The Long Walk Down

January 6, 2010 at 12:21 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

In a distant future, when some historian writes “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire,” I believe it will be noted that the United States made it to the summit of civilization, took a look, and then mysteriously and deliberately turned-around and walked back down the mountain.

Reaching the summit had been neither easy nor sinless. Along the way, America stole its land by slaughtering the native inhabitants of the continent. For the sake of business, we enslaved the Africans, exploited the Chinese, and put children to work in our factories. To expand the empire, our armies murdered Cubans, Filipinos, and Arabs. And notwithstanding high-minded aspirations of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution we still denied full equal rights to women, minorities, and gays.

Yet somehow the terrible trials and errors only strengthened our resolve. In the aftermath of the Great Depression & World War II we were sorry for our past bad behavior. We knew better and we determined to eradicate the causes of human misery. America stood as the richest, most powerful, most enlightened nation that had ever existed. Our leaders pledged to use that wealth to eradicate the hunger and poverty that brought war, disease, and crime. Our power would be used to stand against oppressors and bullies around the world. Our enlightened attitudes would assure the civil rights of our own citizens and those of peoples around the world.

In the mid-to-late 1970’s, after decades of fairly steady progress, with poverty & illiteracy falling, minorities & women finally getting a place at the banquet table, wages rising, and no involvement in war…we reached an apex never seen before by any nation. And then, somehow souring on the whole idea of progress, we set-out to walk back down.

Why? I don’t know, do you? And I think historians looking back will be equally perplexed. The Ford/Carter era had its share of tumultuous events but none so disillusioning that we should have given ourselves back over to our “dark-side.” Here’s some of highlights of the lowlights:

  • The Watergate scandal showed our government’s system of checks and balances, and the media fourth-estate, all functioned very well. Voters responded by electing one of the most intelligent, compassionate, and level-headed Presidents in our history.
  • American troops left South Vietnam after over 11 years in a war we should have never been in. Instead of celebrating coming to our senses, it was looked upon as a defeat. As comedian George Carlin remarked, “…we just haven’t felt good about ourselves since.”
  • The second “Energy Crisis” in 6 years caused some Americans to endure lines at the gas station. Citizens were encouraged to turn down the thermostats on their furnaces and put on sweaters. Cars got somewhat smaller to improve their fuel mileage. None of this entailed huge sacrifices.
  • Employees of the American Embassy in Iran were taken hostage by extremists and held for over a year. In spite of provocation, no war resulted and they were eventually freed through negotiation. The U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan; the U.S. response was to boycott the summer Olympics being held in Moscow. This angered many American hot-heads who itched to send someone else’s kids into harm’s way to kick some ass.
  • Inflation, unemployment, and interest rates all rose into the double-digits. But even at the time it was obvious that this was caused mostly by the rising price of oil. A little patience showed it all ebbed after Carter-initiated oil deregulation took hold about a year later.
  • The Federal Budget deficits rose but that was nothing new.

Events like the above evidently caused Americans to become panicky, fearful, impatient, and irritated. They didn’t want to hear about negotiation, human rights, conserving oil, or budget constraints. They didn’t want a President who counseled that our nation had become blinded by “self-indulgence and consumption.” They didn’t want to hear any more people complain about wanting to be treated with respect and fairness. They wanted simple, decisive, butt-kicking action like they saw in the movies, so a second-rate movie actor-turned-politician was picked to fill the role as President.

Since then we’ve rarely broken stride on our way back down:  Tossing aside the womens’ Equal Rights Amendment, breaking the unions, declaring ketchup a vegetable in school lunches, ever-increasing military spending, shipping-away our jobs, rising poverty rates, preemptive attack of other nations, torture of prisoners, decreasing life expectancies…and that’s just some of the highlights of the lowlights.

Finally, by last fall a majority of Americans re-gained either their sanity or their voices and declared “enough!” They voted overwhelmingly for the candidate who claimed he would change our direction and start back up to the summit. It hasn’t happened yet.

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