Breaking Glass

Remembering the Twenty-Teens

Decades provide a useful, if not infallible, structure for organizing and understanding our historical experience. However frayed and disputed their limits, terms like “the twenties,” or “the eighties” each conjure their particular images and memories. Whatever we call the decade we have just completed—the twenty-teens?—it is one with landmarks arguably as important as any in our history.

Globally, any glance back over the past decade must give a central role to the rise of China. Over just ten years, its economy more than doubled in size, to rough equivalency with the United States, and it continues to grow. China also began aggressive military and diplomatic expansions into its neighboring territories and seaways. Since taking power in 2013, President Xi Jinping has triumphantly succeeded in his campaign to Make China Great Again. This will set the world’s political agendas for decades to come.

Within the United States, historians will long study the year 2016, and not just for its wildly divisive politics. Whatever their own ideological slant, they will explore that year’s presidential election for what it revealed about the radically different economic paths taken by parts of the United States, and how those schisms manifest in culture. Between Red and Blue, coastal and heartland, and old and new economies, there is a fundamental dispute about the American identity. However...

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