Sunday, September 30, 2012

Admitting the truth isn't admitting defeat.

I was born in 1960, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States. In November of that same year, when I was just a little over 4 months old, John F. Kennedy was elected president, and three years later, almost to the date of his election, he was shot dead by an assassin's bullet. I remember that day. I was only 3 years old, but I remember my father (who was a Republican and not a Kennedy fan), rushing in through the garage entrance of our home where I sat playing in the living room floor with my doll, and shouting to my mother to turn on the television, that the president had just been shot. I remember my parents' grief , for although they didn't like Kennedy as a president, they still had respect for the fact that he was the president and that he had been elected by due process and by the voice of the American People. They respected the office and what it represented, and any man (women were not yet so ambitious or liberated to try yet), who could get elected to the office, deserved at least the respect that it commanded.

People like my parents were what made America great. They both came from lower working-class families with limited financial resources. They both finished their basic education and got married on June 1, 1952 the day after my mother graduated from high school. Dad spent 2 years at the University of Tulsa, in pre-med and served for two years in the Naval Reserves as a medic on a destroyer (all of this during the Korean conflict). After his two years at TU, dad was accepted into both medical school at The University of Oklahoma and veterinary school at what was then, Oklahoma A&M, but by the time he finished veterinary school, was Oklahoma State University. They worked hard getting dad through school, mother working as a secretary in one of the departments at the university, and dad working as a taxi driver. They were poor students, but they never described themselves as "struggling". Fortunately for them, they weren't saddled with mounds of student loan debt, for then, paying for college was possible by getting good scholarships and working while going to school. Our country had not yet become corporatized and our state schools, while still relatively expensive, were still reasonably cost-efficient. Soon after dad graduated, they bought a practice in northwestern Oklahoma, in a little town called Cherokee. I was born there, three years later.

I grew up in the tumultuous and tragic decade of the 60s and came of age in the late 1970s. I don't remember a day until I was about 12 years old that the news wasn't plastered with images and footage of the Vietnam war. The generation just ahead of me was emaciated because of it. I remember the war protests, hippies, flower children, The Beatles, the campus riots, the massacre at Kent State, the civil rights movement,  the Charlie Manson murders, and all the fear and confusion the era brought with it. I remember the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and later of Bobby Kennedy, and I was mesmerized while watching his funeral on television and impressed with the fact that they sang Handel's The Halleluia Chorus from Messiah. I sat in front of my television set in awe and wonder as Neil Armstrong set foot, for the first time, on the moon. I worried and fretted with the rest of the nation as the crew of Apollo 13 narrowly escaped death on their ill-fated moon mission, and I cried in fear and confusion as I watched Nixon board an Air Force One helicopter for the last time, in shame and defeat over the Watergate Scandal.

I grew up believing that America was the greatest country in the world, and that feeling wasn't due to some false, overblown sense of nationalism, it was there because at that time in our history, despite our failings, and despite our growing pains, we actually were the greatest nation in the world. We led the world in the economy, education, technology, exports, telecommunications, science, math, space exploration, and in freedom and democracy. People from all over the world flocked to this country for its standard of living and because here, even a poor person had the opportunity to make something of their life. But somewhere between Nixon and Reagan, that all began to change. Somewhere in the 1980s our values began to change when the "Greed-is-Good" Wall Street values of profit over people began to take hold of us and our soul began to be sucked out of us. Racism has reared its ugly head once more, women are finding themselves fighting again for rights they thought they had securely won decades ago, among developed nations we rank 27th in education and our imports far outnumber our exports. Our manufacturing jobs have been shipped off to China, our children are committing suicide in record numbers, the war on drugs has failed, we've been at war in the Middle East for over 10 years now, and people are mortgaging their entire futures when they get sick. We blame the poor, the elderly, the sick, homosexuals, Latinos, African Americans, and women for all of our ills, and 47 percent of our nation is written off by a wealthy presidential candidate as too lazy and dependent on the government to have the desire to make anything of their lives. Pardon the expression, but WTF?

Are we still the greatest country in the world? Hell no, we're not! Are we too far gone to return to the abundance and greatness that we once enjoyed? Again, hell no! We can, once again, be the bastion of freedom and idealism, though far from perfect, that we once were. America has two black eyes right now, but we can heal from those and become the beacon of hope that we once were, if we can return to the ideals engraved on Liberty's tablet: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, the hopeless tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door."
It is my hope that we wake up and work towards achieving the ideals that our forefathers had for this country, and that this great experiment in democracy will be the success that they envisioned.

The following is a clip from the opening scene of the pilot episode of the HBO series, The Newsroom.


2 comments :

  1. Wow. Just wow. You should submit this to the Newspress Nettl. I got chill bumps. Wow.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, I just might do that. :)

    ReplyDelete