by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Podhoretz takes aim in the latest Commentary magazine at the use of the word “unprecedented” to describe everything from 9/11 to Facebook to Donald Trump’s presidency.
When every major event that happens over the course of a generation is unprecedented, maybe the problem is with the way we look at our own time. Maybe we don’t appreciate how every year in the modern era is unprecedented. Maybe we are being gulled into thinking there is something extraordinary in things being extraordinary. Maybe the unprecedented is normal. Maybe when it comes to political and global news, there is no normal. Maybe there never was.
People love to cite the apocryphal Chinese curse that supposedly condemns the bearer to “live in interesting times.” But what period of time has ever been anything less than interesting, anyway? We look back at the 1990s as a period in which America was allowed to take a vacation from history, but it certainly didn’t feel that way living through it. It’s useful to note how the intellectuals of the day viewed the 1950s as the “age of conformity,” a dull time whose tedium was responsible for the outbreak of social and cultural chaos in the 1960s. But look back and the 1950s were anything but conformist or dull.
Abroad: The Korean War, the overthrow of French rule in Vietnam, the formation of the Warsaw Pact, the Hungarian Revolution, the “de-Stalinization” speech, the rise of Nasser in Egypt, Sputnik, the Cuban revolution. At home: the rise and fall of McCarthy, the hydrogen bomb, Rosa Parks, school desegregation, the polio vaccine, the silicon chip, the interstate-highway system, Bellow, Roth, Malamud, Ellison, the Beats, rock ’n’ roll, the rise of the youth culture. And, of course, a growth of prosperity at all social and class levels unlike anything the world had ever seen. All of this was…unprecedented.