When the great industrialist Henry Ford declared, “history is bunk,” he was speaking for America as he found it in the early twentieth century – a young country, criss-crossed by highways, dotted with airy cities, replete with high mountains, vast plains and lush forests, a land that, as the great apostle of the American folk tradition Woody Guthrie once put it, seemed “made for you and me.”
But as the 2020 Presidential race takes off, that great democratic jamboree of states, primaries, debates and campaigning, the most powerful country on earth will work out again what direction it should take…
America is no longer quite the young country it was a hundred years go – it has deep scars. Vietnam, 9/11 and long wars in the Middle East that followed, the 2008 crash, which brought existential crisis to the heart of the capitalist model, and partisan political rancour have all presented a picture of a country, as the miserabilists would have it, in terminal decline.
There is an alternative view – America could be about to enter into a new age of maturity. No longer quite so youthful with its optimism tempered by calamity and by loss, to visit America is still to find a country unlike any other, its face set towards the limitless horizon. The roots of American vitality are deep and in the long run it has been foolish to bet against its success.
Presidential elections hold up a mirror to this boisterous, magnificent country and this campaign will surely deliver more great images that will be added to this pantheon of the past.
Democratic headquarters during Presidential campaign, Baltimore, Maryland, November 1944z (Photo by Thomas D Mcavoy/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
Portrait of an unidentified woman as she swims underwater with an American flag, a large portrait of Republican Presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower and a sign that reads ‘Adlai’s Fishy’ (referring to Eisenhower’s Democratic opponant in the 1952 US Presidential Election), Austin, Texas, 1952. Eisenhower won the ‘52 election, and defeated Stevenson a second time, in 1956. (Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is shown as she addresses delegates to the 1956 Democratic National Convention. The 71-year-old Mrs. Roosevelt, a staunch supporter of Adlai Stevenson for the Presidential nomination, told the assembly it is “absolutely imperative” that the Democrats come back to power with the “right” leader. (Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)
John F. Kennedy shaking hands of admirers during Presidential campaign. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
A group of young women at Los Angeles Airport wear matching red, white, and blue stripped dresses and hold placards that read ‘A Time for Greatness: Kennedy for President’ as they await the arrival of presidential hopeful Senator John Kennedy, in town for the Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, California, July 1960. (Photo by Hank Walker/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
1968: Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon standing on stage with his back to the camera in front of an arena of supporters giving the victory ‘V’ sign with both hands. One prominent sign in the crowd reads, ‘LBJ Lost the Way Nixon Will Save the Day’ in reference to Nixon’s opponent democratic president Lyndon Johnson. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Politics, Personalities, USA, pic: 1976, Democratic Presidential nominee Jimmy Carter wearing a sombrero at a Mexican Independence Day celebration in MIchigan, Jimmy Carter (born 1924) became the 39th President of the United States 1977-1981 (Photo by Rolls Press/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Presidential candidate Bill Clinton talks with reporters while campaigning in New Hampshire. Clinton would win the 1992 presidential election against incumbent George Bush, and be elected to a second term in 1996. (Photo by mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images)
Presidential nominee George W. Bush (2L) and wife Laura (L) w. Vice-Presidential nominee Richard Cheney (2R) and wife Lynne (R) waving to crowd at conclusion of Republican convention. (Photo by Greg Mathieson/Mai/Mai/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) supporters celebrate as his win of the presidential election is announced November 4, 2008 in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham, along with Selma and Montgomery, were touchstones in the civil rights movement where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led massive protests which eventually led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ending voter disfranchisement against African-Americans. Boutwell Auditorium is the same the auditorium where Sen. Strom Thurmond launched his racist “Dixiecrat” presidential campaign in 1948 and where singer Nat King Cole was attacked onstage by Ku Klux Klansmen during a “whites only” concert performance in 1957.Americans voted in the first presidential election featuring an African-American candidate, Democratic contender Sen. Barack Obama, who ran against Republican Sen. John McCain. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)