Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture? What Happened To My Country?

I was raised in America in the Fifties and Sixties and believe me when I tell you that it was not a perfect place full of blessed people living together in peace and harmony. There were problems, and there was bullshit aplenty, and don't forget all of the injustice going on, and there were wars too, one pretty stupid and the other just a little less so. But . . .

There was a lot to it that was really, really wonderful, in retrospect.

Income inequality was rather low. The rich were certainly rich, and they were happy, but they paid their fair share of taxes. There was a large, healthy middle-class, fueled by labor unions, fair labor practices, and a sensible tax code. Other than the a fore alluded to problems, society was somewhat more civilized. Don't laugh! Professionals like accountants and lawyers knew that there were limits to unethical personal interest and acted accordingly. Students had fist fights, but did not shoot each other. Doctors generally acted responsibly and didn't worry about being sued. Politicians, many of whom I hated, restrained themselves both in their campaigns and in their corruption, and sometimes they actually cooperated with each other for the good of the country. National media responsibly reported the news, and I'm talking about all of the major TV outlets and thousands of honest newspapers. Privacy was important, and citizens could travel at will unimpaired, and communicate freely without fear of being overheard.

Let's not bring homosexuals into this limited discussion. They're situation was not great then, and it is not great now. I wish them luck.

The point is, problems were being addressed, and there was reason to believe that society was making progress, and that maybe our children, or our children's children, would reach the promise land.

But now! All of a sudden it is all uncivilized, all the time. Everyone is working harder, for less money, with fewer or no benefits, because of deregulation and the crushing of the unions. There's more money around, because of the huge leap in the productivity of workers over the last thirty years, but all of the benefit of it has gone to the top two percent of the rich because of a weird new tax code. No one's retirement is secure; no one's health care is secure. Professionals prostitute themselves to the rich in the hopes that some of the money will fall on them, and fall it does, and ethics be damned. News reporting is a joke, TV is full of time wasting rumor mongering and sensationalistic star stroking, the newspapers that remain are choking on their own bile, in their death throws, and the internet is a mixed blessing, where people can pick and chose among outlets that will tell them what they already believe to be true. Politicians avail themselves of any teat that presents itself, with no thought to the public welfare, and fight zero-sum battles with their opponents where there is no compromise and no thought to their constituents.

Raise the black flag! It's every man for himself.

The sad part for me arises from the fact that I teach American Legal Institutions, LW 420, at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, which covers American government, the court system, some of the features of the Common Law, with reference to some aspects of American society. I have to keep it relatively uncomplicated, my students have a limited command of English. So per force I teach the Disney version of America. I teach them how it's suppose to be, how we always hoped that it would be.

So I teach them that when America was founded, we modified the English laws to protect the have-nots from the haves. Explaining that these laws have recently been evolving to favor the haves over the have-nots is beyond the scope of my class. That's the way America is going, since the Reagan era. This is a blog, not a scholarly essay, and I don't have the time or the energy for details.

And I always describe Americans are generally tolerant and cooperative people, which I believe is true, although not, perhaps, to the extent that I describe. I think that Americans are generally a live-and-let-live kind of folks, but as I follow events these days I am forced to wonder where all of this hate comes from today, hatred of Liberals, who did so much to make us happy, hatred of homosexuals, who don't hurt anybody after all, hatred of progressives, as though returning to some pre-New-Deal Dickensian horrorshow would be a good thing, hatred of Democrats, who have, on balance, been closer to the real values of America since the World War I era, and performed better in office, hatred of Blacks, who have done so much to make America livable and never asked for much, hatred of immigrants, which in America is a weird kind of self-hatred, the list goes on. Irrational, teeth-gnashing hatred.

I don't allude to these things in my class, preferring to keep everything light. The America of my class is a wonderful thing, it is the America of my dreams. It just serves to remind me of what we are missing. Too bad, really. It would be a nice place to live in.


Anonymous said...

You have read too much Walt Disney and, not enough George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, at least 2 who saw it all coming. Read 1984 describes today perfectly.

fred c said...

You're right, of course. I have read those fellows, "1984" more than once, and you're right.

I remember when Orwell was considered a quaint fatalist, and the John Birch Society's ideas were viewed as outsider kookery, even by conservatives. Now Orwell is a visionary, and the Birchers are mainstream. Oy! Vey ist mir!!