Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers
Part Two: Yuppiedom
The nihilism of the protests movements, the drop-outs’ human wreckage, the end of the draft and American involvement in Vietnam, and the ‘silent majority’ reaction to hippiness, all ended the Sixites, albeit in the 1970s. George McGovern’s landslide loss to Richard Nixon in 1972 marked the beginning of the end of the age of protest. Both the right-wing insurance agent and the aging professor, like the silly Dionysiac outfitted Teiresias and Cadmus in Euripides Bacchae, now wore paisley and bell-bottoms, and viewed Deep Throat, but otherwise America was on to taste and the good life.
Even Watergate hysterias could not save the now despised hard Left. Jimmy Carter was in 1976 elected on the basis of his southern accent, the downfall of Nixon, and the ruse of Democratic centralism. When Carter proved that he was both a sanctimonious leftist and an incompetent—stagflation, the Iran hostage crisis, oil shocks, “malaise”—then followed 12 years of a Reagan-Bush regnum that politically nailed shut the Sixties coffin.
Bill Clinton squeezed out eight years of a Democratic revival, but only by using his southern patina, good ol’ boy, “aw-shucks” schtick. And still he needed, counted on, third-party Texas populist Ross Perot to siphon off mostly traditional and populist swing voters in 1992 and to a lesser extent in 1996. Remember that the fake centrism of the “New Democratic” party was a brilliant Dick Morris’s creation, which for a decade professed an end to open borders, talked up more policemen on the beat, and even bragged about school uniforms.
From 1980 through 2008, we were in full Yuppie mode. Aging hippies or pseudo radicals kept vestigial and mostly superficial elements of the 1960s—longish hair, wire-rim glasses, casual fashion, dope smoking, spiraling divorce, promiscuity—but channeled their innate conceit and self-centeredness into making money and consumerism. So-so novels chronicle the metamorphosis like Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney, or Louis Auchincloss, Diary of a Yuppie.”
If in their 20s, these radicals talked about communes, geodesic domes, the “revolution,” and heavy metal, in their forties, fifties and sixties they had transmogrified into Yuppie careerists, sensualists, now on their own and in need of enough cash to sustain the extravagant indulgences of the 1960s with refinement. The most ambitious yuppies focused on Wall Street, the corporate boardroom, the media, academia, entertainment, and especially the new Silicon Valley—all the industries and professions geared to take off when the US went global in the 21st century, and all the institutions now mostly absorbed by the Left. Was that the Yuppie legacy? Making lots of money, while subverting what empowered them?
Fine wines, obsessions with diet and ‘healthy living,” granite counters, stainless steel appliances, wood floors, vacations to Tuscany—supposed upper-middle class elite tastes were the remnant protests against fast-food America and deplorable fly-over culture. Sixties stuff like Ramparts Magazine and R. Crumb cartoons gave way to House Beautiful and a new versions of Esquire and Vanity Fair, with ads about high-priced liquor, clothes, and vacations.
Yuppies were not so political like Hippies, or rather they fused their ideology, such as it was, into mainstream American capitalism. They assumed the country was stuck in a leftist-centrist orbit—Bushes and Clintons—that did not impinge on their personal and financial agendas.
Certainly, read the Democratic platforms at the 1992 and 1996: they are to the right of a John McCain/Mitt Romney/Jeb Bush Rhinoism. For all the caricatures of the Yuppies, they sort of outsourced the 1980s culture wars to the hard-core, die-hard and remnant Sixites revolutionaries and instead unthinkingly, and without much zeal, just assumed the 1960s radicalism would, here and there, seep in, or was already too deeply imprinted inside the cultural DNA to ever be removed. It would reemerge at the opportune time to add style, panache, and acceptable ways to assuage guilt to Yuppie good life. Take the career of Barack Obama. He was slightly fake-Sixites in his youth, then full Yuppie. And now he’s gone Puppy-like as murmurs how unfair it is that we did not appreciate all the forces that prevented him from going full woke in 2009.