1920s vs. 2020s: Yes, history is repeating itself

By Stephan Drew

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“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

Throughout my life, I have been reminded of that verse every time I think I’ve discovered something “new.” Yes, history continually repeats itself. And, if we pay attention, we may recognize the cycles of occurrences that replay again and again. I know that, while watching current events, we may think things like this have never happened before. But, believe me, we have been in this exact same spot before … 100 years ago. In 1920, the world was still suffering from the Spanish Flu epidemic. Between 20 million and 50 million people lost their lives around the globe. The first cases started in 1917, before they knew it was serious. The second wave hit in 1918 and a few variants kept emerging through 1920, each wave seemingly more deadly than the last until the entire planet was ravaged to a significant degree. But that is not the only similarity to the present time. In 1920, there were numerous other conflicts taking place here in America. CULTURE WARS: 1920s – The old, tried and tested ways of doing things was severely questioned. Younger, new progressive leaders had emerged and were gaining power. Old-vs.-young, black-vs.-white, male-vs.-female, rich-vs.-poor and educated-vs.-ignorant were all common themes during the 1920s. Protests, riots and violence were present on many streets in America. Socialism, communism and “share the wealth” became familiar phrases. By this time, Eugene Debs was already a five-time Socialist candidate for president. 2020s – We now have a new and younger group of liberal progressives reviving the “share the wealth” policies tried a century ago. As history repeats itself, we also realize that we never learn, do we? They honestly think that, even though it has failed around the world numerous times before, maybe it will work THIS TIME. PROTESTS/VIOLENCE: 1920s – People took to the streets in major cities to protest the unfair treatment of minorities, especially by law enforcement, judges and those in positions of power. The Chicago Riot is known as the worst, where 38 people (23 African-Americans and 15 whites) were killed and 537 were injured. One patrolman was killed during the riot. 2020s – Cities across America were ablaze, neighborhoods destroyed and business districts demolished as people took to the streets to protest the unfair treatment of minorities by law enforcement, judges and those in positions of power. DRUGS/ALCOHOL: 1920s – Although alcohol had been around since beer was brewed in ancient Egypt, the Temperance movement decided they would grab the bull by the horns a century ago. They demonized anyone who used alcohol and put enough pressure on congress to get the 18th Amendment passed. It took effect one year later, on Jan. 16, 1920. Alcohol was outlawed in America … but a lot of other problems emerged. Cocaine had been in use as a painkiller in America since before the Civil War but, it was during the 1920s when it was purposely introduced into Harlem and other minority neighborhoods. The “cocaine fiend” was portrayed in the media as sex-crazed monsters bent on violence and destruction. Cannabis clubs were set up in New York and other metropolitan areas and law enforcement tolerated it as a “harmless vice.” 2020s – Alcohol use is once again on the rise, although most experts say it is because of the quarantines, lockdowns and general frustration of the public. Cocaine and crack use seem to be on the decline but methamphetamine use is increasing on a dramatic scale. Many states have now legalized marijuana and, it is tolerated by many others as a “harmless vice.” CRIME: 1920s – Al Capone was just a small-time hood in a street gang until Prohibition occurred. At that time, gangs like the Junior Forty Thieves, Bowery Boys, Brooklyn Rippers and the Five Points Gang held none of the power and influence they would have during the Roaring Twenties. He had even played semi-professional baseball until 1918. Moving from N.Y. to Chicago in 1919, he was in the right place at the right time to enlarge his criminal operation through liquor, gambling and drug sales. What were minimal societal problems in the 1910s became major menaces in the 1920s, with the power and money to buy influence through bribery and coercion. 2020s – We now have drug-running operations and human traffickers in every part of the globe. Yes, they’ve even been apprehended here in the United States. Not only do we have the original “Five Mafia Families” and “Murder, Inc.”, but also the newer gangs, such as MS13, Marielitos and the Puerto Rican Mafia. The criminal element is stronger now than ever before with even more money and power to buy influence. These gangs worked their way into every part of our society and politicians are no longer afraid to mingle with them or be photographed standing next to them. They are now big campaign donors. FINANCE/ECONOMY: 1920s – Our economy was the envy of the world, spending power was high, prices were decreasing and credit was available to anyone, anywhere. Millions had moved from the farms into the city and were “buying on time” for the first time in their lives. We would later find out that too much debt was actually a bad thing. The Income Tax law had been passed a few years earlier and the federal government had enormous sums of money at its disposal. 2020s – In January 2020, our economy was once again the envy of the world. We were completely energy-independent for the first time in over 60 years and there seemed to be no end to our prosperity in the foreseeable future. That quickly changed and, here we are. INCOME GAPS: 1920s – The wealthy 1 percent (yes, it was the same then as it is now) enjoyed the lives of kings and queens. Nothing they desired was out of their reach. The poor lived in slum properties of the rich, worked for the rich, purchased everything they owned from the rich and, basically, owed their entire existence to those few wealthy people in control. 2020s – Not much has changed in this respect except now, the poor can participate (to some degree) in some of the smaller luxuries allowed only to the affluent so long ago. TECHNOLOGY: 1920s – Consumer goods were becoming cheaper and more readily available to the general populace. Electricity, refrigerators, telephones, radios, washing machines and vacuum cleaners were popping up in middle-class homes. Life was becoming easier through the improvement of these labor-saving devices. The factories were being modernized with new equipment and laborers worried that a “machine” might replace them. 2020s – We have more gadgets and devices than I can even name here. Microwaves, DVRs, driverless cars, robotic appliances, household apps and even invisible defense systems for our home and property. Every citizen in this country either has their own smartphone or one provided (at cost to the taxpayers) by the government. You have complete access to everything known, thought, discussed or created since the beginning of time. In some of our factories, machines HAVE replaced certain jobs. FAME/SCANDAL: 1920s – Talking pictures were all the rage and celebrities were created overnight. Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Jean Harlow and Rudolf Valentino were just a few. They attended the most decadent parties and participated in some of the worst scandals ever known. The movie studios covered up as much as they could, paying off police, judges and even politicians to keep these matters from the public. Sporting events were the same. Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Satchel Paige and Johnny Weismuller were big stars and lived very good lives, although they were occasionally touched by scandal as well. The most well-known scandals of that time period were The Teapot Dome (politicians caught cheating) and the Black Sox Scandal (athletes caught cheating). 2020s – Nowadays, celebrities, athletes, politicians, industry executives, educators, artists and even housewives are involved in so many scandals we can’t keep them all sorted out. Many people idolize them, dress like them and attempt to imitate every aspect of their lives. The movie studios and news media still try to hide as much negative publicity as they can get away with. MUSIC/ENTERTAINMENT: 1920s – The music was Jazz, proclaimed “the Devil’s music” by pastors a century ago. It was peppy, exciting, loud and (sometimes) the tune and lyrics were a bit hard to follow. There were “flappers” who wore skimpy outfits and gesticulated provocatively in open public. Many thought it would be the downfall of America. 2020s – The music is rap, proclaimed (by some) “the Devil’s music.” It’s loud, raucous and (at times) the lyrics and music are hard to follow. Women wear almost nothing and they are still gesticulating provocatively. Many today still think this will be the downfall of this country. FASHION: 1920s – Having received the right to vote, women felt free and their clothing became much less constricting as well. Corsets were thrown away and dresses became much shorter, simpler and less form-fitting. Hair was straight, parted down the middle, “bobbed” or included numerous “finger waves.” Men’s clothing became extremely large and baggy. Some pants had 4-inch cuffs and suit coat hems went all the way to the knees. Because of machine innovation, designer outfits were starting to become mass-produced and available to the general public on a scale never seen before. 2020s – Women’s clothing barely covers the “essentials.” Bras are thrown away and, it seems, the goal of designers today is to charge the highest price allowed for using the least amount of fabric possible. Hair is usually straight, parted down the middle, and finger waves are still popular. Men’s garments are so baggy that we see more underwear on the street than we see actual clothing. ENERGY: 1920s – Petroleum replaced coal and wood as major energy sources. New machines and appliances were created to run on this easily transported product. 2020s – Bio-fuels and other processes are starting to replace petroleum. Advances have been made into solar, wind and nuclear power to make them more sustainable, cheaper and more efficient. We’re not quite there yet but, we’re on the way. Now, I’m sure that, over the past 12 or 15 months, you may have asked yourself, “What on Earth is going on?” But, I promise you, our current problems are not new. These things have all happened previously. Maybe, if we address these problems with quiet intelligence and thoughtful debate (instead of shouting, hitting and burning) we may be able to fix these problems once and for all. As foolish as we may think it is to re-live those chaotic days, we should remember something. We survived them before and we will again. Through strength, patience, wisdom, a deep sense of self and an abiding love for our country, we will come through this second quasi-socialist era with flying colors. We may end up even stronger than we were before, as long as we don’t ride the “progressive” train for too long. Last time, it took World War II to lift us out of the devastation caused by the “Roaring Twenties.” Let’s hope we don’t sink so far as to make another world war necessary.

Author: Rachel Howell

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