The Schwinn Bicycle Company, which was run by the same family for 97 years, has gone bankrupt. No more Schwinn bikes? I remember mine, and brother Jack’s, and those I bought my children in the 50’s—visions of delight with their balloon tires, chrome springs, and coaster brakes. The last of my four children actually got the “Phantom” model—I got a raise that Christmas. It was the Cadillac of bikes: electric horn, luggage rack, whitewall tires, and mud flaps with reflectors. It could go anywhere and awe anyone. It was as strong as Superman and as ready to meet every challenge.
Not only will there be no more Schwinns, but as we enter the Clinton Era there also will be no more Superman. Beat the drums slowly and lower the flag to half-mast. Superman died last November in DC Comics’ issue number 75. The Man of Steel, doomed to the junkyard.
The message is plain. The age of super- bikes and Superman is ending. We are no longer invariably Number One, but one among many. All that goes up comes down. That need not frighten us. As the old Quaker Hymn puts it: “And when you get to a place just right / “I will be the garden of love and delight.”
The election—and the Democratic victory—gives some people new hope, just as it gives us a new generation of leaders. After looking at the White House through the iron gate for 12 years, the baby-boomers can go inside and get to work. We expect no miracles—they play well in Disney World and Hollywood, but not in Washington. The Democrats have been good at proposing new starts—and at finding apt labels for them. Wilson promised a “New Freedom,” Roosevelt a “New Deal,” Kennedy a “New Frontier,” and Johnson a “Great Society.” What’s new with you, Bill Clinton?
The next few months will give us his answer. But whatever it is, we are on the brink of two things that are inescapably new—a new century and a new millennium. Before the Clinton Crew leaves the White House (if they enjoy a second term) we will reach the year 2000 AD.—a magic moment in time to summarize the last thousand years and envision the thousand now to come. It is the ritual death and rebirth of history. The new millennium will dawn on a planet that describes itself as a global electronic village, ending a century in which people have witnessed more change than any who ever lived. The thought makes even journalists wax poetic. Lance Morrow writes in Time: “Almost every human intelligence will be focused for an instant in a solidarity of collective wonder and vulnerability—Mystery in the Age of Information.”
Where will the United States be at that moment, when we usher in the new year at midnight, 1999 A.D.? Will we still be playing the Number One game? Will we still be putting our big bucks into the military and social services? Will the rich still be getting richer and the poor poorer? We now know that the global economy, instead of eliminating poverty, has widened the gap between rich and poor nations. Will we reduce the gap with a new consensus—or with a series of revolutions and wars?
Of course, in a new millennium, we must face a new reality. That won’t be easy. As T.S. Eliot writes in Burnt Norton: “Human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.” But if we are to hold our own in the new age to come, we must yet act in this one. That is the great central message of the election of 1992.