(Originally published in May 2021)
As I have cited elsewhere in this blog, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:
A government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it … Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a republic; and to inspire it ought to be the principal business of education …
One of the more frustrating things about being “old” in this day and age (the only day and age in which I have been old, so my non-scientific sample of one may be skewed) is that anyone under the age of 50 is likely to think I have nothing of any relevance to share because, after all, I do not know what phubbing, Hundo P, JOMO, and Perf mean, nor (until today) had I ever heard of Noah Schnapp or Millie Bobby Brown, so how could I possibly be woke? Before I write another word and get too salty (for some salt, see: You’re Poking the Wrong Guy), I will take a deep breath …
I am endlessly frustrated by the ignorance of basic civics and common decency exhibited in the media every day by some in government who are our ostensible leaders, individuals elected by fellow Americans with an even more deficient understanding of the values and processes that supposedly underpin our republic than the buffoons they have elected, which brings to mind one of my favorite quotes, an H. L. Mencken contribution first printed in the Baltimore Evening Sun on July 26, 1920:
As democracy is perfected, the office (of the Presidency) represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
We white, suburban, Boomer Boys were among the first victims of the power of TV, and we spent a great deal of our Saturdays in the Fifties at matinees. The former presented white American fathers who were paragons: Ward Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver), Jim Anderson (Father Knows Best), Dr. Alex Stone (The Donna Reed Show), Steve Douglas (My Three Sons), and even Oswald George Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet). Saturday matinees presented films with white, male heroes that unabashedly modeled the tenets of honor.
As I entered the Sixties, I was so brainwashed that I assumed my abusive, angry and distant father was a very rare aberration because I believed America was the land of millions of honorable, heroic men we could depend upon to keep us safe, men who would provide the role models and mentoring that would help me and my peers become men and fathers who were the antithesis of my own. As the decade dawned, and on the eve of the Presidential Election that would resurrect Camelot, I was a twelve-year-old with an unquestioned love for my country.
Then, in 1963, the ten years began that obliterated my innocence and my unconditional love of our republic.
In the suburbs of America, the events of the decade that are relevant to this post were, for the most part, seen through the eyes and minds of TV journalists, and the event that in and of itself destroyed my belief in American Exceptionalism exploded onto our TV from November 22 through November 25, 1963. It is ironic that I considered JFK to be the epitome of an American man given the dishonorable life he lived behind the intentional screen of media neglect, but in my mind, he was the quintessence of the heroic, and when he was killed, I was awakened to an America that had been, until that moment, inconceivable to me.
In the following ten years, we were brutalized by the assassinations of MLK Jr. and RFK, and by what were then called race riots: urban conflagrations that destroyed neighborhoods, lives, and laid bare our delusions about all Americans being treated equally. The unending, graphic reports from Viet Nam, the lies about the war being spread by LBJ and his men, the friends who had been killed or wounded there, and the justified revolt of the young against that ungodly war created a suffocating cloud that destroyed all that remained of my sense of American Righteousness. The catastrophe of the Democratic National Convention and the ascendency of our until then most evil President seemed inevitable happenings for a diseased republic, with Watergate and our defeat in Viet Nam being the nails that closed the coffin on the possibility of America ever being a paragon “city upon a hill.”
In retrospect, the arrival of Archie Bunker in 1971 (All in the Family) was inevitable and marked the beginning of decades during which American fathers were sometimes portrayed on sitcoms as significantly flawed: Al Bundy (Married… with Children), George Jefferson (The Jeffersons), and Homer Simpson (The Simpsons) come to mind. It is yet another great irony that an iconic TV father —”America’s Father“— was portrayed by an actor who proved to be an evil fool in his actual life.
If you have perused the previous (now 110) posts on this blog, you have encountered many posts that bemoan the failures of my generation, and it has occurred to me that our collective failure may be linked to the unquestioned revelation of the myth of American Exceptionalism that occurred in the ten years that began in 1963. The revelation that we were a nation of ill-behaved (and worse) citizens led by dishonorable men may have destroyed whatever had remained of the notion of honor: adherence to a code that describes righteous behavior.
As we passed through the Seventies, we Boomers eschewed what was honorable and became what Tom Wolfe characterized as the Me Generation. We aspired to self-realization and self-fulfillment to which we ascribed higher importance than social responsibility, which led to omnipresent, dysfunctional cynicism, and business schools that continue to feed the belief that The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits and to hell with the common good.
Sigh … or is that the death rattle of American Exceptionalism that I hear?
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(Featured image is a “school photo” of me around 1960; the photographer is unknown)