We Blew It All Up

“The Sixties were an aberration,” he told me.

We were sitting in his office. He was a fortyish school-district superintendent. I was a 23-year-old reporter.

It was 1982. He knew what he was talking about. I didn’t.

The Sixties were an aberration.

The Sixties were all I had known, barely, plus the Seventies. My life to date had been a time of progress: social progress, technical progress, creative progress. Things were far from perfect, of course, but things had a tendency to keep getting better. That was just how the world worked, the world I had known, the only world I had known.

Things just kept getting better. Until 1980. Until Reagan. Until things started getting worse.

The Sixties were an aberration. And now America was reverting to norm.

The fortyish superintendent, he had known the Sixties. He also had known the Fifties. He had known the Before. All I knew was the After.

But that was all he had known, the Fifties. He had known Ike, he had known McCarthy, he had known Brown v. Board, he had known Elvis. That was the Before. That was all the Before.

And for a time, I fell in line with that framing, that understanding of historical time, and not without reason. I was a child of the Seventies, and the Seventies were Happy Days, manufactured nostalgia for a childhood I had missed, the Tyranny of Simpler Times, the time before The Aberration.

I had grown up in the Sixties. People older than me had endured them. That was the difference. They had known a Before. My only world was an Aberration.

But the framing was incomplete. It took me many more years to understand this. The Sixties weren’t an aberration from the Fifties. They were an aberration from all of American history.

And the aberration is this: We say we were all created equal, but we never really believed it.

We still don’t. America has reverted to norm.

Some Americans, we’re supposed to say here. White Americans. But that is a redundancy. To say White Americans is to imply there are other kinds, which there are not, and never have been. LBJ famously predicted Democrats would lose the South when he signed the Civil Rights Act. He was wrong. His prediction was incomplete.

Democrats lost America.

I was five. The America created by LBJ’s signature, an America where all were truly created equal, was the aberration. I had grown up mistaking the illusion for reality. The illusion of America was the only world I had known, until 1980, until I was 21 and witnessed real America, White America, coming back with a vengeance.

My entire adult life. Before and After.

We blew it all up. We blew up the only America I had known, the one that had its problems, serious problems, mind you, but an America where we had acknowledged those problems and set ourselves to working on them. America was in Deep Shit — the Seventies were rough — but nothing we couldn’t handle with honesty and determination.

That was the illusion of my childhood, my world of Aberration America, thinking we could address problems with honesty and determination. Yeah, no. Fuck that. Let’s just lie to ourselves and call it solved. You got a problem, that’s your problem. Slavery ended a century ago. Colored water fountains are black-and-white photos. Everything’s fixed now, Michael Jackson is cool, and Welfare Queens just happen to be Black. Shut up and party.

We blew it all up. America reverted to norm, but with the pretense of the Aberration intact, that we were no longer racist because LBJ signed a piece of paper saying we weren’t.

We were. We are. We have been forever.

And we’re still lying to ourselves about it.

3 comments:

10:49 pm • Wednesday • July 24, 2019

But boy didn’t Mrs. Richard Zanuck look great on the back of that horse!

4:46 pm • Thursday • July 25, 2019

This is how I felt at the end of the 90s. We had a metric fuckton of problems; but things were incrementally getting better.

And then the Supreme Kangaroo Court stole the 2000 election and installed CaliguBush and his cronies to carry out the Afghanistan/Iraq disasters and the financial crisis.

I didn’t get to enjoy the Obama years thanks to working full-time, going to grad school, and digging out from the economic collapse, which didn’t really turn around until 2015 for me.

And then the despicable (s)Electoral College installed $hitler, the Greedy Old Psychopaths tore off the mask to show they’re the lying, moronic fascists we always knew they were, and the ongoing white supremacist terrorist attack that’s ensued has been an ordeal of psychological warfare.

I visited the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few weeks ago, and it really hit me hard how this country’s rulers have been a sickening force of cruelty and evil over the last four hundred years, and that our positive achievements in regards of human rights, civil rights, and economic equality (like the post-WWII creation of an affluent middle class) are the aberrations, rather than the norm.

This ties in with thoughts that I had but couldn’t clearly articulate about the 4th of July. How can one celebrate a country that hates you and works to destroy you? Why aren’t there mass resignations in places like the DOJ, FBI, DHS, etc over refusal to follow $hitler’s orders? How can that many people be such weak, anti-ethical, moral failures?

There’s no other country on Earth that’s built on such a quicksand of hypocrisy, lies, and willful failure to live up to our stated ideals. I seem to recall that an historian once said that the president’s real job was to manage all of our country’s insane contradictions. Talk about the banality of evil.

5:36 pm • Thursday • July 25, 2019

Idealists become the most bitter, disillusioned, and demoralized cynics, which is why it’s so painful to see our country failing in such a grotesque, spectacular fashion. Someone recently said that liberals won the culture war (feminism, marriage equality, racial diversity), while conservatives won the class war (billionaires, kleptocracy, middle class DOA), so everyone’s miserable.

The only way to stay sane in this deeply fucked up nation is to realize that it’s fucked, it’s always going to be fucked in our lifetimes thanks to racism, and that we have to celebrate the achievers, the resisters, and the best of us that refuse to allow themselves or others to be abused by our cruel rulers. There are many millions of everyday heroes in the past and present that have organized, mobilized, and rallied to make things slightly better and create a space where those of us that don’t fit into the white, male, hetero, Christian stereotype can survive and thrive. They deserve to be celebrated and honored, and they’re the brave Americans who me and my family will commemorate in the future.

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