Those of us who are old enough remember the old optimistic Ronald Reagan campaign ads, “It’s Morning In America”. The mood was optimistic and the future was bright, we had this “can do” attitude. America was going to be the shining city on the hill, a gleaming example for the world to emulate. The US had, after all, done many remarkable things- rebuilding western Europe after WW II, building the Interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam, putting men on the moon, and taking care of its senior citizens. It was a nation where a man could walk out of high school right into a factory and sign up for a job with good pay and health care benefits, and stay there long enough to collect a retirement check with benefits. In times of inflation, you could count on your union negotiating a raise on your behalf to deal with it. The average man could support a family on one paycheck and still send the kids off to college when the time came. Teachers, civil servants, and union members weren’t the enemy- they were our friends and neighbors, the ones who bought the cars and the appliances that kept a lot of people working. Government wasn’t thought of as the enemy and taxes were the cover charge for living in a civilized society. We may have disagreed on issues but we all could agree on what the facts were, delivered to us by sources with journalistic standards and ethics and subject to scrupulous source-checking.
All of that is over now. The Morning In America is gone, the sun has set. It’s night time now, and getting darker by the minute. The last US manned space launch for the foreseeable future is next month, those of us who remember the first moon landing will not live to see another. There will be no more great public works, no new Mt Rushmores to leave to future generations, no new TVA, no successor to the Interstate system. States reject federal money for high speed rail because its success might make a Democratic president look good and because it would be seen as a government success. Half of the country cheered loudly when Chicago lost its bid to host the Olympics, national pride and sense of community has taken a back seat to partisan politics. Government is The Enemy and every nickel in taxes is seen as theft. Two income families struggle to make ends meet and they watch helplessly as their homes plummet in value, while fuel prices skyrocket and they are forced into endless wage and benefit concessions. Unions are vilified as corporately-owned politicians vote to strip workers of their right to organize. The elite use their limitless power of propaganda to create an alternate reality, where proven science like global warming can be dismissed simply because it doesn’t make for profitability. History can and is altered to meet the political expediency of the moment or simply to disguise the ignorance of a favored politician. The societal safety net is being gutted at state levels wherever the Republican majorities have the will, the nerve, and the numbers, and the sights are now set on the federal safety net.
The courageous voices that said “Yes, we can” are being drowned out by the catcalls of “Hell no, you can’t.” We can no longer send men into space, pay our teachers a living wage, pay for health care for the elderly, live up to our obligations to previous generations, maintain our infrastructure, or create new inspiring monuments. Environmental and worker protections are under full assault. Abortion rights are in severe danger, what’s next? The return of Jim Crow? Child labor? Indentured servitude? The poll tax? One shudders to think of what could be next because the further the right wing plunges into the depths, the more apparent that there is no bottom. Night time in America is here. The next morning may never come.
© 2011 Robert Kelley