Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

State of American History, Civics, and Politics

2020: The End of the 20th Century and the Beginning of the 21st

This Is the Dawning of the Age of the 2ist Century (

Will 2020 be remembered by historians as the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st?

We humans like to organize time. Sometimes it is comparatively easy. We are consciously aware of the movements of the sun and the moon. That awareness leads to having days, months, and years as part of our calendars (but not weeks).

When we enter the political and social realm, the organization of time becomes more problematical. For example, the ancient Egyptians like to start the new reign of the king on the Egyptian New Year. The obvious problem was that the previous king had a tendency instead to die during the middle of the year. So when do you start the first year of the new king?

John Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963. Lyndon Johnson immediately became President. Is 1963 the third year of Kennedy’s administration or the first year of Johnson’s administration or both? Should Johnson’s first year have begun in January, 1964? Should it have begun in January 1965 when he was first elected? At that point he would have been President for 14 months and over 3 calendar years.

The Egyptians had these issues too. It mattered less or them than it does for Egyptologists. They are trying to reconstruct history. It doesn’t matter what the Egyptians decided to do as long as the Egyptologists can figure out what they did and hopefully that over the millennia, they were consistent.

Did the 18th century end with the arbitrary year 1800 or at Waterloo?

Did the 19th century end with the arbitrary year 1900 or in World War I?

Did the 20th century end with the arbitrary year 2000 or on 9/11?

Historians make these decisions about how to organize time. They write books based on those decisions. They teach college classes based on the flow of history and not the arbitrarily rounded-dates which are derived from a base 10 numerical system and an error in the calculation of the birth of Jesus probably by four years.

I suggest for your consideration that 2020 will come to be regarded as the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. The time from the Iron Curtain collapse to the Covid-19 pandemic will be regarded as a transition period. It was the time when the old order died and the new order, still in the process of being formed, was born.

The old older clearly is dead. For America, it was a time of three world wars: against Germany, against Germany and Japan, and against the Soviet Union. We were on the winning side of all three. It was a time of international organizations especially after World War II. Now probably to the surprise of many, it is the United States that has taken the lead in shredding these institutions. Instead we are left with a world where it is every country for itself. We live in a world of transactional relationships where the United States is not a leader but alone.

In mythical terms, this situation is referred to as a time of chaos and not cosmos or order. The created world, the world the United States took the lead in creating, is undone. It was a created world of firmament, of substance, of structure. Now that has been washed away and the world is returning to its primordial chaos.

Assyrians used the deluge to represent this change metaphorically. In effect, a tsunami washes away the existing order. That creates a blank slate for a new order to be built. The metaphor was for the Assyrian army, the Assyrian king, and the destruction of conquered cities. The message was that the Assyrian king had destroyed the old order. The new order would be built with the Assyrian capital as the cosmic center and the Assyrian king as the deity’s representative on earth. The Assyrians were extremely successful in delivering this message in the ancient Near East because at that time they did rule the ancient Near East from Elam in Iran to Ethiopia.

2020 has the potential to be just such a watershed in human history. Let’s considered some of the events that have or will happen in 2020 from an American perspective.

An impeachment of a President starts the year.

A Corvid-19 pandemic sweeps the world. While parts of the world have it under control America continues to flounder for all the world to see and pretends otherwise. We still are on track for over 2,000,000 fatalities before herd immunity is reached.

The economy is depressed if not yet in a technical depression. Unemployment skyrockets, businesses collapse. The 1% are immune.

America’s Third Civil War heats up. As previously written, I had expected the Presidential election in November to be the catalyst for the more violent phase of the war but trigger may have been fired earlier.

So we began the year with an impeachment and we will end the year with a constitutional crises, public outrage, or both.

Meanwhile climate change continues to wreak damage on the world.

America has been exposed as a Third World Country. Joe Biden declared LaGuardia Airport to be a Third World Airport. That problem has been relatively straightforward to repair. I am reminded of that every time I fly out of that airport which is why I avoided it even before the Corvid-19 crisis. But that virus has exposed that for much of the country, we have a Third World health care system for people with Third World infant mortality rates, Third World health, and Third World life spans. For much of the country we have Third World education, housing, infrastructure, and opportunity. What little there was of a social safety net has been ripped to shreds. Our shortcomings are visible for all the world to see, a world which watches not Fox but CNN. China which blocks CNN is more than happy to broadcast scenes of riots across America from other sources.

Speaking of China, the Middle Kingdom is exploiting the opportunity of the coronavirus crisis. Since the United States is so willing to abandon its position as world leader, China is eager and willing (but not necessarily able) to become the world leader instead. Even before the current crisis, China saw itself as the wave of the future. From their perspective, it was only a matter of time before the fading giant passed the torch of world leadership to the wolf warriors eager to seize it. They think that time is now.

Returning to Egypt, the Egyptians had a concept of ma’atMa’at was their concept of cosmic harmony, of all being right with the world, of order. It began in the beginning when the world was created. It continued to exist when the gods ruled Egypt, meaning the world, and then when human kings did so as well. Although Egypt had no Fall, it did have disruptions. There were times when kings had to do more than pledge to maintain ma’at, they had to pledge to restore it. They had to act to end the chaos that had engulfed the land and return to it to the order expressed by ma’at.

The United States lives in just such a time right now. We live in a time of chaos where the social fabric is unraveling and America’s position in the world is dwindling. Ending this time of troubles does not mean a return to the past; it does not mean restoring the world as it was in the beforetime. It means redefining the new world order so that it fixes what was wrong and can provide us with a sense of security and peace of mind for the future. A call to bring back the 50s will not solve the problems of the 21st century.

Right now America has no such visionary to lead us to a better tomorrow. In fact, no one at the national level is even trying. For the sake of the country and the world, we need a vision to define what the 21st century will be…or at least a vision We the People want to try to fulfill. Until such time we will continue to flounder and chaos will prevail here and around the world.

10 thoughts on “2020: The End of the 20th Century and the Beginning of the 21st

  1. Please remove me from your email list. I no longer want to receive your biased pontifications.

    Thank you.

    1. I receive cancellation emails from people on both sides of the aisle, those who accuse me of being a Fox spokesperson and those who accuse me of being a Trump supporter. I conclude that I must being doing something right when both sides criticize me. Normally the people who cancel indicate what their own biases are. After all, I wouldn’t want to confuse a Trumpican with a Socialist Democrat in my reply! While you indicated that you are a biased person, you neglected to identify what your bias is.

      You have been removed from the distribution list.

  2. Wow, thanks for sending this perspective, Peter!

    Stay Safe. Stay Well. Stay Inspired!

    Best Wishes,

  3. Thank you, for keeping me, with email company at least, with the email I received
    from you today: ’The State of American Civics”. I am feeling very uncomfortable in
    My country, today, even in my State: Vermont. Because we all live in a wider, tech
    World, and some of us, myself, in a wider geographical world, classifications coming
    In word, and through the tv and internet and radio, and newspapers, books and
    magazines may be feeling and thinking of more restrictions to come, unfortunately
    And, perhaps with more ‘military/police’ style behaviour in our public spaces…..

    1. Nina,

      Thank you for your response. These are indeed troubling times and no one knows what is going to happen next. When we celebrated New Years, who imagined what would happen over the next five months. Let us hope we have seen the worst.


  4. Ive always felt the 21st century for the USA began with the Supreme Court stopping the recount of votes in – whenever that was, Dec or Jan of 2001 – and Al Gore following the old rules and submitting to their decision, the erosion of democracy after the 20th century of democratic expansion. Obama continued the trend, with expanded surveillance of the population…..Anyway, contraction of democracy, in my mind, may well be the hallmark of the 21st century.

    1. Too bad you are not teaching anymore. Then you could ask the students to pick a date and to justify it. Of course, 2001 is from before they were born and occurred just after King Tut!

    2. I agree that the stolen election of 2000 marked a significant milestone in the systematic unraveling of democracy. Al Gore’s unconditional surrender was discouraging. America needs more changes than I can imagine, but maybe Peter come up with something.

  5. As a student of history in education, I find your mailings incredibly biased. I just wanted to pass that along but I’m sure it won’t make any difference as your ideology is probably more important than facts. I’ll be removing myself from your list.

    1. Actually I follow in the tradition of Bill Klem where I call them as I see them. You are correct that your email won’t make any difference since you neglected to specify what the bias. Since I get emails like this from people from both sides of the aisle just as umpires can be criticized by both teams, the absence of any information from you about either what your bias is or what you think my bias is makes it difficult to learn anything from it.

Comments are closed.