Nostalgia, most, if not all of us, experience it, whether only occasionally or as an almost constant underlying longing. A return to the “good old days” seems to me to be the theme of the Republican campaign for president. That message resonates with distinct groups of people, which isn’t altogether surprising during a time of economic uncertainty, high unemployment rates and an unpredictable future. For many, what they imagine lies ahead and/or the future is not what they expected. Certainly the current situation, not only in America, but around the world isn’t something most Americans have faced during their lifetimes. What is happening in America today echoes, quite closely, the Great Depression. That was a time that our parents, grandparents or even great grandparents lived through. Most of us know little or nothing in any great detail about that time.
As a self-confessed political junkie, and someone who thought I had received an excellent education, I have recently learned much more about The Gilded Age and The Great Depression that followed it than I had ever learned in the past. I’ve found that my education in this area was sorely lacking. My parents grew up during The Great Depression, both of whom were born in 1915. On the one hand, that seems like a very, very long time ago. On the other, in the history of just the civilized world and recorded history alone, it was not much more than a blink of the eye. Even so, life during that time for the majority of Americans is largely forgotten by people alive today. One of the stories I heard about recently both horrified and amazed me. You can read something of this story about The Bonus Army here: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/11/142224795/the-bonus-army-how-a-protest-led-to-the-gi-bill
I did grow up with a strong admiration for FDR, mostly imparted by my parents. At some point in the past I had learned of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and carried its memory with me. When the housing bubble burst (as I was certain it must, contrary to the opinions of experts) I told anyone who would listen that we needed another CCC. If you aren’t familiar with this initiative, which helped preserve and expand our National Parks System, build bridges, roads and dams, among other things, you can find more here: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1586.html Not only did this program build much of America’s infrastructure, but it provided income for thousands upon thousands of families in desperate need and a sense of purpose for those who were employed in the CCC.
But, I digress. My original point, and the title of this article, has to do with “the good old days.” To me, that simple, well known phrase sums up the difference between Republicans and Democrats in our current political climate. One party, the Republicans, wants to turn back the clock to a nostalgic, “rosy” point in time referred to as “the good old days.” They want to “take back America” and, in fact, take America back to another time. Of course, their framing elicits a feeling in many of a time when things were simpler, easier to understand, and when “they” were happy and relatively carefree. Those of us on the other side of the issues not only don’t want to go back but also realize that we can’t go back. That just isn’t how life or time works.
I grew up in the 1950s, considered by most in powerful positions as an idyllic time in American history. A large percentage of Americans were upwardly mobile, owning their first homes, making much more money than their parents ever dreamed of, and insuring that their children would do even better when they grew into adults. The problem, as I see it, is that the ones calling for a return to this ideal of America is that they & I were children and life was simpler. As children, the world should be a time of joy, few if no worries, and little or no fears. However, as children, most of us lived in a protective bubble, shielded by our parents from the harsh realities of the rest of the real world. What we didn’t know, contrary to the popular phrase, would and could hurt us. During the 1950s, just like today, there was racial and gender inequality, war, rape, pedophilia, incest, wife battering, and all of the other horrors we see happening around us today. And just like today there were unwed mothers – but they were hidden away and shunned by the rest of society; homosexuality also existed with the vast majority of gays and lesbians forced by the morays of the times to live closeted lives; and adults had sex outside of marriage, many times cheating on their spouses.
The world has always been like this, yet as children – if we were part of the fortunate group – we knew nothing of this. Our parents kept us shielded from the ugliness and horrors existing in the world but, as adults, we have no one to shield us any longer from the ugliness of human nature. The reality, however, is that we cannot “un-know” what we know. Those images won’t go away, no matter how hard we try. For those of you who love animals, think only of the photo of little Patrick, a young pit bull mix who was put into a trash bag and thrown down the garbage chute in a New Jersey apartment building. You can go here to see the photo of him when he was rescued (WARNING – this photo is of a graphic nature): http://www.ahscares.org/showarchive.asp?id=772 Looking at that photo, it’s hard to believe that he was still alive. Even harder to believe is that a human could do that to an innocent animal. (NOTE: Patrick is thriving due in large part to his great care at Garden State Veterinary Specialists in New Jersey)
My point is that there are no “good old days.” Throughout history most people lived in horrendous conditions, suffered greatly and died too young. According to the World Bank, as of 2008, over 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day. (You can find more statistics here: http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats#src1) The choice as I see it is whether or not you are willing to face the reality that is life and want to make the world a better place for everyone, or do you want to turn away and build a wall around your “world” and shut out everyone and everything else. It’s a choice between reality and denial. Which will you choose? For myself, I choose compassion, justice and fairness for all beings with whom we share this planet. My vote will go to those candidates who are most likely to make compassionate choices as well. Clearly, none of my choices will be for a Republican candidate.