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Political journalist Joe Klein gives a free talk on the chaotic politics of 2016 to an audience Friday at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.

Photo Gallery | Joe Klein speaks at The Mahaiwe

GREAT BARRINGTON — The country must forge a new era of citizenship because "the future of democracy is at stake," TIME columnist Joe Klein declared before a packed house of roughly 700 in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Friday.

There exists any number of ways to put new college grads to work in any number of ways for the greater good, Klein said.

Some could serve the country as needed Transportation Security Administration agents. Aspiring architects first serve a few years as building inspectors, Klein said. There exists any number of ways to put new college grads to work in any number of ways for the greater good.


Service, the author said, could help "recreate the kind of community" needed today. The suggestion drew applause.

"The title of this talk is 'How We Got Here,' " Klein said. "And the only way we're going to be able to get someplace else is if we start behaving in a different way as a society."

A local high school student, during the question an answer session after Klein's talk, took the bait.

She asked, "How do you convince a generation that feels failed in everything from college costs to global warming that we should work for country that appears to have not given us what we thought we should be given?"

Quite a lecture followed, during which Klein said her "unbelievably privileged" generation was "not owed anything," and that rather: "You owe us your brains and energy and service, for just a little bit."

In another breath, though, Klein conceded that the legacies of inaction on climate change and political corruption are indeed undesirable inheritances for the generation.

In the substance of the talk, one may have guessed what, or whom, constituted the most immediate threat in Klein's eyes: Donald Trump, Republican candidate for the presidency.

But Klein also attempted to explain the societal forces — going back decades — leading to Trump's ascension.

Globalized trade, consumer society, media and advertising and two political parties looking "backward rather than forward" contributed heavily to the phenomena, Klein said in a talk, entitled, "How On Earth Did We Get Here? The Chaotic Politics of 2016."

"The paradigm for the industrial age was the assembly line," Klein said. "The paradigm for the information age is the computer network, which is far more customized and individual. This is the world that we're living in."

Trump, then, represents "the ultimate hyper-individual, the ultimate representation of what I call the 'too much information age,' " Klein said.

The business mogul is engaged in "selling nostalgia," Klein said, proposing policies guaranteed to cause "a major depression."

But so do the two political parties, albeit in a less vulgar fashion.

The Democrats, Klein said, sell the New Deal-era vision of big government programs and big corporations working with big labor unions. The Republicans sell a "traditional values" picture from the 50s — a relatively homogeneous, "father knows best" society where "black people knew their place and homosexuality hadn't been invented yet."

"Both parties present the essential lie to the American people that we can somehow recapture that," Klein said. "We can't."

Klein, a self-identified "flaming moderate," said he supported the candidacies of eliminated Republicans Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

But he paid heavy compliments to Democrat Hillary Clinton on Friday, while expressing reservations about her high-dollar Wall Street speeches, "skeevy" Clinton Foundation, "cold, robotic and overly political" public presentation and "character" generally.

Clinton, though, "does the homework" and knows the issues — and so should more people if the democracy is to be preserved, Klein said.

"Things are getting more complex and incomprehensible every day," he said. "But, I don't know that you can have a democracy unless most people are taking a shot at trying to comprehend [the complexities]."

Ultimately, Klein said he believes modern advertising and media have divided us up into consumer niches, and the country needs to revisit the American idea: That the things that hold us together are more important than the things that divide us.

Klein's lecture was the annual Mona Sherman lecture, created by Arthur Sherman and family in honor of Mona Sherman, a volunteer and former board president at Berkshire Community College's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Klein has authored seven books, won numerous awards in journalism and will take off to cover the Republican and Democratic conventions in July.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.