America today is not the society of my youth (the 1950's) nor of my young adulthood (the 1970's). Those were times when people seemed to care about more than just themselves. In the 50's there were still so many who had fought in WWII and felt proud that this nation had saved the world from Nazism and Fascism. Though it took much struggle as that decade merged into the 1960's the majority of Americans decided to care about the injustices that this nation had imposed on citizens of color for the prior one hundred years. White Priests and Rabbis marched with black Pastors in the demonstrations for voting rights. And young white teenagers joined in the sit-ins at lunch counters and in voting registration drives. There was violence and blacks died but so did whites who supported equal rights. Ultimately what was just prevailed and our society became more open and more equitable.
What of today? A recent poll shows that since most Americans have some form of photo ID they support making every voter have photo ID even though they know it will discriminate against minorities, young people and elderly people. But if you have an ID evidently you don’t care.
And, what of our economy? People who have someone in the family collecting unemployment or out of work want to see the government create jobs and do the kinds of things that FDR did in the thirties. But the majority seems to support drifting along hoping it will get no worse for them and seeing no need for government programs to help others. It would appear that unlike the 1960's & 70's when Americans declared war on poverty today the majority wants to declare war on the poor.
Look at the issues of women’s reproductive freedoms - of access to abortion and contraception. Many of those who oppose access do support it - for themselves. Those who for religious or personal reasons oppose such processes oppose access for anyone. Again, the needs of Me take precedence over the needs of others.
Even neighborliness has taken a hit. In the days of yore if someone went into the hospital neighbors would offer to cut the grass. Today those neighbors call the local government and demand that the hospitalized resident be given a ticket for high grass. Of course we all want to see our properties kept tidy and clean but neighbors could pitch in and help those who for health reasons can’t take care of the property themselves. Not today - because it seems they only care about the impact upon their own property.
Somewhere in the past three decades our society changed. From a nation and a people who prided themselves on helping others we became a ME society. Even in our politics where once political candidates ran as teams now we see again and again candidates worrying only about themselves and their chances of getting elected - one of the reasons today's winners often can’t govern.
We were once a society that believed that education was the best thing we could give our young people. So we created the best public schools and opened our colleges and universities to all regardless of income levels. Now in state after state those who can prefer private for profit education are reducing aid to public schools; and as college loans become unbearably expensive those same people advocate cutting access to loans. Our society seems to be headed back to education for those who can afford it, rather than education for all, and our society cannot afford that shortsighted attitude. But those who can afford education and those who don’t see the value of it don’t seem to care.
We believed that 'no man was an island unto himself'. Today isolationism as far as the rest of world goes is again on the upsurge. Not the isolationism fathered by the drawn-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that we fought for too long, but an isolationism that even rejects economic help to those who need it or economic sanctions as a non violent way of helping others gain their freedoms.
Americans may negotiate treaties like the Law of the Seas and put forth ideas like an International Criminal Court but those agreements languish in the U. S. Senate with little popular support because like in the 1920's (the last great ME decade) it seems no one cares.
History of public policy often goes in cycles. If that holds true than the generation of my grandchildren who are growing up in the first decades of the 21st century may look back upon all we tried to do in the middle of the 20th century and say “We can do that and we will do that better.” They may recognize the value of justice for all, of economic opportunity for everyone and a world at peace based on installing principles throughout the globe. I certainly hope they will. I hope they will be a generation that cares about all the people in the land just as their grandparents cared about them.
14 June 2012