Two thousand sixteen was stunning to those of us living through it. And just consider what it might look like 100 years from now in 2116 when future historians and political commentators look back on 2016 in America and start arguing about ‘what it all means’ to them in the 22nd century.
Will the Cubs have won their second World Series since 1908 by then? Maybe the Red Sox will have added a couple more World Series victories as well.
What about the other “less stunning” seismic shockers of 2016? Great Britain leaving the European Union via Brexit. Conservatives sweeping through Europe. Donald Trump winning the White House. What will all this mean then?
History has a way of seeming to always fall in place exactly as it should have when looking back from a perspective of 100 or 5,000 years. Americans and many other prosperous Western cultures seem to assume that history played out “exactly the way it should have” to benefit us, the living generation at the time.
The pendulum swings
One thing we do know about American history is that periods of progressive political policies are usually followed by long extended periods of relatively more conservative thought and economic policies.
The “progressive” thoughts of the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War wound up giving way to close to 50 years of center-right political thinking in the U.S. until Woodrow Wilson took office. Calvin Coolidge presided over what could be considered a “progressive social agenda” even though he instilled strong fiscal restraint which held federal spending to under 3 percent of GDP from 1923 to 1928.
The Great Depression gave us a massively expanded social welfare network under FDR which pushed federal spending to 10 percent of GDP. It stayed that way until LBJ’s “War on Poverty” established Medicare and Medicaid as progressive s ocial measures pushed federal spending up to around 20 percent of GDP where it has stayed ever since.
Ronald Reagan ushered in a period of fiscal conservatism and free market enterprise in 1980 that lasted close to 30 years pretty much through 2008.
Are we in for 40 years of center-right conservative domination in federal public policy after eight years of strident progressive efforts to pull the United States far to the left on the political spectrum?
The Obama reaction
Consider what has happened In American politics since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, mostly in reaction to his aggressively liberal progressive economic, foreign and domestic policies:
â¢ 23 states now have a Republican governor and GOP majorities in both houses of their state legislature
â¢ Only four states are totally controlled by Democrats in the governor’s mansion and in both houses of the legislature: California, Oregon, Rhode Island and Hawaii
â¢ 43 states have either Republican control of the governor’s mansion or one or both houses of the state legislature.
Will future historians look back at 2016 and say this was the year that America completed its pivot back sharply to principles of free enterprise and a strong national defense and away from the progressive policies set forth by President Obama once and for all?
The Trump bump
With Republican control of the White House for the next four years (at least) and likely Republican control of both the House and Senate as well, and with the announced nominees for Trump’s cabinet, historians may look back at 2016 and say the following:
â¢ Taxes were cut on both corporation and individuals in a massive reconciliation bill that included tax reform in the form of elimination and streamlining of dozens of tax exemptions and special consideration
â¢ Overall federal spending growth was held to an average of 3 percent or less per year as sharp-eyed business executives overhauled federal agencies from top to bottom
â¢ Economic growth returned to 3 percent or more as business leaders and consumers regained confidence after the past eight years of suffocating regulations, taxes and new laws under Obama.
â¢ America regained its leadership role in foreign affairs as new leaders reasserted strong relationships with traditional allies such as Israel and rebuilt its military strength to guarantee that America would defend freedom around the globe while understanding that the last thing America wanted to do was go to war to achieve those ends.
Anyone now under the age of 36 living in America probably has very little recollection of what it is like to live in a booming economy, since the oldest among them were still in college in 2000. The 9/11 attacks ended that period as we were forever changed by the incoming War by Terrorists; our younger generations have only known weak economic growth and the greatest recession since the 1930s as their full experience with free enterprise in America.
We may be at the outset of another period of economic expansion and job creation that may forever change the outlook of an entire generation or two of younger Americans when it comes to appreciating what freedom in the marketplace and around the world can do for everyone.
If so, future historians studying America will have a lot of positive things to write about.
Frank Hill is the director of The Institute for the Public Trust in Raleigh.