Where did we go wrong……this October/November generation of ours……we children of the 30’ and 40’s? As I look back on the times when we were one of the “generations in charge” it seems like I must have missed a few things along the way. Some of what was happening must have gone right over my head. Either that or I simply wasn’t paying attention.
In my more lucid moments I remember our generation as the product of post-WWII unity. And why not? In those trying war years our nation had come together, if only superficially, to fight a common enemy and defeat that era’s Anti-Christ.
This generation of ours was shaped and tempered by that wartime experience, when everyone, at every age, was expected to do their part in the “war effort.” Grade schoolers, such as we were at the time, were expected to save tin foil and metal cans, add our few coins to War Bond collections, and willingly forgo bubble gum and candy for “the duration.” Without knowing exactly what it meant we were being groomed to accept and support a “united” national effort.
At the same time, in our youthful and naive eyes, that unity was producing a powerful affirmation……a sense that “We can do anything.”
But now……seventy years later……it feels like that affirmation has faded for too many of our people. Something as simple as civil discourse is too often out of reach. At times it seems that we are inhabiting an altogether different world …..one that I scarcely recognize.
In many ways that new reality is fueled by the internet, with its often unsocial social media, and twenty-four hour cable news, always hungry for eye-catching content. Those technological “improvements” have changed the way we gather the information we use to make decisions.
Perhaps you have noticed that in the process we have become a drastically divided country. I realize that to some degree it has always been that way. But when was it ever this bad……when even our divisions are divided? Right and Left we are divided. Conservation and Liberal we are divided. White and Black we are divided. ’Haves’ and ‘Have-nots’ we are divided.
How could a nation as united as I once believed we were become so disjointed? Was the perceived unity I remember a mirage? More to the point, is there any way out of the quicksand quagmire we find ourselves in today?
Fact is, we can offer a serious problem for most any taste. Just take a moment to consider the signs of the time……the more obvious ways our nation’s dysfunction has made itself known.
One of the most intractable of those divisions is the widening gulf between our country’s ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots.’ Is there anything in sight that might reverse that trend? I am one of those who believe that until the ‘Have-nots,’ who make up the vast majority of our nation’s population, are provided a more meaningful place at the table their increasingly vocal complaints will stand in the way of a lasting reconciliation.
On the other hand, if a ‘Have vs Have-not’ debate fails to gain your attention you might consider Climate Change as major-league point of social division.
I have never put much faith in prophecies, the ones claiming to foretell the future. But it seems that any seer worth his or her salt could have predicted that 2020 would be an apocalyptic disaster for mankind………at least the American branch of the species. Given that magic gift of foresight why couldn’t an adept fortune teller have gazed into his or her crystal ball to warn us of a Tropical Storm season on steroids, or how the dry and windy western half of our country was about to spawn such disastrous fires and destruction.
For those of us who cannot foretell the future the question is……how did we get to this distressing place? Have we failed to appreciate the fragile balance that allows our world’s eco-system to operate in a “human friendly” manner ………or have we consciously allowed the ‘gods of profit’ to drive their destructive, “unfriendly” agenda? In either case, why have we allowed this global destruction to happen?
In our little corner of the world 2020 will be remembered as the year the Oregon Cascades, and especially the Santiam River Canyon, turned to fire. Roma and I are rightfully thankful that our discomfort was limited to a darkened, orange-tinted mid-day overcast and days of low-hanging, ash-laden smoke.
Still, it is hard to find comfort in that when a mere twenty minutes from our front door dozens of unfortunate folks, including a few we know personally, have lost literally everything except the clothes on their back and the vehicle they used to escape the approaching inferno. It is hard not to feel a tinge of guilt about our unmerited good fortune.
Or perhaps your complaint de jour is the plague of ‘social, racially-fueled unrest’ that has gripped our nation. Without pointing fingers or placing blame I fear that sad reality is destined to impact American society in ways we may scarcely comprehend. No matter how I approach our sad dilemma I keep returning to one unrelenting question. What about the world our grandchildren will inherit?
More to the point, how will the gradual demise of the country’s white majority……the demographic condition that some assume was God’s intended plan……impact that future? It seems that trend, so threatening to so many, is unlikely to be reversed. And if it is not, will ‘social unrest’ remain a permanent feature of American life?
Yet, be it economic disparity, mankind’s impact on global climate, or social and racial unrest the epic problems we face have at least a couple elements in common. Each of them is deeply ingrained in American culture. There will be no "On/Off" switches, no quick fixes. Beyond that, at least for the immediate future, each of those obstacles will be impacted in its own way by the weighty presence of Covid-19.
With that in mind it seems to me that until our nation…..its leaders, its politicians, and its people…….is able to come together, and more importantly “work together,” the answers we seek will remain out of reach. Truth to tell, that “coming together,” which we have managed to accomplish in times past, will not happen all by itself. It will require a special sort of leadership.
The status quo, circa 2020, cries out for that leadership……the sort that can help stop the bleeding, acknowledge our failings, and turn us toward the slow and tedious process of reconciliation.
From the beginning Obama struck me as one who could be that leader. Sadly, I fear that he was simply too black for many of our people to accept in that role.
On the other hand, as a “unifier” Trump will never get out of the gate. Actually, it is a role he has no interest in playing. “Bringing people together,” seeking a middle ground, is far down his list of priorities, a list that appears to be headed by “Winning at any cost.” Instead, he revels in Napoleonic posses, wanting us to believe the epic grandeur he sees in his own mind.
At this moment in history I happen to believe that Biden understands and believes in the “coming together” we need so badly. But I do wonder if he can muster the dynamic charisma it will take to bring today’s young voters into the fold.
So many of those youngsters have been raised on “Not winning is the same as losing.” The notion of ‘compromise,’ instead of ‘domination' might be a hard sale with many of them……at least until they, like the rest of us……have spent more time paying the high price of everyone doing their own thing.
To summarize……Economic inequity……climate change……social and racial unrest……Covid-19.
Together they will play key roles in framing the coming decade and beyond. In the hands of leaders we have yet to choose these important elements will help shape the outcomes we have yet to create. Here’s hoping we choose wisely.