- - Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The ‘20s are back, having come full circle to a new century. These will not be your great-grandfather’s Roaring ‘20s. The third decade of the 21st century has launched with the same brash spirit as that latter-day era, but is raised to the next exponential power by the frenetic pace of human progress. If the promise of the fresh decade is to avoid the crash that befell that tumultuous period a hundred years ago, Americans will need to reinforce their soaring aspiration with heightened appreciation of prudence.

In one sense, these are the best of times, as the world-beating U.S. economic engine spins off prosperity to citizens of every income level. In another sense, though, the shared values rooted in faith traditions are shredding, leaving many to doubt whether the nation can survive without a common heart to bind one to another.

The economy, the gauge of a people’s capacity to create, hummed along in 2019 at a pace exceeding a respectable 2 percent pace. Intermittent skirmishs in the ongoing trade conflict with China, along with the familiar armed flare-ups in the Middle East, lopped off a portion of what otherwise would have been an exceptional year for U.S. industry.

Stock indices, though, haven’t simply satisfied — they’ve catapulted forward, bumping aside recessionary fears like paper cups strewn along a busy interstate. For the year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average registered a gain of 22 percent, while the S&P 500 Index jumped 28 percent and the Nasdaq surged a stratospheric 35 percent.

Fifty-five percent of Americans are invested in the markets, says Gallup, and the extra jingle in their pockets has left 53 percent of respondents giving a thumbs up to the president’s handling of the economy — far more than the 41 percent disapproving, according to Real Clear Politics. With a phase-one trade deal with China ready for signatures and another one clinched with Canada and Mexico, the U.S. economy is primed to leap to the next level in 2020.

The 1920s began with a similar bang. Gross domestic product, driven by mass production in the automobile, aviation and consumer goods industries, soared more than 40 percent over the course of the decade. The explosion of new media — primarily cinema and radio — triggered an outburst of edgy forms of expression in fashion, music and dance. It was not unlike the hyper-energized culture shocks that social media are currently generating and that 5G connectivity promises to accelerate.

Prognosticators live and die by the veracity of their soothsaying, but it doesn’t take a crystal ball to spot the coming impact on coming generations of government profligacy. As the conservative Heritage Foundation points out, “According to the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, federal spending totaled $37.6 trillion from 2010 through 2019. Spread across 128 million households (per the Census Bureau), that yields $293,750 in spending for every household.”

If spending had simply tracked the rise in population (along with an extra dollop to account for inflation), the current trend of frightening trillion-dollar annual deficits would have transformed into surpluses.

The Roaring ‘20s ended badly, with the bursting of an overblown financial bubble and the crash of ‘29 that set in motion the Great Depression. Current unfettered squandering of the nation’s treasure by both major political parties saddles each American family with hundreds of thousands in national debt, a form of forced servitude. Inescapable is that every dollar owed must be repaid. The alternative is national bankruptcy and the sort of economic downturn that scourged millions of our forebears.

Just as ominous is the lackadaisical attitude Americans are displaying toward the foundational religious values that prescribe love of God and His crowning creation — human beings — as the sine qua non of the social contract.

In a five-part series titled “Losing our Religion,” The Washington Times describes the dispiriting disintegration of traditional faith in the United States and the jarring rise of the “Nones.” Those individuals with no interest in any religious creed now surpass Catholics as the largest demographic, with 23.1 percent of the population.

Americans don’t need to thump the Bible to stay square with one another, but there is no substitute for its instructional reverence of “the Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

To avoid dwindling to a whisper, the “roaring 2020s” has need for a renewed obligation to shared values that support family, community and nation.

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