A short time ago, I wrote a letter to a new friend I haven’t met yet. It was an honest letter, by that I mean part of it wrote itself, seemingly without any help from me. When that happens, you know you’re writing from the gut, all pretense gone, innards laid bare. The topic of the “honest” part of the letter discussed our mutual concern for the future of the United States. My closing sentences read:
“Trouble is, we still have five kids and 7 grandchildren stuck up there, and they all think they have some kind of a future, some kind of workable “American Dream.” A future where you can be anything you want to be, rise to any height, as long as you are willing to work hard and persevere. I don’t know if that was ever true, but it’s certainly not true now. And frankly, my friend, not being able to pass that along to them is tearing me apart right now!”
I live in a small village in Mexico, hence the reference to “up there,” which would otherwise be confusing to the reader not familiar with my situation. Honest letters, more than some others, tend to linger in the mind of the writer (and sometimes in that of the reader as well), occasionally clicking some tumblers in a particular sequence, leading to a new or just different line of thought. I looked at the last sentence of my letter as it lay there, first wondering where it came from, then realizing it was true, the fact that my generation had failed in its obligation to the next, weighed quite heavily upon me, although I didn’t feel that it was necessarily all my fault.
I was born a couple of months before the official beginning of the “baby boomer” generation, and most of those I grew up with in my small town during the fifty’s were third-generation Americans, whose grandparents had struggled to secure a place in what they saw as a land of boundless opportunity. They worked hard and sacrificed to secure a future for their children, hoping, even in the depths of a grinding depression that they could give them a chance at a better life. And they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams!
When the baton was passed, these second-generation Americans fought a war, in fact a couple of them, and then, in-between building the highway system, ending segregation, and ending poverty in city centers and rural areas, they sent their best and brightest into the sciences and went to the moon! That last was truly our finest hour! While they were doing all of that, they were laying the foundation upon which their offspring could build yet a better future then that enjoyed by their parents. No wonder they’re referred to as the “greatest generation,” they were, in spite of stumbling into Vietnam. It was all downhill from there!
As a generation, we did OK at the start, protesting the Vietnam war our parents bought hook-line-and-sinker, on the flimsiest of evidence, a lie sold to them by the same administration that passed the most far-reaching civil rights and health care legislation in history. Sometime during the malaise of the middle-to-late seventies, our generation went to sleep, lulled by slow economic growth, high inflation and interest rates, and pesky, intermittent “energy crises.”
The 1980 election changed the country forever, and, I believe history will show that it was the beginning of the end for the land that preceding generations had turned over to us in pretty damn good shape.
Reagan’s “trickle-down, deluge-up economics,” resulted in the beginning of the largest upwards transfer of wealth in the history of the country. Wages stagnated while the new administration went about dismantling unions, investing in a huge defense build-up that further enriched the contractors who were the sole beneficiaries of the Vietnam war, increased the national deficit by a factor of three, and began the process of deregulation of banks and industries that would continue mostly unabated for the next twenty-eight years. This marked the beginning-of-the-end of the middle class in America, which had prospered under both Democratic and Republican administrations for most of the preceding thirty-five years.
We didn’t notice that, though, because by the beginning of Reagan’s second term, most of us were asleep – lulled by the seeming prosperity fostered by massive government spending on all types of military hardware. We slept through the first Bush administration, and his “war” in the gulf that laid the groundwork for the terrorist attacks in 2001. We slept through most of the Clinton administration as well, until he got caught with his pants down, and almost destroyed his administration. Of course, it was the Republicans investigating every little thing that happened, and a whole lot that didn’t, who were the cause of most of the problems, but we didn’t see that at the time.
We woke briefly after 9/11, just long enough to give Bush what he wanted, which, it turned out, was way more than we could afford. We watched while the Bushies ran roughshod over the Constitution, and then, as it turned out, over international law as well. Oh, it was quite a ride, alright, most of us didn’t notice what was happening to the middle class, in the midst of the biggest real estate bubble we ever saw.
Towards the end of the second Bush administration, some of us started actually noticing what was going on, and started looking for some alternatives to the regressive politics we had been exposed to for so long. We found this candidate who sure sounded like he was going to change everything, and right all the wrongs of the previous administration. So, in spite of his youth and inexperience, we threw ourselves behind his candidacy, some of us because we felt that this was the least we could do to atone for fucking up so badly for so long.
Well, our candidate won, and so far, nothing much has changed! Oh, you can try and blame the Republicans for obstructing everything, which they did, but the primary failure was one of leadership. What we had worked for was not even close to what we got!
So now, here we are, with the midterm elections just a couple of months away, and it looks as though the country is about to take a giant leap back to the regressive right. The Democrats have no one but themselves to blame! Between the White House and the Congress, they have allowed the near-dead Republican party to make a comeback that looks like it could result with them actually taking over control of one or both houses.
The Democrats have wasted an unprecedented opportunity, and we are all going to be the losers. Oh, I would like to blame the Tea Party, or Dick Armey, or Rush or Glen, or the christians, but the fact is, it was MY fault! Me and about a hundred-and-fifty-million other people who didn’t care enough about what was going on in Washington for too damn long, and now it’s too damn late! We richly deserve what we are about to receive, and the judgment of history, I’m afraid, is not going to be too kind to the last generation in America to do better then its predecessors.