began in 2003, there was a great deal of euphoria surrounding it, including among the very same people who are criticizing it now. Here's how historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch describes the beginning of war in his 2001 book, The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery:

"The passions excited in the national psyche by the onset of war show how deeply invested the masses now were in its potential outcome. Propaganda had reinforced their conviction that "everything was at stake," and the threat of death and defeat functioned like a tightly coiled spring, further heightening the tension. The almost festive jubilation that accompanied the declarations of war in Charleston in 1861, Paris in 1870, and the capitals of the major European powers in 1914 were anticipatory celebrations of victory-since nations are as incapable of imagining their own defeat as individuals are of conceiving their own death. The new desire to humiliate the enemy, noted by Burckhardt, was merely a reaction to the unprecedented posturing in which nations now engaged when declaring war.

The deployment of armies on the battlefield is the classic manifestation of collective self-confidence. If both sides are not convinced of their military superiority, there will be no confrontation; rather, those who lack confidence will simply flee the field. Accordingly, the battle is decided the moment the confidence of one side fails. The will to fight ("morale") evaporates, the military formation collapses, and the army seeks salvation in flight or, if it is lucky, in organized retreat. The Greek term for this point in space (on the battlefield) and time (the course of the battle) was trope. The victors demarcated the spot with the weapons of the vanquished and later with monuments, yielding the term tropaion, from which we get our word trophy." (p. 6-7)

The euphoria goes on until something goes wrong, as has happened to Americans since 2003, even though we've never had any really major military disasters in Iraq.

The panicked reaction can be much greater when a military disaster occurs. In his 1832 book, On War, General Carl von Clausewitz describes what happens:

"The effect of defeat outside the army -- on the people and on the government -- is a sudden collapse of the wildest expectations, and total destruction of self-confidence. The destruction of these feelings creates a vacuum, and that vacuum gets filled by a fear that grows corrosively, leading to total paralysis. It's a blow to the whole nervous system of the losing side, as if caused by an electric charge. This effect may appear to a greater or lesser degree, but it's never completely missing. Then, instead of rushing to repair the misfortune with a spirit of determination, everyone fears that his efforts will be futile; or he does nothing, leaving everything to Fate."

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, these huge emotional swings are typical of generations -- like America's Boomers and Gen-Xers today -- that were born after the previous Crisis war and have no personal memory it. With no prior experience to guide them, their emotions suffer wild swings, and their behavior does as well.

(Incidentally, the same thing is true for financial crises. At some point soon there will be a new 1929-like panic, since the people who lived through the 1929 panic are not almost entirely gone.)

That's why the euphoria over Obama is actually a sign of a country in a generational Crisis era headed for war. The euphoria and the hopes will continue until something goes really wrong -- such as a new terrorist attack on American soil. At that time, the hysterical ranting will the giddy excitement will go in the opposite direction, and American will soon be involved in the Clash of Civilizations world war. (6-Jan-08) Permanent Link
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail
Donate to Generational Dynamics via PayPal

Web Log Pages

Current Web Log

Web Log Summary - 2016
Web Log Summary - 2015
Web Log Summary - 2014
Web Log Summary - 2013
Web Log Summary - 2012
Web Log Summary - 2011
Web Log Summary - 2010
Web Log Summary - 2009
Web Log Summary - 2008
Web Log Summary - 2007
Web Log Summary - 2006
Web Log Summary - 2005
Web Log Summary - 2004

Web Log - December, 2016
Web Log - November, 2016
Web Log - October, 2016
Web Log - September, 2016
Web Log - August, 2016
Web Log - July, 2016
Web Log - June, 2016
Web Log - May, 2016
Web Log - April, 2016
Web Log - March, 2016
Web Log - February, 2016
Web Log - January, 2016
Web Log - December, 2015
Web Log - November, 2015
Web Log - October, 2015
Web Log - September, 2015
Web Log - August, 2015
Web Log - July, 2015
Web Log - June, 2015
Web Log - May, 2015
Web Log - April, 2015
Web Log - March, 2015
Web Log - February, 2015
Web Log - January, 2015
Web Log - December, 2014
Web Log - November, 2014
Web Log - October, 2014
Web Log - September, 2014
Web Log - August, 2014
Web Log - July, 2014
Web Log - June, 2014
Web Log - May, 2014
Web Log - April, 2014
Web Log - March, 2014
Web Log - February, 2014
Web Log - January, 2014
Web Log - December, 2013
Web Log - November, 2013
Web Log - October, 2013
Web Log - September, 2013
Web Log - August, 2013
Web Log - July, 2013
Web Log - June, 2013
Web Log - May, 2013
Web Log - April, 2013
Web Log - March, 2013
Web Log - February, 2013
Web Log - January, 2013
Web Log - December, 2012
Web Log - November, 2012
Web Log - October, 2012
Web Log - September, 2012
Web Log - August, 2012
Web Log - July, 2012
Web Log - June, 2012
Web Log - May, 2012
Web Log - April, 2012
Web Log - March, 2012
Web Log - February, 2012
Web Log - January, 2012
Web Log - December, 2011
Web Log - November, 2011
Web Log - October, 2011
Web Log - September, 2011
Web Log - August, 2011
Web Log - July, 2011
Web Log - June, 2011
Web Log - May, 2011
Web Log - April, 2011
Web Log - March, 2011
Web Log - February, 2011
Web Log - January, 2011
Web Log - December, 2010
Web Log - November, 2010
Web Log - October, 2010
Web Log - September, 2010
Web Log - August, 2010
Web Log - July, 2010
Web Log - June, 2010
Web Log - May, 2010
Web Log - April, 2010
Web Log - March, 2010
Web Log - February, 2010
Web Log - January, 2010
Web Log - December, 2009
Web Log - November, 2009
Web Log - October, 2009
Web Log - September, 2009
Web Log - August, 2009
Web Log - July, 2009
Web Log - June, 2009
Web Log - May, 2009
Web Log - April, 2009
Web Log - March, 2009
Web Log - February, 2009
Web Log - January, 2009
Web Log - December, 2008
Web Log - November, 2008
Web Log - October, 2008
Web Log - September, 2008
Web Log - August, 2008
Web Log - July, 2008
Web Log - June, 2008
Web Log - May, 2008
Web Log - April, 2008
Web Log - March, 2008
Web Log - February, 2008
Web Log - January, 2008
Web Log - December, 2007
Web Log - November, 2007
Web Log - October, 2007
Web Log - September, 2007
Web Log - August, 2007
Web Log - July, 2007
Web Log - June, 2007
Web Log - May, 2007
Web Log - April, 2007
Web Log - March, 2007
Web Log - February, 2007
Web Log - January, 2007
Web Log - December, 2006
Web Log - November, 2006
Web Log - October, 2006
Web Log - September, 2006
Web Log - August, 2006
Web Log - July, 2006
Web Log - June, 2006
Web Log - May, 2006
Web Log - April, 2006
Web Log - March, 2006
Web Log - February, 2006
Web Log - January, 2006
Web Log - December, 2005
Web Log - November, 2005
Web Log - October, 2005
Web Log - September, 2005
Web Log - August, 2005
Web Log - July, 2005
Web Log - June, 2005
Web Log - May, 2005
Web Log - April, 2005
Web Log - March, 2005
Web Log - February, 2005
Web Log - January, 2005
Web Log - December, 2004
Web Log - November, 2004
Web Log - October, 2004
Web Log - September, 2004
Web Log - August, 2004
Web Log - July, 2004
Web Log - June, 2004

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.