I used to dream of the future, and tried to escape from the past. The 1960s, in which I came of age, was one in which we overthrew the past. We wore different clothes, listened to different (electric) music, smoked different stuff (pot), spoke a different language (hip). We were new people, dreaming new dreams. Our parents didn’t understand us, but they weren’t supposed to.
But there were some dark undercurrents. We were not optimistic about the future. We could all be returned to the stone age at any moment in nuclear war. And if that didn’t happen, we’d soon run out of oil, water, land, all of which were in limited supply. We lived on the eve of destruction, partying into the night as if this was going to be the very last party the world would ever see. There was always an undercurrent of despair.
Back then I was something of a left wing progressive. But I gradually became disenchanted with the progressive culture in which I belonged. It was an irrational culture. It was a culture where people followed gurus of one sort or other. For all its noise and glamour, it was empty, even desperately seeking. I began to think that the rational past was better than the increasingly irrational future.
I began to get more interested in science and reason than in fashion and style. And I began to appreciate the past much more. The previous generation to mine was made up of much more practical, rational people than my impractical, irrational generation.
And the cigarette was one of the symbols of that prior generation. They’d all smoked cigarettes. Thousands of years from now, when archaeologists dig down and find images of people with little white sticks in their mouths, they’ll know that they’ve reached the early 20th century.
There are all sorts of other symbols of that era. Biplanes. Steam locomotives. Motor cars. Telephones with revolving dials. Valve radios. Bowler hats and umbrellas.
And if you are a progressive, oriented towards the future, you are always trying to sweep away the past. You are always trying to roll out the old, and roll in the new. Because the old is also tired, faded, and disappointing, and the new is always bright and fresh and young and filled with promise.
And so the war on smoking is a cultural war on a past era. The war on cars is part of the same cultural war. So is the war on fast food. None of it has anything at all to do with ‘health’. That’s just the excuse for the war. The real purpose is to bury the old world, and inaugurate a new one.
And someone like Donald Trump is a throwback to that former era. The “again” in “Making America Great Again” consciously harks back to a past era, when everything was better than it is today. And that’s heresy to any progressive with his eyes fixed firmly on the future. Because for the progressive the future is always an improvement on the past, because whatever is new is always better than whatever is old. For in that way of thinking, everything gradually becomes “outdated” or “past its sell-by date”, and the value of anything is inversely proportional to its age.
Donald Trump is the advocate of a past American era. And that’s why progressives see him as a sort of knuckle-dragging neanderthal. And if they’re always calling him and his supporters racists and sexists and homophobes and fascists and nazis, it’s because that past era actually was racist and sexist and homophobic. After all, back then there was segregation. And the world was run by men, with the women downtrodden housewives, barely allowed to even vote. And back then homosexuality was utterly intolerable. And it also actually was the era in which both fascism and nazism emerged. So when Trump and his supporters show any signs of admiration for the past, progressives dread that he will bring a return of male domination, segregation, and homophobia. Trump threatens to take away the future, and replace it with the past. Hence their sense of dislocation.
It may not be what Trump actually is, but it is what he represents. And he represents a world in which the clocks run backwards, and the past becomes the future.
It’s probably the case that every generation tries to overthrow and suppress the previous one, and usher in a brand spanking new era in which everything would be perfect. It happened in the 1960s with the Cultural Revolution in China, in which it seems that almost the entire cultural heritage of a former civilisation was systematically smashed to bits. It also happened with the Russian Revolution some 50 years earlier, in which almost all the symbols of the former Tsarist and Orthodox Christian culture were swept away. And it happened in France in about 1790 and America in 1776. It maybe also happened in England in about 1530, with the dissolution of the monasteries and the adoption of a new English state religion.
The progressives of the modern era are as progressive and revolutionary as any Mao or Lenin or Robespierre or Washington or Henry VIII. They’re bringing in the New. And in the process the old world, whatever it happened to be, has to be comprehensively dismantled. And these days that includes beer and cigarettes and cheeseburgers and soda, and statues of Robert E Lee and Christopher Columbus, and the national anthem and the Stars and Stripes. Antifa is a new incarnation of Mao’s Red Guard, smashing all the icons of a former era. It should really be called Antipa – anti-Past. For that’s what it’s really fighting against.
And the progressives (or futurists) always have global aspirations. Of global government. Of a New World Order. And they’re always rather fascist or nazi in pursuing the ideal world they see just over the horizon in the future. Does it matter if a few eggs get broken on the way to that ideal, perfect world? One of Bill Clinton’s (adopted) early campaign songs went:
“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here.
It’ll be here better than before.
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”
That’s almost the progressive outlook in a nutshell. The future will be here soon, and it will be better than yesterday.
But the future never arrives. The Five Year Plans don’t work. And disenchantment soon sets in. And in due course the future becomes the past. And another new bright future beckons.
Bill and Hillary Clinton were the future in 1993. They have now become the past.