I am hardly the first to recognize that these are interesting times. Especially for people born after 1969. For Xers, Z’s and Millennials, everything seems to be falling apart, civilization crumbling all around us as we deal with the issues of racism, white supremacy, homelessness, poverty, violence and hatred. Oh, and a global pandemic.
It would be easy to blame a president or a party for all of this, but it’s been bubbling under the hood for as long as I have been on this earth. Like McCarthy and Communism, Trump and his henchmen simply gave a voice and legitimacy to divisions that have been part of this country for generations.
I could go way back to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes to start. Or talk about the Ku Klux Klan in its heyday, who got away with murder, literally. There have been countless politicians before that espoused hatred for minorities. Just look for the video of George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama preventing two black students from entering. And he was Governor at the time.
Then there’s the march on Selma and a sheriff’s use of a private police force armed with clubs wrapped in barbed wire and attack dogs, to rain hate and violence on unarmed men and women who were peacefully marching for their right to vote.
We could look at Mayor Daly in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, ordering his police to beat demonstrators or the hatred that drove men to assassinate the likes of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X.
Or the time we took away the Olympic medals of two athletes who put on black gloves and raised their hands in a fist as the National Anthem was played. And the false rage over Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in protest of the same flag that was used to beat a police officer at the insurrection at the Capitol Jan. 6.
We could go on. The assassination of Jack Kennedy, the anti-war movement that took a president down, the lies and coverup that caused another president to resign instead of face the disgrace of a certain impeachment and conviction. And, of course, the Oklahoma City bombing, one of our more recent cases of domestic terrorism and 9/11, which shook us all to the very core.
As I look at how little things have changed in our world, I think of a couple songs that were done in the early 1960s.
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Change a few names of the politicians, and you pretty much have the same white supremacy you see today, except this was in the 1960s when making fun of it was the most powerful way to remove its power and keep in in the margins where at least, people kept their own feelings to themselves and didn’t try to storm the nation’s Capitol because their leader told them to.
A Merry Little Minuet is hauntingly familiar as well, given that many of the problems The Kingston Trio sings about are still problems today (it was written in 1949, BTW). And, of course, there’s the John Birch Society. Change commies to socialists, snowflakes or any other term you want to use for the other side and you have today’s divided politics and nation.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have social media these days. Rather than following along with the bouncing ball of moment-to-moment existence – entirely without context or the weight of the passage of time – we would instead patiently wait for the likes of a Walter Chronkite or Huntley and Brinkley or to tell us what happened, why we should care and what it means to us as Americans.
But no, we’re left to our own devices these days. The media is more splintered than it used to be (I will cover that and freedom of speech in the next RobZerrvation), so people just suck up what their favorite news channel says and spew it back out with a Tweet or a meme. Sadly, social media is becoming the main source of news these days, and with its popularity comes a bunch of snake oil salesmen with sinister agendas, convincing people there are plots and conspiracies everywhere. A pizza joint the epicenter of an evil cabol? Spare me.
I’m hardly naive enough to try to tell you that everything is sunshine and lollipops. This country has some historically significant problems. My only point here is that history will show us its weight and how it fits into the timeline of our nation and this great experiment we call democracy.
The endless social media posts and Chicken Little warnings that the sky is falling is akin to the Breaking News breaks I see every morning on the news. A big red Breaking News comes on the screen. You hold your breath, at least I do, for in my life that meant an assassination, an invasion, or a 7.0+ earthquake somewhere. Instead, it’s just a boring car accident, one where nobody was killed, no one was stealing the car or running from the police. Someone was just not paying attention, probably trying to post a conspiracy on Facebook as they tried to round a curve. That is not breaking news, folks.
So, as we move forward with a new four years with another new president (my 12th now), let’s quit hanging on so tight to the world as it turns. History has been marching on for a really long time now. It was chugging along before we came to be. It will keep going on long after. Every single thing isn’t the end of the world. It can’t be. Even a giant asteroid didn’t manage to accomplish that. Though I will make the case that it would be a time when “Breaking News” would actually make sense.
North of the Emerald City, month 10 of my lockdown of a pandemic I didn’t even bring up this time (damn, just did),