Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Is This When America Was Great?
I've lived through seven decades and I keep trying to remember when America was great. You know, the time the Trumpies are referring to when they say they want to make America great again..
I don't remember much about the 50's being still just a little girl when they were over but I know people who idealize that innocent, Father Knows Best era. And for a lot of white Americans who'd just come back from the war, it probably was pretty great. They went to school on their VA loans, became professionals, bought houses, raised families. That's if they weren't suffering from battle fatigue (now called PTSD) from the horrific things they'd seen and done in World War II.
Maybe it wasn't so great for the women who'd gone to work en masse to help their country while their men were gone, then told to get back in the kitchen where they belonged when the boys returned.
And maybe it wasn't so great for gays who were mostly probably afraid to admit who they were for fear of losing their family, their job and their church.
And it wasn't so great for African-Americans. I remember hearing a black grandmother tell her story on the radio about an amusement park that existed at that time. ( I think it was in Birmingham). White kids could go have fun there 364 days a year but black kids could go one day a year. One stinking day!
This woman told how longingly her children would peer through the fence at the white kids and ask, "when will it be our turn again, Mama?" She talked about how sad and furious it made her. She would liked to have told the park people to stick it and never let her kids go there but they waited so eagerly and patiently for their day.
I thought then, and still think, that was one of the saddest stories I ever heard. I could feel that mother's anger and bitterness and defeat in my own stomach.
That surely wasn't when America was great.
Then came the Sixties and the assassination of a president and of a presidential candidate and of a civil rights leader and another. That was when we threw stones and cursed little girls trying to go to school and beat African-Americans crossing a bridge for voter's rights.
My husband was in Vietnam in 1965, in the first group that was announced to be going to combat. We barely knew where Vietnam was then but a decade and 58,000 plus bodies later, we'd learned a lot about Vietnam....except why were there.
When Jim came home, he wasn't approved to join the Veteran's of Foreign Wars because they said he hadn't been in a war, only a police action.
"Huh," said the ex-combat medic, "it sure felt like a war to me."
(He died in 1989 of Agent Orange-related lung cancer - something the Army admitted when they paid him an Agent Orange pension).
Many people protested, of course, but the final tragedy of Vietnam was our kids (the National Guard) killing our kids (the Kent State protesters).
Surely that wasn't when America was great.
In the 70's, I was helping my father in his bar. I couldn't sit at the bar myself. Women couldn't. I couldn't walk with a drink in my hand unless it was on a tray and I was delivering it to a customer. I guess those things weren't considered lady-like.
I was working then as a Personnel Secretary. My boss quit and I filled in for him for six months until his replacement was hired. Everything went fine for that six months and I went to talk to the Plant Manager about getting the job full-time My boss made $18,000 a year; I made $9,000. The Plant Manager said no. He was adamant that people would never accept a woman in that position.
Incidentally, they hired a man who had been the head of the welfare department in a fairly large city. (Naturally, I had to train him). He hated African-Americans and thought the answer to the "black problem" was to neuter every male nigger baby for 100 years. Just in case you were thinking, you know, that racism had become a thing of the past by the 70's.
Was that when America was great?
Then came the 80's. It's true that many Americans who worked in factories were living high, wide and handsome. It was all my peers' goal in life to get a job in one of the auto plants. They could live well - houses, cars, vacations, send their kids to college. The people who worked in pissy-ass, low-wage factories were often jealous of the auto workers instead of proud that a group of American workers had fought, literally fought, to join the middle class.
But then Reagan came along with the "trickle down" theory which Republicans keep trying even though it keeps failing. Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union and that was the start of the downfall of American Labor. Union membership declined, wages began going down (many plants then began implementing a two-tier wage system pitting one group of employees against the other). Benefits declined. Pensions were rescinded. We forget that even that wasn't enough. Before we'd ever heard of NAFTA, American businesses were leaving the U.S. in droves. We had a war in Iraq in the 80's. At least, Old George Bush made it short and sweet. It ended with the Highway of Death, burning alive 100s of 1000s of fleeing Iraqis. Ah, it made you proud to be an American. Maybe that's when we were great.
I don't remember exactly when Rush Limbaugh came on the scene but he was the forerunner of the right wing media. I can recall being shocked at how mean he was. Remember when he said the Clintons didn't need a dog because they had Chelsea and all his conservative followers thought it was hilarious? They've only gotten more hateful since.
The 90's were probably my favorite decade of my adulthood but it is also when the extreme partisanship between the parties began. I remember listening to hours of cable news discussing impeachment. Not content to try to win the next election on the merits, the Republicans (now the Trumpicans) were determined to rid themselves of Clinton at any cost to the nation's unity, the Rule of Law and the Constitution. They didn't quite succeed but they caused a great deal of damage to our country's psyche along the way. I despised them for what they did.
A new century and a new president - George Bush the Younger. I never really hated George Bush. I actually thought he was probably a nice man in his personnel life. But the Iraq War was his downfall. Another Vietnam. A war based on the lies of our leaders. Torture. Extreme Rendition. Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib. Oh, my God, those pictures were so horrifying. I couldn't believe that was Americans seemingly happily perpetrating those acts of torture and humiliation. We lost our morals and our principles in Iraq. And here we still are all those years later.
Nope, that was definitely not a great time.
We replaced Bush with Obama in the next decade. Wow, our first black president. Look at us evolve. No more racism for us! But the same people who'd engaged in Clinton Hatred came out from under their rocks and became even more vile and vicious against Obama. He wasn't even really an American or a Christian, an illegitimate president, don't you know? The product of a global conspiracy. The right-wing media became even more dishonest and poisonous. Still, we managed a few good things like national health care and civil rights for gays.
But the divisions between us were too ugly to be considered great.
And then, we elected (sort of) Donald Trump - and I suspect this will be the least great period of time in America that any of us alive today will have ever known.