I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this kind of despair before for the nation I live in. Every time I’d see the American flag growing up I felt good, felt safe, as though nothing could go wrong; the innocence of youth someone will say.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I saw the Vietnam war protests, the rise of the counter-culture, and the civil rights movement. I was too young to really understand all of the upheaval as my priorities were getting to school when I could, trying to navigate divorced parents, a mother who had custody but was unpredictable and a drug user, along with what seemed like constant from house to house moving, eventually ending in a foster care for a time. There were other things splashed in there too, but you get the gist.
Fortunately for me, I had a father who didn’t give up on me, a step-mother (now my mother via adoption) spending about all the money they had, but eventually, in the early 70s, won custody of me, my life becoming more stable and predictable and, well, normal.
I watched the Vietnam war on television—you couldn’t help it as it was broadcast every night, Walter Cronkite delivering the news. I watched as the “generation gap” seemed to grow, pot use and other drugs slowly became normalized, and women asserted themselves because they’d rather “fight than switch” (if you get the reference). I saw and lived the Civil Rights movement, watched black men and women get fire hosed, batoned, night-sticked, and otherwise abused as they marched with Dr. King. I saw porn become mainstreamed, and Armstrong land on the moon. New math was the bane of my existence in 3rd grade, confusing just about all of us, including my parents who had no way of helping me because “my teacher said we can’t do it that way”. I never became any good at math. Common Core math should take heed—but it won’t.
I remember Watergate, and although I didn’t quite understand it all, I knew our President did something bad and was going to be removed for it—and the milquetoast Gerald Ford, our Vice-President, was going to replace him. We talked about it at the lunch table, but the conversation quickly turned to Johnny Bench, George Foster, and Pete Rose of the Big Red Machine. By the way, pizza day was the best day—that rectangular piece of cardboard with imitation cheese made everything better.
I listened as music changed in so many genres: Rock became the land of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and The Rolling Stones, the Beatles becoming rather passé for my age group. Soul dominated my ears, the likes of Earth, Wind, and Fire, Marvin Gaye, and eventually Parliament becoming the soundtrack of my life…oh yeah, along with Barry Manilow, The Carpenters, Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, and George Benson. I never liked the social messages in music back then, Bob Dylan being the most overrated of them all to my mind, even today, but then again, I wanted positivity, love, and simply the joy of music. Let’s not forget the Chairman of the Board either, Mr. Sinatra being a mainstay in our Italian home, and for good reason.
Yes, there were problems in society, and upheavals. There were riots (Watts, Democratic National Convention in ‘68, the 12th street riot in Detroit), and even the energy crisis of ‘73, but I never felt despair. Even in my teens in the late 70s and 80s, I never felt despair that my nation was literally crumbling around me even as the Cold War was reaching its Zenith…until now.
I went to a mixed race school, both in grade school and high school, and never did I feel anyone was at each other’s throats. As a teacher on the verge of retirement, the schools I’ve taught at, 7 of them over my 35 year career – by choice – really never had student problems at all regarding race or ideology be it religious, sexual or anything else. The only problems were with schools dominated by gang membership—and I taught at one—there being 7 active gangs between two locations. That was the only time there was upheaval, as certain gangs had problems with each other and it spilled into the building. Most of the time it was squelched pretty quickly, a summit meeting being held to air grievances and a truce negotiated. Even then, the students I dealt with were good kids, most coming from extreme poverty, but kids trying to “make it” by sheer determination. Many did.
I look around now and somehow I don’t feel that way. Teachers divided in their own schools, government extending its control over just about every aspect of our lives—and being welcomed with open arms by a large segment of our population while the other segment has disdain—resulting in both having contempt for each other as the net result.
Students being taught, in the spirit either rightly or wrongly of repairing wrongs done decades in the past, that some are still victims and others outright villains by adults who truly believe that or are virtue signaling is disheartening to say the least. Kids want to be taught honestly, fairly, and without an agenda; they are much more intelligent and intuitive than adults think, and can see through horse hockey more than adults know.
Academics, those who wish to be the moral leaders and arbiters of society, at least in their mind, justify the fostering of policies that further divide, by shoddy history, misconstruing facts, and circular logic that I’m not sure they believe. They do nothing but cloud the picture even more, divide us even more, and cause instability to the point that some 30% of young college age adults feel this nation needs to dissolve. That number will only grow as our nation self flagellates even more, and glorifying the process of doing so. These so-called academics are making some good headlines and the accompanying compensation that goes along with it, which I suspect may be their ultimate goal anyway.
There are true believers on both sides of the political chasm, people who cannot see beyond the narrative that makes them feel, the academics seizing the opportunity to amplify that and drive themselves forward to more prominence, charlatans and flim-flam personages who begin to believe their own hype, Pied Pipers leading their rats to the sea.
We’ve seen this play out before…all of it…although not exactly under the same circumstances, the ancient world being so far removed from ours through the mist of time. When a nation decides to rail against itself, tear at the fabric of itself, and focus on all the wrongs rather than its rights in equal balance, it chips at the pillars it was built on eventually those pillars giving way and the civilization collapses.
Some will say “good, its about time”. Those are usually the ones that stand to benefit the fall, securing their place in the new world before the end. They know what they are doing, and delight in the destruction. Others lament the nation’s death, crying and wishing it would “just go back to the way it was”. They were the ones that saw the coming fall, regardless of their station in life, and allowed it to happen, believing it would never come. They were wrong, and as they stand among the rubble looking for their former lives, they lament their inaction. Still others will find their way out from the rubble, emerging covered in dust, look around and begin again to rebuild. They are the ones that simply continue, as worker ants rebuild the nest after its destroyed. They always seem to find a way—they are the survivors.
Most will regret the day as they don’t possess or understand the ramifications of their actions for they lived safe lives behind the walls of the once powerful nation, ignorant to the realities of the world as they never experienced the despair that exists beyond their borders—and they will cry—as the citizens of Rome did when the barbarians entered the Eternal City in 411 A.D. But it will be too late.
The problem is that it doesn’t have to be that way, but for us humans, it seems the only course. History seems to teach us that once a nation reaches a certain level of prosperity, complacency sets in. We seem to need an external threat to keep us occupied or else, like caged dogs after a time, we begin to turn on ourselves, which it seems we’re doing now.
We lose focus, and in the quest for greater ease, lose the work ethic that created the conditions we enjoy. We pass that ease on to our children who, looking for still greater ease, continue the trend until they or their children forget completely what it was to once work, to overcome challenges, to achieve, for they believe they’ve accomplished something by standing on the shoulders of those that came before them. Work and struggle, those things that make us stronger become an anachronism rather than a duty. This might explain why college is the preferred route for many rather than trades—manual labor being seen as “below” them when, in fact, it might be the antidote (and often is). Or, maybe it leads to the “ambition” of becoming an “influencer” on social media, a much easier route than either of the previous two, with most “influencers” never becoming such anyway.
We, in our boredom with this ease of life, nitpick, poke, and invent crises to keep our attention, our government being allowed to extend its influence and power as a result—while we’re preoccupied. There was a reason Nero and others plied the masses with “bread and circuses”, and the people ate well—as we’re doing today, the promises of “free” and “exempt” and “we’ll take care of you because you can’t do it yourself” ringing in our ears.
Our leaders in Congress, much like the Roman Senate, abrogated their powers to the Executive, preferring to not be blamed for failures, and raking in the compliments for successes. The Roman Senate did the same for centuries, with the caveat of disposing of the leader when they decided enough was enough—assassinations being commonplace in the Empire. Ask yourself honestly, what has the Congress really done other than argue amongst itself, and speaking of the “President’s agenda” repeatedly, no matter who is in office?
Peruse social media and examine who has the most followers. In many cases, pseudo-intellectuals who may have an expertise in one area, but project themselves in others as though their expertise in one arena automatically translates to another seamlessly. Bill Gates knows education and medicine? Why? Because he has billions? Nome Chomsky, a brilliant linguist is an expert on economics? Why? Because he’s a brilliant linguist? Or is it he’s pontificating on a subject, socialism, that is the current cause du jour for many, especially the elite media.
No, we’ve become divided now more than we’ve ever been, even more than the 60s and 70s, our differences accentuated by hucksters who masquerade as experts, a government that is extending its power quickly (at both the state and local level), and a population that forgot this nation was founded on individualism. We listen because there’s nothing else to occupy our attention, almost reveling in crisis for in crisis there’s purpose and meaning, without really investigating the facts—preferring to accept what the government feeds us. Dissenting voices are silenced, silenced to ensure acceptance and compliance.
We are dividing, quickly. Unlike decades past, the wounds are too deep to heal. The die is cast, and I fear it’s just a matter of time.