It is beyond mortifying, witnessing what is happening socially and politically in our country these days. In Part 1 of this little series, I wrote about the decline of democracy in America, erudite and intellectually bent, to be sure. This follow-up is far more about emotion, psychology, and grief! While many pundits, academics, and editorialists are pretty much describing the train wreck of our culture in graphic terms, with the GOP coming apart at the seams, the inevitable disintegration in front of us as a whole, is palpable and real. It’s like the 60’s and 70’s in reverse.
I remember that earlier time as a pot-smoking, save-the-world hippie wannabe, although I never fully committed, stopping just shy of real radicalism. My 37-year-old son claims we Boomers “blew it” – that we abandoned principles for a cushy life. Even though I remind him that evolution is always glacially slow, at least until a critical mass paradigm shift occurs, he’ll hear none of it. I recall a sociology professor at Boston University (circa 1970) saying in a lecture once, that we would become more like our parents, sliding back comfortably into those values they had trained us to believe in. Groans and “no ways” erupted at this, none of us believing that would in fact be the case.
Then we grew up! Then there was Watergate, which forced even more sobering maturity, and of course we clung to the democratic principles we were weaned on. And why wouldn’t we? It was not so much that we didn’t want democracy; we just wanted greater equality! Anyway, as night follows day, some of us began to focus an egalitarian life on a more personal level. And certainly some things changed on the macro level too. For many, the whole marriage and babies and jobs and careers took far more urgency. I think we also began to recognize, especially once Watergate came and went, that there was some ‘righting of the ship’ that was occurring, even if not in a revolutionary sense.
Out of all of this came this son, and with him, the ‘please lets have an egalitarian country’ belief in equity, fairness, true democratic principles. He saw enough of both inequality and equality to want more of the second element than the first. And after all, who wouldn’t? So America lumbered along making progress in some areas while less in others, a mishmash of our heritage and tradition for sure. In time, we even evolved enough to elect our first black (people always forget he’s half white!!) president, and may be close to electing our first female president, who knows.
But here’s the rub. Not only has America made progress in certain areas slowly but surely. There have also been unseen or barely-seen elements brewing, dispossessing others. Between our economic (and global) prowess with some benefiting, others have been left in the ditch as a consequence of it. As a result, we have grown some very bad seeds of discontent— from black-haters, to free trade global economy haters, to immigration haters–the list seems endless and, left unaddressed, have festered beyond containment. And not only that, the money (and therefore, power) that has always driven our economic process has become concentrated in the hands of too few at the expense of too many – a recipe for democratic degradation to be sure.
Sadly, we have entered a very dark era indeed. I’m sorry if this is not an all sweetness-and-light view of things but we need to grow past this adolescent head-in-the-sand ignorance on one hand, and rage on the other. Neither burying our heads or “acting out” (I think that’s the adolescent term) will serve us as a culture and country. I don’t believe we are doomed, at least not yet. But we are in a world of trouble, to be sure. Even if Donald Trump is stopped, the ingredients that have spawned him are still present. Even if the convention becomes rigged to stop him, what does that say about our democracy, let alone, our maturity? I’m not saying don’t stop him; he’s incredibly dangerous. But what has spawned him is what is just as dangerous, if not more so. How can we address the dispossessed in our country? How can we address those who dispossess? How can we level the playing field? How can we care enough to look at the greater good and exercise greater responsibility for it as individuals, as a nation?
We need a statesman and a conscience, not to mention, an individual grownup-ness that has been in short supply these days. I’ll be honest, this whole state of affairs makes me sad. I’m allowed to grieve. We couldn’t have “revolutionized” American institutions in the 70’s. It would have also had a destabilizing effect. But it seems we are at a tipping point, a critical mass as it were, that will not go unattended, unaddressed. Whether any of us are angry or not, justified or not, ripping apart the fabric of our country and world through fists, hate-mongering, and more separation will be our doom if something doesn’t change, and soon. I hope we as a country are TOO BIG TO FAIL. I pray we have not become too big, too soft, or too corrupt to succeed.