Like many my age, I grew up riding the American rocket ship to a better life. We were better educated than our parents, part of an ever-expanding, increasingly prosperous, white Protestant middle class, on our way to a life of easy comfort and opportunity. Land of the free. Home of the brave.
But it wasn’t true for everyone… I’m so aware that it was my truth but not always a shared truth for my black, Asian, Jewish, and female classmates. I was self-involved and unaware obstacles in their way. I didn’t understand that so many of my generation were not finding a seat on the rocket ship.
Nevertheless, for those of us growing up in the middle of the last century, the American myth was alive and well. We believed that “all men (and women) were created equal” even though our eyes told us it wasn’t true. We believed that if we worked hard our effort would be recognized and rewarded. We believed America was a meritocracy, that those who worked hardest were the fittest and would survive and prosper. We paid lip-service to the myth that skin color, religion, and ethnicity didn’t matter if we worked hard and followed the rules. Of course, we were white and middle class, and we thought the American myth was the American truth.
So, when did it change? It wasn’t sudden. It was over time. I remember where I was when John F. Kennedy was murdered. I remember watching it happen. JFK… then, in over a decade it was Martin Luther King, Jr., RFK, and 58,000 Americans in Vietnam. The myth was losing its grip. Next came Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – a succession of dishonest, weak, corrupt, and gullible leaders with a Congress more interested in its own re-election than the welfare of the people it was elected to serve.
75 years ago, American’s watched their own Greatest Generation defeat German and Japanese fascism. 45 years later, a new generation helped bring down the Berlin Wall and defeat Soviet Communism. But by then there were fractures in the American façade, and in 2016 there was enough disappointment, disillusionment, and frustration in the heartland of America that Donald Trump was able to eke out an Electoral College victory to become president of the United States. In November of 2016 America fell to its nadir, and a greedy, corrupt, unfit, draft-evading narcissist took over as Commander in Chief.
I was dejected and disappointed too, but my disappointment focused on the electorate and the degradation of the American system, and the failure of its promise and institutions. Voter participation in the 2016 election was 58%. We don’t deserve better if we don’t honor our responsibility as voters.
Over the last 50 years, America has stood by as its educational system was gutted and its children cheated. Voters chose to cut school funding and failed to give teachers the respect and standard of living they deserve. Corporate executives were rewarded with obscene compensation packages and the government ignored the greedy criminal practices of pharmaceutical companies. Consumer finance protections were withdrawn, and banking regulations put in place following the 2008 financial collapse repealed or watered down.
Mr. Trump and his “advisors” have undermined the international trade and military alliances that supported the post WWII world order. As Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, says in his 2018 book, it is A World in Disarray. America has lost its way and needs new leadership.
We are at a crossroads. Will new leadership emerge? There are currently 20 Democrats vying to replace Donald Trump in 2020. Cable news is breathless in its coverage and eager to find a viable challenger. The candidates are trying desperately to distinguish themselves. Health care, climate change, gun control, education, consumer finance. Which of these issues will carry weight with the voters? In the end, it will boil down to the nominee they think will be able to beat Trump. Nothing else matters.
Will it happen? Conventional wisdom tells us when the economy is good, unemployment is low, and there are no major military involvements the incumbent has a huge advantage. So, despite the corruption, fecklessness, and incompetence for the Trump administration it will be an uphill battle to Dump Trump.
After all, as he told us yesterday, “I just feel like a young man. I’m so young. I can’t believe it. I’m the youngest man. I am a young, vibrant man.” What about the bone spurs, Donald? You can’t ride the rocket ship if you can’t get your shoes on, and it looks like Chairman Kim agrees that your “very big” rocket is fizzling.