Those of us old enough to make an accurate, recollected comparison of the character of our Nation, during the period 1940’s to that of the Nation in 2016, would find it challenging to discern the empirical identity. Not unlike the contrast, expressed by Charles Dickens, in the opening words of his classic novel, ”Tale of Two Cities,” [referring to 18th Century, Paris and London,] “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” For the purpose of conveying empirical authenticity, we have elected to recount such analogous theme, as recalled from the perspective of our personal life.
In a much earlier series of essays, we endeavored to portray our lives as young offspring of Eastern European immigrants in the 1940-50’s Brooklyn. We were also inclusive of other ambient immigrants likewise engaged in valiant attempts to learn a strange language, adjust to new folkways, and establish, the intended, safer, and better life, for themselves, and notably, for their future American children. We described the old brick apartment houses, the mix of exotic cooking smells, the streetlamps, the electric-powered trolley cars, the food stands and pushcarts, and the still extant, clip-clopping, horse-driven wagons. We especially highlighted those ardent efforts of rag-tag poor, insecure, survivors of European nightmarish oppression, poverty, and weekly pogroms, to convincingly morph into American citizens; at which they ultimately succeeded in nuanced and dedicated fashion. However, above and beyond the foregoing aspirations, their uniformly essential preoccupation, was to see their future children educated and materially successful.
As growing children, we sometimes overheard whispered Yiddish conversations, between our parents and others, about their arduous lives in the “old country” and, thus, early on, acquired feelings of gratitude and good fortune, at having been born a citizen of the United State.
During the war years, we listened to the regular, uplifting “Fireside Chats” delivered by a much admired and beloved President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and, despite our parents’ accented speech, began to identify ourselves as American citizens. Together with relatives who served in the military, we participated in the war effort; by, devoting many after-school periods to the search and collection of discarded rubber, metal, and electrical objects, in aid of the war effort. As bona- fide Americans, we proudly participated in the neighborhood block parties, celebrating America’s great victory and the end of the war. If there, conceivably, existed a positive feature of war, it would be the internal citizen unity confirmed in an innocent participant Nation.
During this first, of the two comparative periods, we noted the persistent love of Country, despite the divisive and troubling McCarthy hearings and the hellish, twenty-year, Viet Nam War. We observed that the the Nation, continued to demonstrate a universal respect for the Constitution, the Law, and American mainstream morality. Newspapers flourished and the media grew exponentially. As a general matter, respect for the government and for legal edict, abided. For children, media Superheroes were created, whose mission was the defense of justice, moral rectitude and loyalty to our exemplary, red, white, and blue Nation.
Unfortunately, however, the progress of Civil Rights, most especially race relations, continued to plague the Country [and most especially, the victims], but some progress, was being [slowly] made; a Federal Civil Rights Law was passed during the term of President Lyndon B. Johnson, notwithstanding which, unfortunately, despicably bigoted feelings seemed to persist among many atavistic citizens.
We would notably emphasize, that, during this era, aside from all other considerations, the traditional existence of the Democratic Republic was universally, assumed to be eternal and not subject to threat.
In succeeding decades, militant positions on hotly contested issues seemed to cause American society to become manifestly divisive. The issues included a woman’s right to abortion, gay rights, gun control, and the persistence of racial and gender inequality. As first-generation, Americans we innately favored equality of rights, [except for gun ownership], and voted and debated, accordingly. What we disappointingly observed, was that, rather than freely debating the issues in good fellowship, a great many citizens formed insular groups of identical opinion, overtly hostile to other like groups of differing views. This development was shocking to those of us who were schooled in the Nation’s freedom of speech; here, it bizarrely appeared to us, speech was not assaulted by autocratic leadership, as in the U.S.S.R. but by citizens.
Our second thematically contrasted era, [circa. 2016] seem to waste little time in evincing its contrasting, singular and bizarrely non-traditional, character; personified and catalyzed by the ignominious, incompetent, and shockingly immoral Presidency of Donald J. Trump. During the single four-year term of Trump, the Nation saw the disparagement of science, education, the media, especially newspapers, a dystopic and disgraceful attack on factual reality and knowledge, by Trump’s serial mendacity, his demonstrated disparagement of the moral standard of “truth,” in favor of a new “alternate reality”, his neurotic egocentrism, pitifully aggravated by his fundamental ignorance. Many thousands of citizens died because of his thoughtlessly ignorant dismissal of an epidemic watch entity [because it was created by Obama] and thereafter, his ignorant denial of the seriousness of Covid-9, which, to date, still ravages and kills a great many inhabitants of our planet.
Trump’s colossal ignorance, his disparagement of education, science, environmental concern, planetary warming, human advancement, mainstream morality, and his winking encouragement of bigoted and dangerous White Christian Supremacy groups, was loudly applauded by that portion of our population termed, “The Underbelly,” which played a material part in his election and his continuing support.
It appeared to us that a dark and ominous cloud had suddenly descended upon our lifetime worship of America, the last hope of the oppressed and the only safe shelter for the world’s vulnerable. But the worrisome and disappointing nature of our beloved America was to get even worse, following the loss of the Presidential Election by Trump after one term of office [ featuring two disgraceful impeachments].
Trump’s usual serial mendacity was exceeded by his refusal to publicly acknowledge his evident loss to Joseph Biden, asserting instead, his neurotic and unsupported, claim of fraudulent election; in unprecedented rejection of the historically, democratic, policy of peacefully stepping aside for the elected successor. Trump persists in this autocratic style, “Big Lie,” to date, despite the ratification of the election procedure and its ultimate count by several certified audit agencies.
Idealistically dedicated to truth, we were non-plussed, not only by the mendacity of the errant, former president, but in the further observation of Trump’s countless believers of his unsupported and disproven assertion. We were further confused by the plethora of paranoid conspiracy adherents, among his sycophantic cult, viz., government tracking mini-computers in Covid vaccine, rockets shot down to Earth from Outer Space by Israel, the suitability of veterinary horse wormer to avoid Covid, the bi-coastal, liberal conspiracies to traffic children for sex, and so many other delusional beliefs [in addition to the “Big Lie”], as to profoundly, disturb our early- installed, optimistic expectations of societal rationality.
We were devastated when the Trump “underbelly,” [notably, including America’s Christian White Supremacy Groups] saw fit to mount a violent and deadly insurrection against Washington’s Capitol Building. We have also read about threats, defamation, and physical violence, on the part of members of the large Trumpism underbelly, hatefully and illegally perpetrated against Members of Congress and School Boards, local Officials, and others, who maintain views perceived to be in opposition to theirs.
It is impossible, in meaningful words, to describe the reactive, subtle, and unconsciously motivated, chill of instantaneous, recollection, of the many horrific accounts, haltingly related by our immigrant parents of life under autocratic and fascist rule.
We simply must do better.