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There seems to be a prevalence of similarities between the 1920s and the 2020s

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Tony AhernIt's said that history repeats itself, but not too often in such a nice bow as a 100-year period.

There seems to be a prevalence of similarities between the 1920s and the 2020s. According to New York Yankees, it's still 1927. They're still the best team in baseball and Aaron Judge looks like the reincarnation of both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

We all know by now that the 1920s were ushered in by a worldwide pandemic, the Spanish flu, which killed 17 to 50 million people worldwide. COVID, which gripped the planet hard in early 2020 and continues today, has claimed at least 6 million, over 1 million in the United States. Spanish flu's impact was primarily in 1918-19, but no doubt set the 1920s off to a concerning start.

Sure, we are as divided as a nation as we've been since radical Republican Abe Lincoln took office, but one thing we can all get behind is the pandemic running its course and becoming history.

Our national politics is similar to the 1920s in many ways. There was a resurgence of far-right, intimidation politics in the early 1920s. A wave of immigration post-WWI brought many foreign-born into the nation. It also spurred a resuscitation of the Ku Klux Klan. Membership in the KKK surged and a national effort to bring the group into living rooms was undertaken. A plan called "the decade" was hatched for Klan members to recruit new blood and work to elect Klan candidates to local offices, a grassroots normalization campaign.

The KKK's rise in the 1920s, and its efforts to make the group more palatable came to bear on Aug. 8, 1925, when about half a million KKK members marched on Washington. Here's how the New York Sun reported the march: "Bonded by racism, the men walked shoulder to shoulder. They formed moving white Ks and crosses visible from the sky and carried American flags — suggesting a vision for the country at odds with the guiding mantra we've since embraced, that 'all men are created equal.'"

Several far-right, fear-peddling organizations have risen to the forefront in the 2020s, for instance the Oathkeepers and Proud Boys. They and their ilk also did a little marching on Washington, D.C., back on Jan. 6, 2021.

How one wants to compare the KKK of the 1920s to the current far-right groups likely depends on the media one consumes. But this is for sure: a determined, strategic, far-right conservative movement focused on changing the direction of the nation has taken root in the U.S. Again, your take on whether that's a good thing or not likely depends on your media consumption habits. Back in the 1920s, people could be separated by the newspaper they chose to read and its political leaning; today, people consume even more siloed information by picking their favorite websites and social media feeds.

The 1920s was an era of one-term presidents. Democrat Woodrow Wilson — who had a soft spot for the KKK himself — unhealthily finished his second term in 1921. The 1920s would then be a Republican decade. Warren Harding started in 1921 but died in '23; Calvin Coolidge, his vice president, succeeded him, and continued staunch Republican policies of small government, cutting taxes and national isolationism. The economy was strong and the stock market bullish. It was the Roaring Twenties after all. But none of those three Republicans won more than one presidential election as the top candidate, albeit more by fluke than anything else. Harding died in office; the relatively popular Coolidge, after his father's death, decided not to run when he certainly would have been elected in 1928; and Herbert Hoover had the misfortunate of coming into office a few months before the stock market crash of '29.

Could the 2020s be a decade marked by one-term presidents? Donald Trump ushered in the decade, now Joe Biden is running the show while mired in similarly horrid approval numbers, and he's also entering his 80s. Both parties seem to be leaning toward keeping the pair as the standard-bearers in 2024 — but unless your head is 20 yards deep in sand, you know there are many legal, health and political hurdles left to clear before we have a Trump-Biden rematch.

If I had to bet now, I'd say neither will be in office come January 2025. We haven't had back-to-back one-term presidents who were elected to office since, well, the 1920s (Coolidge finished out Harding's term, but he was only elected once himself).

Like the 1920s, the stock market has been a giant piggy bank for many Americans in this decade. But the Roaring 1920s came crashing down with the stock market crash in October 1929. Hopefully, the similarities between the decades 100 years apart will not share such economic ruin — though many economists are predicting it very well might.

The world turned to new leaders, with new directions, when the global depression took root in early 1930s. Germany, desperate since the end of WWI, tragically embraced fascism, as did other countries. The U.S., meanwhile, elected the most liberal, big-government leader in its history, Franklin Roosevelt. Nearly all the internal American political bickering would soon vanish with WWII, as the global battle between democracy and autocracy was unleashed.

What emerged was the American Century. Now 100 years later, with all the barriers the modern world presents, do we still have that same capacity for unity in the United States? Can we still lead the world toward individual freedom and honest democracy?

One would think we can, and history tells us we can — if we choose to. That's the thing. It doesn't seem like we much want to anymore.


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