The Vibe Shift
I just wanted to put up a short post to consolidate some recent thoughts I’ve shared under the combined heading of the “vibe shift.”
I do think something changed in the environment in 2022. A lot of this is under the heading of what I called the return to normal. My recent newsletter about not playing the heel is also related to this.
We went through a six year period of so of elevated stress and conflict. This perhaps could be dated to Donald Trump’s trip down the escalator to announce his candidacy for President that upended the political landscape of America. After a crazy campaign, he won. And the media and institutions of society worked to ensure he would never be treated like a normal president, that he should be denied legitimacy for all four years in office if they couldn’t force him out early. This kept thing at a perpetual fever pitch.
Then there was the pandemic and essentially a two year lockdown of the country. The pandemic fever pitch didn’t end until the Russian invasion of Ukraine provided an opportunity for the American leadership class to close up shop on it.
It’s very difficult to sustain a fever pitch for long periods of time. It’s unhealthy if you do. With Trump out of office, and Covid civically downgraded, this opened the door for the longed for return to normal.
Now, things are not normal. While populism always fades, Trump’s Presidency disrupted politics in the US and the Republican Party in ways that are not likely to revert to the status quo ante. He shifted the Overton Window there significantly.
Also, the fallout from the pandemic is not going away. Even if there’s a slow reversion towards the pre-pandemic pattern, there seems to be a widespread belief that some changes are permanent. Remote work is here to stay, which puts a big question mark over the future of downtowns. The exodus from public schools doesn’t seem likely to reverse. There was a spike in geographic sorting that I believe will continue. This included a shift towards the suburbs, and more explicit consideration of politics in people choosing a place to live. All of these will have big consequences going forward even if the future is unknown at this time.
There’s also the slow decline and decay of Baby Boomer-centric institutions, along with a slow generational turnover that is now actually starting to happen. Observers I talked to in the evangelical world, for example, suggest that most organizations are doubling down on what they’ve been doing, even though it’s obvious the old patterns are not going to work going forward.
I believe we’ve entered a sort of liminal period. The old is passing away but we do not yet know what the new is going to be. That shift may not be revolutionary but rather evolutionary, but I do believe it’s coming.
At the same time, the rhetorical patterns and activities of the Trump-pandemic era are losing traction. We saw this in the midterms, for example. We are seeing it in the “silent exit” phenomenon in which people and business simply leave and de facto turn their backs on places. For example, I am observing a number of urban leader types who would have been very supportive of and active in social justice activities in the wake of the George Floyd killing who see the extreme governance dysfunction in the cities and are just getting out. Here in Indianapolis, there’s been a major exodus of the CEOs of top civic organizations, with younger people heading to the for-profit world or state focused organizations.
In short, I think “hard core” type rhetoric and action is likely to be less effective in this new world. People are tired of it.
At the same time, it’s important to be working towards building and adapting to the next world. Because we are in this liminal period, the future configuration is uncertain, so we need to be exploring and ready to pivot as things evolve.
Regardless of what you decide to do personally, I’d take stock of the way the public mood and vibe changed in 2022 and adjust accordingly.
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It will be interesting to see what happens as the Boomers retire and fade from leadership. Born in 1963, I'm technically classified as a Boomer but have observed them my whole life and knew from a young age they were a very different bunch than us folks born in the early 1960's.
I watched as Boomers went through one stage of life after another, always as a huge group activity and always morphing completely each time around to something quite different, Mickey Mouse kids to Hippies driving VWs to disco-dancing yuppies to establishment types driving BMWs and then in the 1990s as they started to fall through the cracks, voting against GHW Bush (Perot) or for Clinton, born August 1946, our first Boomer president.
Lately, many are overly fond of Trump, born June 1946, but they'll probably move on again in a few years. Hopefully, they learned something from the GFC and will live a long time, but frugally enough not to wreck our equity markets.
Every Boomer shift to the next life stage has been a huge jolt to society, then there's quite a mess to clean up afterwards, but I would agree that we're finally reaching a transition phase, where hopefully the Boomers will no longer suck all the oxygen out of the room. I've lived in their shadow my whole life, and so feel for the Millennials. We need a generation that's more in touch with the whole society, and not just their own demographic.
Yeah, I can sense this as well. People are very eager to move on with their lives. There's only so much chaos a person can handle. Messaging and tactics for change will have to adapt now. Well said, Aaron.