The 1960's saw the dismantling of entrenched, institutionalized racism in this country- the Civil Rights Act ended segregationist policies, and the implementation of affirmative action policies to redress discriminatory practices. By executive order, the federal government did its best to end official tribalism and balkanization in this country. At the same time, the Space Race kicked into overdrive- in 1961, Kennedy made his moon speech, and in 1969 we acccomplished a manned moon mission. The official policy of the U.S. federal government was a rejection of primitivism, and the embrace of futurity- science, rationalism, and a sense of purpose ruled the national psyche. Of course, there was an ugly undercurrent- a backlash against the Civil Rights movement, political assassinations, a pointless war against an agrarian population on the other side of the world, but it looked as if things were going to get better, that a bright future lay ahead.
What the hell happened? In the 1970s, a crisis in the oil supply should have inspired the nation to apply the same can-do spirit to adopting alternative energy as it did to the Apollo program. The space program produced some remarkable successes, but our fascination with space exploration was eclipsed by our fascination with galactic fantasy. Of course, there were some people who were right about a need for long-range planning, but they were held to ridicule:
Yeah, Carter was right- he told the American people that belt-tightening was needed, and that a coherent policy involving research into renewable energy was needed... that sort of fag talk cost him the election, and Reagan began our major leap back into the past (tribalism and all).
Under Clinton's presidency, when oil prices plummeted, there was no effort made to improve fuel efficiency standards, and the automakers used the efficiency loopholes for trucks to usher in the era of the gas-guzzling SUV. Fuel taxes weren't even raised in this era of cheap oil. Yeah, we went along, without thought for the future, and burnt through our fossil fuel "startup capital" without thought for the coming transition. The trade agreements put into place under Clinton allowed U.S. corporations to bypass production, work, and environmental standards through outsourcing. Innovation was rejected, a victim to the profit motive. I have heard stories of IT professionals who were told that they were training staff in India to handle the boring and repetitious aspects of the job, so they could work on more esoteric tasks, but those tasks never materialized, layoffs occurred, and the remaining workers here are working longer hours for stagnant wages.
Bush junior merely doubled down on concessions to the fossil fuel industry while pursuing Operation Iraqi Liberation, and allowing his political allies to engage in tribalism once again. The real end-result of the Bush Maladministration was the wholesale mortgage of the future of American society. He transformed a once great, innovative nation into a banana republic with nukes.
I supported Barack Hussein Obama over Hilary Clinton mainly because I didn't want the presidential election to be a referendum on the Vietnam War era (like the abysmal 2004 election campaign). I also saw Barack Obama as the "nerd" candidate- the cerebral, cool headed policy wonk who was needed to clean up the messes of the last decade. Of course, the "post-racial" America of January 2009 descended into a morass of birtherism and 'baggerism, the tribalism that had been officially ended in the 1960s came back in proxy form, and open racism and the worst sort of "John Birch Society" paranoid style set the tone for the political discourse. My nerdy president has been preoccupied with bullshit, such as addressing the birth certificate false controversy, and allegations of being a communist, a caliphist, or a granny-killer.
Now, two and a third years after President Obama's inauguration, the country is still mired in bullshit- the distribution of wealth is similar to that of a third world nation, and our elected officials are trying to gut the social safety net and keeping the world safe for outdated technology- as Gene Wolfe would put it the technology of the Nineteenth Century brought into the Twenty-First and hard at work. Any attempts to reward companies for reducing the amount of pollution they produce are mischaracterized as punitive measures and fought tooth-and nail. Well-funded special interest groups are seeking to have pseudoscientific nonsense taught in our schools.
Yeah, we killed an evil man, but what the hell have we really accomplished otherwise? There was a time when we shot for the moon and succeeded, but have we grown so debased that shooting an evil old gargoyle living in a squalid compound is now considered a major triumph? To paraphrase Doctor Soberin in the amazing film noir Kiss Me Deadly: How civilized this earth used to be. But as the world becomes more primitive, its
NOTE: By nature, I'm not a pessimist, but I play a pretty convincing one on the internet. It's hard to be an optimist, however, when the species just can't get its shit together, and that a couple of hundred petty, bigoted, ignorant loons, representing a tiny minority of the world's population have such disproportionate power. The past forty years have been a series of missed opportunities, squandered resources, and manufactured crises. It's long past time the country grew the fuck up, and knuckled the fuck down.