America’s Parallel Universes (PART ONE)

String Theory, in vogue with many physicists today, raises the prospect of parallel universes. Scientific theory now imitates American society. The physicists who are preparing to tell us about more universes should find a ready audience in the American public, who has lived in parallel universes for well over a decade. One universe faces problems like global warming, unemployment, no health insurance and crumbling public schools. The other universe denies global warming, worries about government deficits, fears public health insurance and believes the private sector can save our school system. At first look, these are nothing more than simplified liberal v. conservative divisions. One might say that America’s political system has always dealt with division and that differing viewpoints are healthy in a republic such as ours. But by 2011 we have ventured into something beyond mere differing opinions. We have ventured into parallel universes. Somewhere in our history, Americans went from having mere disagreements to living in a totally different matrix of reality.

President Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 and brought a cadre of Ivy Leaguers with him to Washington, the so-called “Brain Trust”. It was this Brain Trust that implemented many programs of FDR’s New Deal, as well as assisted him in converting to a wartime economy after 1939. It was these intellectuals who changed the trajectory of American history by creating its very first welfare state. Needless to say, many members of the wealthy classes believed that the Brain Trust was merely successful at raising their taxes and outlawing their more insidious practices. They had their revenge during Truman’s presidency, aided by the likes of Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, when many intellectuals in and out of government were labeled as “communists”, destroying their careers and ending their influence. This would pave the way for President Eisenhower’s brand of American conservatism of balanced budget small government. Although Eisenhower had much less use for intellectuals than FDR, they were still entrenched in many high-level bureaucratic jobs. Then with President Kennedy, intellectuals of the Harvard stripe flooded Washington, of which JFK himself was part. It would be these intellectuals (under both JFK and LBJ) who spearheaded civil rights reform, anti-poverty programs and the Vietnam War. When the eggheads ran the show from 1933 until 1969, America had pulled itself out of the Great Depression, defeated the Axis, become the world superpower and had the biggest, longest and most equitable economic boom in its history. It was what many historians refer to as the “Pax Americana”, America’s golden age, and what historian James T. Patterson referred to as “The Biggest Boom Yet”.

John Kenneth Galbraith was a young member of the Brain Trust. He went on to become arguably the most celebrated economist of the 20th century besides Keynes.

Yet after a bloody, unsuccessful war in Vietnam and an epidemic of urban riots, Americans appeared disenchanted with egghead policy and elected the proud anti-egghead Richard Nixon. Despite being an avowed cold warrior and arch-conservative, Nixon won a second term by playing to a political “center” that was still decidedly liberal. After all, this is the president that created the EPA, visited communist enemies and expanded many parts of the welfare state. In today’s matrix, Nixon would be somewhere to the left of Obama. While Nixon’s moderate liberalism rolled along a new breed of intellectuals pressed for the Equal Rights Amendment, affirmative action and greater cultural sensitivity in education. Yet this generation of intellectuals did not seem to be as successful as the generation that presided over the “Biggest Boom Yet”. While they succeeded in getting academia to be more culturally sensitive, the ERA was never passed and affirmative action became a dirty phrase.  That is because the 1970s is when the parallel universes developed in America. In this regard, the eggheads working on string theory now are behind the curve. Americans have already succeeded in discovering, creating and inhabiting parallel universes.

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