When I was a little girl back in the ’60s, life was good. There was a sense — even among children as young as I was — that America was a good place: prosperous and powerful, but also with a large, healthy middle class, a strong public school system, an effective safety net and strong labor unions that kept the vast majority of people from falling into poverty, institutions that actually worked, and a sense that the President of the United States would always be a man of high moral character and compassion for others.
Community was important. Libraries, public schools, the post office, and the infrastructure in general were there to serve the greater good, and they did their job well. No one questioned their existence. It was unheard of for people to complain about having to pay taxes to support the community or to have nice things like public schools, fire departments, libraries, safe and well-kept roads, Social Security for the elderly, federal grants so kids could go to college, poverty-relief programs like Medicaid or food stamps, and national or state parks. The rich — of which there were only a few — weren’t that rich: in the 1950s, the wealthiest 1% paid 91% of their income in taxes (now they pay only 35% and that number is about to drop even more under the Trump tax plan). If anyone complained, you never heard about it. Everyone assumed that it was only fair the wealthy pay more in taxes, because the common good was seen as more important than the few wealthy being able to buy yet another mansion or yacht (or use their vast sums of money to influence politicians and buy votes).
Politicians and leaders were generally seen as trustworthy and benevolent. A few were not, but they hid it well (or were slapped down quickly) if they weren’t. If they broke the law (like Nixon with Watergate), there were consequences — and they apologized and gracefully stepped down. Most seemed to care about the average American. Both Democrats and Republicans seemed supportive of public institutions that helped everyday people and worked to build things instead of tear everything down. As the sixties turned into the seventies, measures began to be taken to clean up the environment, and formerly polluted rivers and cities began to heal themselves as new regulations were put into place that put people over profits. The EPA was established.
When something bad happened, you had faith that the President was someone who was able to comfort and identify with the people’s pain. You could rest assured that whether Democrat or Republican, the president was a person not only of high moral character but also of high empathy.
Where I lived in the New Jersey suburbs, I was pretty much sheltered from all the social changes until the very late sixties or early seventies. I heard about hippies on the evening news, but they seemed like some sort of fascinating exotic creatures to me, very far from my own sheltered childhood reality of homework, kickball, and Barbie dolls. The Vietnam War seemed like something happening on another planet, a terrible but abstract thing I never had to worry about.
I was too young to realize that women did not have many choices or that racial segregation was still being practiced, especially in the South. As the civil rights movement began to change society, all it meant for me was that my school became more integrated. Since I lived in an all-white part of town, having a few non-white students around made things more interesting. If there was any pushback, I wasn’t privy to it. Gradually, my grade school textbooks began to have photos of black and Hispanic kids in addition to the WASP-y looking people that populated the textbooks of my first and second grade years. In 1972, we sold our home to a black family, and I found out later the neighbors’ reaction was pretty negative, but we had already moved away by then so their reaction didn’t matter.
As the women’s movement came along and women began to chafe at their limited roles as housewives and mothers, there was a more negative effect on me personally. As a preteen, I needed my mother (or thought I did), and her suddenly leaving my dad and spending so much time away from home and embarking on a career made me feel, well, as if she no longer loved me. Of course, my mother’s narcissism — which was the real problem, not her feminism — has been written about here many times, but this post isn’t about that.
In spite of the problems ’70s-era feminism caused for me (or seemed to cause), as I got a little older I embraced it. The world seemed wide open with possibilities and choices. It was exciting to stand on the brink of adulthood and know I could be anything I wanted to be (things didn’t quite work out that way, but again, that’s another topic that has more to do with my individual background and poor choices). What’s important is that back then, the future seemed like a carnival of brilliant colors and endless possibilities.
In 2017, things are vastly different today than they were forty years ago. I don’t even feel like this is America anymore. We are a country under siege by a corrupt group of selfish, compassionless, greedy criminals and their financial donors who pull all the strings to funnel ever more money away from the rest of us and into their own pockets. They are actively trying to tear down the institutions that made us great and built a strong sense of community back in the postwar years. Everything that helps families and children is being gutted. Democracy is a thing of the past.
They are trying to legislate a repressive, authoritarian form of evangelical Christianity that would not only roll back hard-won rights and freedoms of women, minorities, and LGBTQ people, but also marginalize and punish those same people. It seems like what they really want is a return to the Gilded Age, only with an ISIS-like religious theocracy in place of the Constitution.
Incredibly, they are shoving their oppressive religion down everyone else’s throats and infiltrating the highest reaches of politics in the name of religious freedom. I’m afraid we are dangling on the precipice of becoming a totalitarian state which wouldn’t look too different from Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale. At the very least, we are on the brink of civil war between the Trump-emboldened far right Christian extremists and white supremacists and everyone who believes in liberty, justice and freedom for all. Violence is glorified and even after last week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, certain Republicans are actually blaming the victims of the shooting for not doing enough to defend themselves instead of placing the blame where it belongs: on the need for stricter gun laws. Talk about gaslighting!
If all that wasn’t bad enough, we are in real danger of being decimated by nuclear war. Our own government (aided by Russia) has declared war on us from within, but oh no, that’s not our only problem. Our president — a conman and pathological liar who would have already been in prison 40 years ago — is engaged in a schoolyard pissing contest with North Korea’s dictator, and is threatening and abusing us all by making veiled threats about nuclear annihilation on Twitter. I cannot trust this president to do the right thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure his intentions are malicious. I really do feel like our own president has declared war not only on the most vulnerable Americans, but also on those who still value decency and compassion and community.
It’s ironic to me that Trump is rolling back laws that require employers to cover contraception and women’s healthcare, since Trump’s America is not any place I would want to bring a child into. If I were of childbearing age, I’m pretty sure today I would choose not to have children. I worry about my own two kids, who are just starting their adult lives in this new, mean version of America, a collapsing empire now infested by unspeakable evils we couldn’t even imagine a few decades ago. I actually hope my kids remain childless until (and if) things get better.
This country that held so much promise as I entered adulthood has been gutted from within. All I can see is a dystopian nightmare future. I would never want to foist it on an innocent child. I feel very sorry for kids being born today. I don’t understand how anyone with a soul would want to have a child under this oppressive, toxic, uncaring, hateful, and dangerous regime. They will never know the same America that I knew.