I am 56 years old. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. I know the 60s especially were a period of social upheaval and change, but it was a period of people coming together more. Labor unions organized to get workers decent wages, healthcare, and a stable retirement. We invested in public schools. We were wowed by and respected science and scholarship. We started talking about conservation and protecting the environment. We accepted that it cost money to do those things. We looked to the future with excitement and anticipation, but today, we seem to be in a rush to go backwards as far and fast as possible. We fear everything, and demand absolute security, and think it can be found in some nostalgic past.
America, through public and private cooperation and investment built an unrivaled infrastructure. We became the country that invented the things of a new and exciting world, and we built those things. The workers who did the building mostly got a decent wage that allowed them to live a decent and comfortable life, plan for the future, and set a foundation that raised the next generation a little higher.
The government created Social Security and Medicare so the disabled and elderly could live out their lives with some stability and small comforts. We built public schools and public colleges and universities. Trade schools and community colleges were developed to help those who needed an interim step on the financial ladder. And we all realized we had to chip in to pay for those things. As Barney Frank once said, “Government is what we choose to do together.” We made mostly good choices.
We built the machinery and the forces to win World War II. We put men on the moon, sent people to the deepest reaches of the seas, captured the power of the atom, and built (for better or worse) the internet. We laid the foundation to connect the world.
We weren’t perfect when it came to equality, but we were moving in the right direction. Schools, jobs and neighborhoods were integrated, and while there were still plenty of racists, they had to be mostly quiet about it, as there were consequences. The Civil Rights Law of 1964 codified much of that, and said that government offices and businesses open to the public had to serve everyone equally.
We saw the harm of chlorofluorocarbons, and developed alternatives. We realized the damage of coal mining and the burning of fossil fuels, and started developing alternative energy sources. We demanded that car manufacturers control emissions, and it worked.
Government protected people. It protected their rights to organize for better working conditions, and ensured those agreements were enforced. Government developed safety standards for work places, developed a system to protect those injured on the job, and implemented environmental laws to clean up and protect our environment, and those of us who live in it (that’s all of us). We developed a minimum wage so that, when, a person working full-time would have a reasonable standard of living.
Through government, we funded the arts, sciences, and medical research. We respected teachers, even if we didn’t pay them what they were worth, and valued the education we were offered. We strove, however imperfectly, to perfect the union. We celebrated great and thoughtful leaders, and scorned the scoundrels when they were caught.
Maybe, I, like others, look back with vision clouded by nostalgia, but unlike many today, I do not want a return to those earlier times. I know we were not always at our best in the times before today. As people and a nation, we didn’t always stand-up soon enough to wrong. We weren’t perfect, but the vision I have of the decades leading up to the late 20th and early 21st centuries is one where we were at least trying to perfect our country and the world. We were laying a foundation on which to continue to get better as a people.
It seems we have decided to rush backwards in time, even further back than those days, to a period of darkness not unlike the dark ages of Europe, the time from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 6th Century. It is, right or wrong, characterized as a period when belief in science was given over to myth and superstition. It was a period of religious corruption and persecution, a terrible economic time when there was a ruling class, a religious class, and everyone else who lived mostly in grinding poverty.