When I was ten years old, the year 2024 seemed forever away. It was a time and place for Star Trek or Star Wars but not for someone relatively normal like me. (I am sticking to the idea that I was a relatively normal kid no matter what anyone from my childhood says.)
While I’m going to assume that there was some part of me that knew outer space would not yet be populated with Americans going warp speed somewhere else, there was also a part of me that never imagined America would become a different country – one in which I find myself wondering as I write these columns whether anyone with a gun will come for me because of them. If that was the America I grew up in, I didn’t know it.
I am aware that I grew up as a white child in a mostly white community and that made my experience very, very different from anyone with skin darker than the olive skin of a southern Italian. So while there were clearly people with a good reason to be paranoid about being hunted down, that wasn’t my experience. My experience was JFK being the first Catholic elected to the White House and the jubilation of the adults in my life about that. My experience was a Miss America contest in which every contestant looked like me, as least as far as skin color went. The prejudice my grandparents experienced when they arrived from the Old Country was gone by the time I was old enough to understand what that meant.
And now, here we are in 2024 and as I look around my country I am, quite frankly, dismayed. Is this truly the best my generation could do? Is this truly the best my generation could leave to the next? And why, why, oh lord, is a country of over 332 million people unable to come up with two better candidates for president than two old white men who should be rocking and watching the sunset with their respective spouses, not running for office.
America used to think of itself as a beacon for the world. We brought democracy out of the closet and into the open. We made it THE form of government everyone should work towards. And then we seem to have taken a turn downward and forgotten much of what we once stood for.
I find myself wondering just how bad it has to be in those countries in central and south America that refugees are willing to risk their lives to come here – where we will shoot you if we don’t like the jelly you bought for our sandwich. Guns, not the bald eagle, have become the symbol of America. Last year, more children were killed by guns than cars.
Growing up, we had unions that protected workers and allowed the middle class to not only grow and expand but actually make America a very rich country. And then along came Jimmy Hoffa, the Mob and Ronald Reagan’s trickle down economics. Anyone feeling the trickle yet?
Suddenly unions had bad names. They were destroying America’s manufacturing system. As unions got bad reputations, their numbers dropped, the heads of companies became obscenely rich and the middle class simply started to disappear. My father put three kids through college with one income. Try that today.
Despite the way Biden and Trump are trying to make it look, our generation is fading. Peace, love and pot apparently didn’t change the world for the better and we seemingly had no backup plan. We are leaving an America that is divided along hate lines. We no longer simply disagree about politics. We hate the people and politicians who do not speak our truth. Civility and dignity went the way of the fedora. The gap between right and left seems unbridgeable. And maybe it is.
I don’t know what the answer is to fixing what is broken. The Supreme Court can’t even fix itself and we used to look to them for the most judicious and proper answers. We can’t do that anymore.
We seem to be leaving this country in such a mess. I really thought we’d do better.