When, like me, our octogenarian and still older folks were kids back in the nineteen twenties and thirties, most Republicans were still sensible people who meshed with the common life of our communities. Of course, there were already a few nut cases, heads-in-cloud evangelicals, rich folks overcome with greed or the imagined superiority of wealth, and ideologues of simple reaction like Ayn Rand, with hard line Communists to the left of Populist laborites in conflict with tough business leaders, armed with whole, establishment-loyal police forces and gangs of hired thugs to break strikers’ heads. Not the greatest time to be alive, but few of us kids had much sense of it. We were into school, friends, comic books, radio and not yet much national news or culture. We kept up with news-reels on the Japanese war in China and Saturday cartoon shows.
Conservative politicians were in dialogue with Progressives. The two-party system still worked fairly well. There were ultra-wealthy folks and bought-out journalists in their service egging on conflict in Senate and House, but calm heads, the old hands, tended to prevail on the floors. People of opposite sides in Congress, after a few years, were personal friends who could shake on deals and work for the common good without going at each other’s throats. There was still something called mutual respect and not a canned performance of perfunctory, obligatory politeness. Movies were mostly still black & white, westerns, city dramas and steamy romances with an occasional science-fiction tale. The star system was already in force, the walls of our rooms had pin-ups and handsome portraits of actors, and the new cars and old airplanes we adored.
I cannot imagine how it would be to have been born in the 1990’s. It’s another world and a new humanity. Still, there are felt similarities. The rebellious kids we knew in the 1960’s are not so different from the young Occupy activists of today. Thank goodness, our young people are not all cowed-down into obedient conformity but are sapient, sensitive and whole-spirited enough to stand up, march and yell about what’s right or wrong in this country. It was a profound mistake of our “master class” not to have instituted universal draft to military or other national service. But it was an even worse mistake to have ended the G.I. Bill and federal financial support for education such as was granted to veterans after our earlier wars. The good accruing to the American people from that sensible aid was incalculably vast. Student debt now is a vile travesty.
Nothing but evil and national illness flows from the self-made master families today, lost from common life in Olympian Cloud-lands. They would own all and leave nothing but tokens to fake-up good appearance, a pretense that they give more than they take and do more good than harm. It is an ancient story, as readers of history know. Again and again, wealthy elites arise and subvert all commonweal to themselves, triggering misery, injustice and rebellion. Inevitably, they again grow precarious and fall down, replaced by a new generation of citizens who forget. The dog of time eats the hardly learned homework they fail to remember. Then the wolves descend on the sheep-fold. Blood splashes the walls and runs in the streets. Widows and orphans wail in alleys. Again, the dispossessed masters wonder how it happened; what caused all this rubble.