Frame of reference: I’m 75. I was born in the middle of the Great Depression and remember the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. I followed the news on World War II via radio and film between double features at my local theaters. I was too young for the Korean police action sponsored by the United Nations and too disgusted with the senseless war in Viet Nam. I saw some of our greatest and most promising leaders assassinated for reasons undisclosed by those who ordered the killings. But we all knew why if not who. Through the first forty years or so of my life, I was proud to be an American and part of the strongest nation militarily and morally on the planet. I mostly believed in liberty and justice for all despite slavery, native American slaughter, institutionalized discrimination against Blacks, Jews, and whomever else was unpopular for no good reason, and our common cause against the perceived enemy, communism.
I never wanted for a job in a factory, office, the cab of a truck, or academe. I lived through a time where if I didn’t like a job, I could find another from a long list of openings in the want ads of my local paper. I had no problem buying and paying for a humble but comfortable house and a station wagon. My family could afford modest vacations and weekends at the shore or whatever recreational facility was available.
So having lived through some golden years I have a frame of reference that perhaps the baby boomers and later can’t relate to. During my latter years, it was demonstrated that the “Red menace” was a fabrication, that thousands died in wars for the personal gain of American corporate magnates and the politicians they supported, that presidents lie, that American interests abroad were neither in my interst nor in the interests of those foreign citizens affected. I’ve watched the current generation of corporate elite in the industries of health care, pharmaceuticals, finance, and the media deny millions relief from pandemic diseases and cause economic havoc around the world. I’ve watched the U.S. lose respect during the first eight years of this century and lose influence during the past three. I’ve seen the federal government bail out the money lenders and the moguls running the auto industry and I’ve watched it bail on the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil leak, and the poor, unemployed, and homeless in its own country while sending billions to terrorist-supporting governments.
I read about formerly hard-working people suffering. Not just in the news but in the Email I receive from friends. What used to be a government of the people, for the people, and by the people to a modest degree has become a failed institution that the people cannot depend upon in disasters natural or man-made. I see the numbers falling that rate the U.S. with other countries in education, income relative to cost of living, production of common goods, and other areas where it used to be number one. Foreign policy is an extension of welfare to people who hate the U.S. National policy has been to watch its infrastructure rot, its borders become overrun with narcotics and weapons traders, and looking seriously at crazies who don’t understand the Constitution or the nation’s place in the great scheme of things but are running for president.
How do I explain contemporary history to my children? (Yes, at 75 I have children at home.) More importantly, what lessons are Americans learning from the disparate voices bleating from blogs like this one, from Murdoch’s papers, and Fox’s TV pundits? How will graduates of a failed and free-falling educational system make decisions in 2012 with so much misinformation penetrating their delicate thought processes? Global warming, extinction of species…including our own?…unemployment and the war on unions and the middle class, foreclosures and banks finding more loopholes for lending profits, wars against no country in particular that wants to conquer the U.S., unspecified terrorist threats that allow the government to remove freedoms one at a time until the Bill of Rights is history.
At my age, I don’t expect to see how the next chapter turns out. I certainly don’t expect to live to see the U.S. earn its former respect. No one fears the U.S. and fewer are paying it any mind at all. I don’t know if I should advise my kids and grandkids to learn Chinese or Arabic. God bless America and save it from itself!