A Search for this “America” We Seem to Have Lost

or: I’ll trade you civil liberties circa 1980, for the right to beat your wife circa 1920

or: If Glenn Beck were a decade, which one would he be?

For almost a year now, and even further back possibly, I have been fascinated with politics and punditry. I have become a self-proclaimed politico and I follow politics and media pretty closely, as closely as my tenuous hold on sanity will allow. In following politics my liberal mind has always been perplexed by the conservative party line of ‘returning to traditional American values’ and trying to recapture the ‘lost spirit of what it is to be an American’. In recent months it as been the loud ram’s horn call of Glenn Beck, and his ever growing audacity matched only by his ever growing audience, that has caused me to pontificate further on this subject. For the past few weeks this idea of lost values and traditional American fundamentals has led me to research where we might have gone wrong. Is there a specific time and place, a particular era that the GOP and other right-leaning hard-liners would want us to return to? If I can put my finger on the ethos that these guiding principles existed in, can we get back there? I delve in to this quagmire of American history to try and find “Glenn’s America”, so that he and others can stop preaching in general broad strokes and say, “we need to get back to what we believed in 19XX (or 18XX as it may be).”

When examining the general party ideas of what I understand to be the GOP’s fundamental idealogical structure I take my understanding from some 25 years on this planet, though you can’t count the first 16. I think that until you turn 17 and start trying to find yourself and begin to shape your views and identity in preparation for voting and contributing to society you are more of a blank slate in terms of personal free thought; up until this point you do not question a source but only try to fit in to the general parameters of ‘normal’ life as to not rock the boat and interfere with the indoctrination that American public schools instill in our youth. My true views have been shaped in my most recent years and as such I have adopted a view of the world quite different from my parents’, a direct result of informing myself for the first time in my life. In my home growing up as a small boy liberal leaders and democratic ideals warranted venom and crass, lewd criticism. The views I set forth will be of my own creation, independent of those I was raised on, either despite or in spite of them, I cannot tell. A crazy person isn’t crazy if he knows he’s crazy. Indeed.

The GOP seems to feel that gays should not marry, and are sinful. This makes no sense to me as sinful is a religious idea, not a political one; though it seems one position is quite often the result of the other. Gun rights should be protected at all costs to personal safety and public responsibility. Abortion is a no-no, ‘nuff said. They want smaller government, tax cuts, reform to let states decide things, though not gay marriage rights or any of the other items I just mentioned. They are for fiscal responsibility. GOP feels that a free market should regulate itself, again smaller government. They claim to fight for the middle class but public programs and universal anything is bad, that’s more government. They hate the environment as far as I can tell. Campaign finance reform (yeah right), education in America (no child left behind has gone so well after all). Prayer in school is ok, capital punishment and the death penalty are pretty much thumbs up, and the Ten Commandments should be at the steps of a courthouse flying the confederate flag. I am pretty close on this, right? So, basically it is a small government that has an abridged copy of the constitution, a cliff’s notes of the Bill of Rights, and a bible as it’s guiding principles. Hmmm, ok.

So, in American history, where can we find this utopia we strive for every day? This shangri-la we lost so long ago would obviously be the one saving grace for this country of godless sodomites. If we could only return to this point in time then everything would be fine. As far as I can tell it is the GOP that can save us if you believe the rhetoric. The liberals and the liberal media have scattered us across the nation and we are divided along partisan lines and are all doomed unless we jump on the Republican band wagon like some lifeboat after the Titanic sank. This is what self proclaimed “libertarian” Glenn Beck would like you to believe. I will give him credit for criticizing the government as a whole, even in the Bush days, though not in such inflammatory terms, but in reality he is like a Liber-publican. So, let’s take a step, Glenn, in to the way back machine and start a search for the time in American history you would like us to return to, as well as all of the Republican nay-sayers.

I want to start by saying that I am skipping the nineties completely being that he wasn’t happy with Clinton either, and it is far too close to the 21st century and the liberal progress this country has made; there is no way anyone wants to get back to how we were in the nineties, not even me and I loved my teen years in the nineties. And I am going to come back to the eighties later, they were too soon as well, but I will look at them briefly. We are sending our way back machine to a time when I think this country went bat-shit crazy and we were in maybe the most turmoil as a nation than anyone today can recall. I want to start out in the era that good old Glenn was born in, and that many of our current figure heads today, that make our decisions, can remember very ‘fondly’…the sixties.

Well I start here, in this decade of utter unrest by trying to illustrate that this can’t possibly be the America Glenn wants back. This cannot be the period in American history we want to recapture. This was a time that the late Strom Thurman must have hated with more zeal than any other period in history. It is hard to decide where to start. The sixties started out innocent enough, Kennedy beat Nixon and became the President, what followed was the Bay of Pigs incident, rumors about Marilyn, the meager beginning of Vietnam, the cuban missile crisis, then the man is assassinated. Further Vietnam BS, Malcolm X is killed, the Compton Cafeteria Riots in San Fran, then Nixon and all his Vietnam BS and his ‘secret plan to end the war’, the massive inflation crisis, MLK Jr. is killed, Bobby Kennedy is killed, the Stonewall riots of ’69, oh and a little thing who was named Manson did some killing. Great decade.

The sixties were a time of massive riots in the black and gay communities. Civil rights on all fronts tore the fabric of this country apart from women liberation, blacks, gays, even the Chicano revolution in this country. Outside of that was the acid wave of the sixties, a complete change in television, film, art, and especially music. The counterculture as it came to be known galvanized this country after the death of JFK, I think. The nice, homely manners of the 50’s were gone in a big way and now came very free thinkers, revolutionaries, protests exploded, demonstrations, inflation choked the middle class as they tried to compete with the changes in the landscape. The sixties were an ugly, hate-filled time, the emerging civil rights movement after the death of JFK was really the catalyst for it all. There is no way we want to return to the sixties as a country. America was in a violent turmoil and unsure of it’s identity and where the road we were on was going to lead us and people were strung out or scared for their lives, or both. I don’t think Glenn wants that back, so let’s move on.

How about we take a step forward and find Glenn in the seventies as a small boy, maybe these are the innocent and moral times he wants back…but I doubt it. Well in the seventies music really got good including the first ‘rap’ song, movies got weird, TV got lewd, and the country just got fucked up worse. This country started watching shows like All In The Family and the Brady bunch, dealing with some of the issues of the day. Vietnam choked the first few years while a little thing called Watergate slipped by the news press during Nixon’s re-election campaign and then killed him by ’74. It was the most embarrassing and shocking scandal in American political history, which in my opinion was the death of politics. I think that Nixon and his escalation of the doomed Vietnam war and his scandal killed the American political system. Outside of the US revolution was abundant across the world. Woodstock was a shining beacon of what drugs and music and mud can do for young people, a complete change from how we started the decade on the campus of Kent State where the National Guard gunned down peaceful protestors of the war on a college campus; unthinkable today, one would hope. The draft was the height of outrage, an unbelievable moment when Ali fought the draft and Elvis went in. Protest and anti-war sentiment was as widespread in this country as pant legs were flared. The Cold War ramped up a bit and this country got really scared, really fast. Our involvement in a few revolutions and military coupes as well as an assassination or two was a continuation of poor foreign affairs decisions. The middle east started down the road to where we are today with Israel, Egypt, Syria, the Soviet Union, and Afghanistan, all starting to kick each others asses.

The seventies brought women’s rights to the forefront as the sixties had civil rights for minorities eclipsing women’s rights to some extent. Vietnam ended finally, well our involvement, leaving the North to just wait for us to leave and drop Saigon to it’s knees and claim the country unified again. A sad end to a war we should have not been in and an end that was mostly our fault. Oh and lest I forget the massive recession we were in mixed with oil crises a couple of times resulting in rationing and further middle class stresses that included a very high unemployment rate. Then of course there was Jonestown, about 900 dead there. Idi Amin started his tyrannical, violent rule of Uganda as well. Is this the era we should return to? Hatred, war, violence, and tragedy pock marked this era. The seventies hold within their years scandal, racism, and fear-mongering, of the most epic scale one can imagine. There is no way we want to return to the moral or political views of this era. The seventies were the time for change for sure, but it came at great expense on the heels of a decade of radical change and upheaval. The 70’s continued the massive crime rate spikes that the sixties brought and the country still sat on the edge of it’s seat every day as nothing seemed to get better. Surely we don’t want the seventies back.

Ok, the eighties might be better, the days of Reagan and Bush, this might be the most likely time we want to return to. The eighties would be the most formidable years of Beck’s life; the decade of excess. The eighties brought the yuppie, and with it, all the coke, parties, and BMW’s we could handle. We saw great multinational growth and wall street was glamorous, they were kings then, still total scum, but they had better PR people then. Of course Reagan declared a War on Drugs, the Cold War raged to a massive scale. Sure, communism fell apart as did the Berlin Wall, but we saw the further mishandling of the middle east that is the source of our problems and involvement there today, can’t argue with that. Reagan put a major black eye on his presidency with the discovery of the Iran-Contra debacle that Oliver North was the mastermind behind. This country saw massive economic growth against the backdrop of very complicated and protracted battles all over the world including Asia, the middle east, central and south america, and ever Ireland with ‘the troubles’ brewing. (Only badass Irish would call a modern, religious civil war ‘the troubles’, an understatement to say the least)

The eighties, I think were a time of thinking that we could not be beaten, being the short attention span of Americans forgetting the seventies. We were coked out of our minds, living beyond our means, and we were kicking Commie ass. But the eighties, world wide, were complicated, painful growth, some democratic, but on the whole we saw massive famine and destruction abroad as the industrialized countries were making head way. The middle class of nations was being evaporated as the gap between rich and poor nations grew drastically. Domestic issues were tough though, as it seemed we were trying to use our power for good as a people with things like LiveAid and becoming more aware of issues in Africa and other countries, the eighties saw the rise of the religious right. They really got fired up on the gay issue and the discovery of AIDS, ‘the gay plague’. This country grew in many way, a decent decade I guess, I don’t really remember much of it but it seemed like a lot of people were having a lot of fun, safer fun.

Glenn probably liked the eighties, he used to be a liberal and an alcoholic, he draws a fine parallel between the two in a Katie Couric interview you should look up on YouTube, and this might have been his favorite time. Old enough to enjoy and understand it, he probably had a great time. Conservatives in power, strides made internationally, excess and money everywhere. The eighties were a wild party time, a decade that seemed to be a release of the past twenty years of hard work, growing pains, and controversial conflict. The 60’s and 70’s were going to lead inevitably to a time when we finally just cut loose and took a deep breath after so much bloodshed, upheaval, and serious talk. It was the decade we all remembered fondly on VH1. Music was weird, movies were great, TV was filled with classics we all watched, and standup comedians were making it big; the country was having a good laugh, a bump, and some beer. Not too bad.

I discount the nineties entirely so let’s jump back to a more general era I don’t think we can reasonably go back to, the 50’s to the 30’s. This was another era of massive wars, depression, civil rights injustice, bigotry, no women’s liberation, industrialization, organized crime, et al. These were times when blacks were openly hung from gallows, women were expected to be barefoot and pregnant in front of the stove, except when they were making tanks for the troops overseas for next to nothing wages. A time where minorities were rightfully scared at night of police or white boys out for a joyride. The prohibition, crime in the streets, Bonnie and Clyde, the Tommy gun, the B.A.R., saloons, speakeasy’s, and rampant bank robberies and crooked cops on the beat. This was a different time for this country and I don’t think we can agree with many of the ideals that were held to in this time and apply it today, the role of women alone is too much inequality to bare, let alone the rest.

OK, let’s take a big jump to my favorite era, the old west. You know the times, I’m talking post manifest destiny, pre-FBI. A time of no gun laws, showdowns in the streets, legal prostitutes, and riding in to town on a horse. Tombstone, San Francisco, Indian and cowboys. A time where gold was rushing and crazy white drunks ran amok and contracted TB and polio. Yes, when there were still a few Indians around, you had ranchers with thousands of acres, cattle drives, train robberies, and the men of storied legend lived and died by Winchester, Colt, and Smith&Wesson. I like to think I lived in the times with a town sheriff, shitty beer, floozies, and general martial law over most of the country. A time where you could shoot a man in the street in broad daylight in front of 50 people, and they might actually clap and then go about their day. The good times.

I think this might not be far enough back though. When I hear Glenn speak, he talks about the founding father’s principles. The true foundation of the country as he sees it with the men who earned America through blood, sweat, and tears. Jefferson’s America. OK, well let’s first examine the fact that we are talking late 1700’s and early 1800’s. These are pre-electric, pre-phone times. We are talking Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, plantations, etc. If this is the time Glenn thinks we need to get back to I want to highlight a couple of things. First off, slavery was alive and well…need I say more? Secondly, this country treated women like shit, there were no civil rights, and it was unindustrialized. This country was populated and run by rich, white land owners, and then there was everybody else. I don’t want anyone to romanticize this era. This country was created, founded, and declared on the bodies of millions of natives and the death and suffering of minority races of people removed from their homes and treated worse than dogs in the time period.

America has never been truly righteous. We revolted for selfish reasons, nothing simpler than that. We turned against the imperialism of the Queen and her rule and declared our independence; the worst “dear John” letter ever. Up to that point we had slaughtered, tricked, infected, raped, and pillaged our way to the Mississippi and thought very highly of white skin and could kill a black man for any reason at any time, or sell them, whatever struck our fancy. What I am about to say is going to piss off the right, but if I could meet George Washington I think I would take the opportunity to shake his hand and then slap the wooden teeth out of his head. These were racist white bigots with an knack for the written word and hard on for ‘freedom’ by their definition as it applied to them as an emerging nation of first class citizens at the top of the shit pile. All due respect, but their ideas and principles were fundamentally offensive and their beliefs of equality were for themselves and those they agreed with. How many minorities or women were running around enjoying their freedom of speech or right to bare arms…or even read? I rest my case.

So maybe Glenn does have a time in mind. Maybe he wants the scandalous, violent 70’s, or the civil unrest and inequality of the 60’s. The old west certainly had smaller/non-existent national government, and the 40’s sure were good times to be a gangster, Nixon would have done well, that’s for sure. The eighties surely had the best coke, and some unprecedented growth, outside of post-industrialized America (without all of these pesky labor laws we got). Maybe he wants the great depression era, maybe to live amongst the greatest generation, or rub elbows with white men who raped their slaves on their plantation as a matter of principle and patriotism. The history of America is short, embarrassing, and seemingly without a lesson learned throughout. Glenn, I dare you and your constituents to point out that shining beacon in American history that is so much better than now, ‘cause I must have missed it. All those moments have led up to now, and I’ll be damned if where we are isn’t a hell of a lot better than where we were; you can pry this progress from my cold dead hands, pal.

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