Worst. Decade. Ever. Or, Whatever.

Andy Serwer in Time:

Calling the 2000s “the worst” may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation’s entire history. Between the West’s ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it’s no wonder we feel as if we’ve been through a 10-year gauntlet. Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it’s in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer.

Then came the defining moment of the decade, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which redefined global politics for at least a generation and caused us to question the continental security we had until then rarely worried about. We waged war in Afghanistan that drags on and today is deadlier than ever. Then came our fiasco in Iraq. Don’t forget the anthrax letters and later the Washington, D.C., snipers and the wave of Wall Street scandals highlighted by Enron and WorldCom.

Sometimes it was as if the gods themselves were conspiring against this decade. On Aug. 29, 2005, near the center point in the decade, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana, killing more than 1,500 and causing $100 billion in damages. It was the largest natural disaster in our nation’s history.

There is nothing natural about the economic meltdown we are still struggling with as the decade winds down. A housing bubble fueled by cheap money and excessive borrowing set ablaze by derivatives, so-called financial weapons of mass destruction, put the economy on the brink of collapse. We will be sorting through the damage for years. Meanwhile, the living, breathing symbol of this economic sordidness, prisoner No. 61727-054, a.k.a. Bernie Madoff, rots away in a Butner, N.C., jail cell, doing 150 years for orchestrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of humanity.

Danny Groner at Mediaite:

Back on New Year’s 2000, Time ran the following blurb attributed to several of the magazine’s writers:

The new decade is upon us, and according to the readers of TIME, this decade will be called the Aughts…or the MMs, depending on your level of skepticism. Last year Notebook conducted an online poll to find out what name should be given the next decade. Of the Zips, Two Thousands, Zeros, Ohs, Double Ohs, 2Ks, MMs, Aughts or Singles, readers clearly put the Aughts ahead, until the last week of polling, when the MMs took the lead–so suddenly (and implausibly–the MMs?!) that it aroused suspicions of a Mars candy campaign. Despite hints of vote tampering, several advertising agencies agreed to create ads to sell the new names to the public. Enjoy yourself in the…whatevers!

That was written as the staff looked ahead at what they could only expect to be a decade full of promise and profits. How quickly that plan went awry. Compare the message of that comment from nearly ten years ago with a portion of the magazine’s cover story in the most recent issue. Reflecting on the decade gone by, writer Andy Serwer says:

Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era. We’re still weeks away from the end of ‘09, but it’s not too early to pass judgment. Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want — just give thanks that it is nearly over.

And there it is, as clear as night and day. “The Whatevers” started with a looser and more upbeat tone to them and now end with a much different feel. Through terrorism, wars, a severe recession and more, we’ve somehow managed to persevere through “The Whatevers.” During that period, the term’s connotation has changed.

It emerged as a last-resort option to appease everyone who’d rejected all other names. It rejected no offerings as being too stupid or lame because it recognized that all of the proposals were stupid and lame; this strategy made everything – and everyone – acceptable. Over time, though, “whatever” morphed into something else. “Whatever you want, you got” turned into  a less involved, less enthusiastic and less caring “whatever” attitude. Some Americans have adopted a doomsday outlook to cope with a world where bad news never fails to stop piling on. The ‘Whatever” generation rolls its eyes, shakes its head, and talks about how things can’t get any worse. What hurts most is remembering times when things weren’t nearly as bad.

So was this the decade from hell? It very well may have been. But Time’s first prediction says a lot more about how this decade  impacted Americans emotionally. And as we look ahead at the next decade, one can only hope that fortune will shift to a new era of “Whatever” defined by a more hopeful approach of “Que sera, sera.”

Tyler Cowen:

Some people are saying they’re the worst decade ever, but that’s more true for the global relations of the United States than for the level of human well-being in the world as a whole.  Even in the U.S., a lot of social indicators improved.  Elsewhere Chinese growth continued, Indian growth moved into the big time (in the gross reckoning we’re already at well over two billion people), a lot of Eastern Europe was successfully absorbed into the EU,  Indonesia made slow but steady progress.  Brazil may have turned a corner, and Africa had a better-than-lately decade in terms of economic growth.  Communism didn’t really come back.  Admittedly the Middle East is a tougher call.  Canada did strikingly well, as did Australia.  There was lots of progress on public health, including in the war against AIDS.  The internet truly blossomed and human creativity continued.

For a lot of you it feels bad, but it’s not obvious that the naughties have been such a terrible decade overall.  By the way, that home prices fell was overall a good thing; the roofs on those homes still keep out the rain.

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard:

Recently, Time magazine had a cover story that claimed the past 10 years have been “the worst decade ever.” Seriously. I guess the headline writers at Time must have missed the Black Death, the 1930s, etc.

Granted, there’s some hedging involved. “Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end,” writes Andy Serwer, “the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era.” Worse than the seventies, in other words. Don’t fret, though. “The next decade should be a helluva lot better than the last one,” mainly because a Democrat lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The whole exercise is exhausting. I chose to read the essay as if it were an article in The Onion, which made the experience more enjoyable.

Will Bunch at Huffington Post:

The biggest problem is that the “Decade from Hell” suggests that life can be boiled down to, in $10,000 Pyramid terminology, “Things That You See on CNN.” What about all the billions of people, literally, who brought a new son or daughter into the world during the 2000s, who found a soulmate or got married (or even both!) or created an amazing work of art during the last 10 years? True, these same folks may have also been pained by 9/11 or suffered a job loss as well, but they probably won’t look back on these years as all hellish.

It’s also, appropriately in a weird way, a very America-centric view — I doubt people in India or China, which grew their economies and gained clout on the global stage, will see the 2000s through a ring of hellfire. But yes, if you look at the United States and from the perspective of all the big stuff in politics, the economy and the ways that we relate as a society, it was not the best of times. But here’s the other thing that troubled me about “The Decade from Hell” concept, this underlying assumption that maybe our Decades are somehow fated or handed down to us; that the same fickle Decade Gods who gave us sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s and then whomped us upside the head with Pet Rocks, the AMC Gremlin and “Muskrat Love” in the 1970s are up there deciding our fate in 10-year increments

Steve Tobak:

Whoever said, “May you live in interesting times,” must have seen the first decade of the new millennium coming. And if you ever wondered whether that enigmatic proverb was meant as a blessing or a curse, as far as this decade is concerned, well, it sort of depends on whom you ask.

I’m sure Jeff Skilling and Bernie Ebbers would say the first year was great, then everything went to crap. Bernie Madoff and Tiger Woods, on the other hand, at least had 9 good years. I have no idea what George W. Bush would say, but I’m relatively sure Al Gore had a blast.

UPDATE: David Frum at CNN

UPDATE #2: Steve Benen

UPDATE #3: Paul Krugman at NYT

UPDATE #4: Rod Dreher

UPDATE #5: Patrick Deenen at Front Porch Republic

Peter Lawler at PomoCon on Deenen

Back on topic, E.J. Dionne in TNR

UPDATE #6: Tyler Cowen in the NYT, more Cowen

Arnold Kling

James Joyner

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1 Comment

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One response to “Worst. Decade. Ever. Or, Whatever.

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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