The 1920s-As-2020s Overview – The Rhyme Of History

THE 1920s-As-2020s Overview – The Rhyme of History

Laying the Groundwork…

Americans of 2020-2023 and Americans of 1918-1921 share a striking similarity. They encountered, endured, and exited a deeply serious public crisis. That crisis shared (rhymed, in my parlance) key realities. The primary sharing point was that in both periods Americans coped with a pandemic that collided with the major public issue of the day. Thus, Americans in 1918-1921 knew Warfluenza (World War One colliding with influenza), while Americans in 2020-2023 knew Warcorona (Populism, or World War Trump, colliding with coronavirus). As an experience there was no influenza by itself and no coronavirus by itself.

The rhymes of Warfluenza and Warcorona also extend, amazingly, to waves, bubbles, masks, social distancing, controversial treatments, science-based action, shutdowns, closures, extraordinary public powers, resistance, animosity, conduct of POTUS, hyper-partisanship, and sharply-made and sharply-divisive decisions. The list goes on and on. The point is this: Americans separated by a century of time existed in remarkably similar crisis conditions and to a degree not fully understood by today’s decision-makers. Differences exist, to be sure, but the similarities must draw our attention far more creatively than has been previously appreciated.

Now for the rhymes coming out of the crises and reaching into the rest of the decade…there are eight of them…

  1. Enjoyment, pleasure, and distraction above all else. Seen then in the 1920s with countless forms of diversion, from jazz clubs to speakeasys to Flapper Girls to sex in the rumble seat. Seen today in the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, among other things, including speakeasys! Notice here the rhyme in action—it doesn’t repeat but rather blends the similarites with uniquenesses of its own.

  1. Pursuit of economic prosperity and wealth accumulation to a greater degree than before. Seen then in the rise of mortgages as a purchasing tool, stock market shares for the middle class, real-estate investment, vacation property developments, the Ponzie scheme, and more. Seen today in new so-called investment vehicles such as bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and exchange-traded funds.

  1. Science/technology reaches high-highs and low-lows. Then, this sector accomplished fabulous achievements (penicillin, quantum physics, radio, etc), while at the same time sinking to hideous depths in misapplications (eugenics, superior race theory, etc.). Seen today more often than we can track—artificial intelligence, social media algorithms, genetic medicine, designer medicine, and so forth.

  1. Mass and bigness leap to prominence in markets, scale, and span. Seen then in the rise of mass-entertainment sporting events, national celebrities, the venues in which they occurred (Hinkle Fieldhouse, for one), the rise of national advertising, branding, and franchising. Seen now in the prevalence of mergers, aquisitions, and consolidations as well as the reach and coverage of digitally-oriented communication.

  1. New and experimental dominates and defines the creative. Seen then with new and sharply edged changes in literary styles (Ulysses by Joyce and American Tragedy by Dreiser, for instance), artistic patterns (cubist and abstract, for instance), and musical forms (not only jazz but such creations as Bolero by Ravel and the rise of major musical productions like Broadway’s Showboat). Seen now with the decline of musical categories and their replacement by mood and genre music, Asian/K pop, multiverse settings for stories).

  1. Fierce competition between new and old, avant garde and status quo. Seen then in disputes over Prohibition, evolution-based education (Scopes), anti-divorce movements, severe backlash against so-called pornographic themes in literature and music, the Southern Agrarian movement, and the massive rejuvenation of the Ku Klux Klan. Seen now with controversies over educational curriculum, gender and sexual identification, racially-oriented policies, and much more.

  1. Americanism returns as a force in the renewal of major clashes over what it means to be an American. First coined as a term in the 1920s, it’s seen then in some positive ways (Founding Fathers as a phrase, Stephen Vincent Benet’s writings) but many destructive ways as well (anti-immigration laws, anti-black violence, vigilantism). Seen now in the return of these tensions as the semiquincentennials in 2025-2026 as the clash deepens between the various sides in the culture wars. A new opportunity is emerging to help shape a healthier sense of the American identity—hence, Americanism Redux.

  1. Necessity defines the filter for global events and the world outside the US. Seen then in the combination of the rejection of the League of Nations but the acceptance of unusual multi-national arrangements aimed at maintaining a balance of power (Washington Treaties, chemical weapons treaties, war debt structuring, etc). Seen now in the return of great-power issues as seen in flashpoints in Ukraine, Iran, Taiwan, and several locations in South America. These flashpoints coexist with ongoing disagreements as to what constitutes national self-interest and moral purpose in a digital age.

These eight rhymes should be integrated into the strategic planning of selected public and private organizations, whether in the for-profit or non-profit sectors.

Two things will be true for the remainder of the ’20s decade. First, the eternals as identified in the eight rhymes will occur in their own way. Second, the primary impact of technology on time and space has been a) compression and b) relational distortion—it takes less time for some things to occur than it did a hundred years ago. There, as Shakespeare would say, is the rub and here is where we encounter the relational distortion—those compressed elements and events happen alongside those things that still may unfold over a time frame that looks largely the same as it always has. That mutual relationship will feature a high degree of distortion and thus contribute mightily to the presence of uncertainty and confusion. This is the root of general bewilderment at the speed of change.

Thank you for your time in reading my thoughts and analysis of my 20s-as-20s construct.