If you reach the end of a year and you haven’t learned or noticed anything new, you’re in trouble. As a lifetime student of the democratic process, and living now in the hardest economic period that I’ve ever seen, I’ve noticed and learned some things in 2011 that both encourage and depress me. Here are a few of them:
1) Historically, we Americans have always been an optimistic people with faith in the future. That seems to be less true today than in any other period in my lifetime. The polls show us that. We’re not supposed to be that way. Most of us need to buck up a bit and buckle down on digging out of this hole we’re in.
2) Too many of us seem to think that our path to a better future lies in reverting to the past – in many cases to a past that none of us really lived through and view through a filter of ignorance and political lies about history. This was not a better country before unions came along. In fact, it was a better country when unions were stronger. This was not a better country before the income tax or before Social Security. This was not a better country before ordinary people had the means to get medical care. This was not a better country when only a handful of us could go to college to put up with left-wing professors challenging our parents’ value systems. College, whatever its failings, taught us how to sort out all that.
3) Some things were better in the past. We were better off when we forced kids in school to learn or flunk rather than just pushing them through regardless of what they didn’t learn. We were better off when we weren’t producing so many out-of-wedlock babies, when the family was stronger. We were better off before widespread drug use. We were better off before the poverty-stricken nations of the world began to industrialize and compete with us so vigorously. We no longer have to eat everything on our plates because people are starving in China, although too many of us do that anyway. We just weren’t ready for any of that.
4) I haven’t belonged to a political party in 30 years or so. The left wing of the Democratic Party got so wacko then that I couldn’t be part of the same crowd. Both parties are different as we enter 2012. The old Democratic Party coalition of urban left-wingers, blue-collar workers and Bible-thumping, hard-core racist rural southerners is no more. The southerners and many of the blue-collar people are now Republicans, and the moderate Republicans of the suburbs are now independents or Democrats. Independents like me, the fastest-growing segment of the population, can go either way in a general election. Ultimately, we tend to go with whichever candidate seems the least stupid and/or crazy.
5) This would be a better country if more people knew its real history. The lying politicians don’t help with this. Not long ago, Newt Gingrich, who holds a doctorate in history, falsely claimed that the U. S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision “ruled that slavery extended to the whole country.” It did not. The Dred Scott ruling stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery in new territories, but it stopped short of applying the ruling to all states. Blacks had been free, voting citizens in five of the original 13 states. Gingrich also claimed that President Lincoln “explicitly instructed his administration to not enforce Dred Scott.” By the time Lincoln had assumed office, about a half dozen southern states already had seceded, and the Civil War broke out about five weeks later. Lincoln never told anybody in his administration to ignore Dred Scott. Instead, he told everybody to take cover.
6) Politics was uniquely nasty in this country during the 1800s, but it’s nastier now than I recall it being during the 1900s. These days, fewer and fewer people – ordinary people, not just the lying politicians – seem able to conduct a political conversation on its merits. Instead, they attack anybody who expresses an idea or view with which they disagree as an evil person. You see that in blog comments on every Web site. The non-thinkers don’t muster data to refute arguments they dislike; instead, they call those ideas and the people who hold them vile names. That’s precisely the sort of thinking found in terrorists – people who believe that the rightness of their cause makes anybody who doesn’t see the world precisely as they do an evil person. And that evil, of course, makes it okay to say or do virtually anything to them. Many right-wingers are like that. So are some left-wingers, but there are fewer of them to begin with.
7) Anybody who believes that everybody to the left of them is a liberal or anybody to their right is a Nazi is nobody with whom you should attempt to hold a serious conversation. They just aren’t up to it emotionally.