Talking About a Second Gilded Age, With ‘On Point’ Listeners

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Members of San Bernardino’s “Generation Now” last year. The NYT has a story about work they and others are doing to improve a hard-pressed city. (Deborah Fallows)

Two updates today:

1) On Point. I spoke today with Tom Ashbrook of WBUR and his On Point audience, about my contention (in the current cover story) that even in this time of wage stagnation, political paralysis, and growing inequality, more is happening at the local level than most Americans realize. You can find the whole show here or listen below.

I valued this conversation because for the first half-hour Ashbrook (whom I’ve known since we were correspondents in Japan in the 1980s) asked me in six different ways: Really, how can what you’re saying be true? Then in the second half callers asked their versions of the same question.

All this gave me a chance to try six+ different presentations of points that seem contradictory but, according to me, are simultaneously true.

  • One is that the United States is suffering the strains of a Second Gilded age, in ways ranging from increasing inequality to decreasing faith in national institutions of any sort (except the military).
  • Another is that at the same time, many organizations, institutions, localities, and other groups are finding ways to adapt more successfully to these circumstances — and that the news of their record is under-represented in our sense-of-America in these times.
  • And precisely because national-level responses to these strains are logjammed for the foreseeable future, it’s worth recognizing what alternatives we have.

In the article I quote Philip Zelikow, of the University of Virginia, to similar effect:

“In scores of ways, Americans are figuring out how to take advantage of the opportunities of this era, often through bypassing or ignoring the dismal national conversation,” Phillip Zelikow, a professor at the University of Virginia and a director of a recent Markle Foundation initiative called “Rework America,” told me. “There are a lot of more positive narratives out there—but they’re lonely, and disconnected. It would make a difference to join them together, as a chorus that has a melody.”

You can hear the show and see what you think.

***

2) Berdoo. Over the past year-plus Deb Fallows and I have written frequently about San Bernardino — recently the focus of international attention, but long before that a  community with as challenging a combination of economic and political obstacles as any in the country.

Here are two positive recent stories about the city. One, in the NYT, covers the group Generation Now (which we’ve frequently written about), plus others active in public arts as part of San Bernardino’s civic revival.

The other is the opening of a craft brewery in San Bernardino: Brew Rebellion,  which three days ago had its grand opening in what was once the commissary of the former Norton Air Force Base, now San Bernardino International Airport. The San Bernardino Sun wrote all about it here. As the Sun story said:

The “Berdoo” location is small compared to most breweries, but the dedication to quality is an obsession to owner/head brewer, Andy Sutfin.

“We are happy to be here in San Bernardino and other brewers who questioned whether our town is a craft beer town, have found out they were wrong,” Sutfin said.

Congrats San Bernardino! (For why Brew Rebellion’s move is a good sign, see #11 on this list.)