Saturday, July 15, 2017

Deja Vu in the Liberal Mode

As you get older, it's hard to not live in the past.
The thing is, you have so much more past than you did when you were in your 20's, and you see things happening which seem to be repeating what you've already seen once.

I keep trying to search out the new, but the old has this insistent way of reasserting itself, of rising up like a stain through a new coat of paint. 

And there is wonderful, new stuff to be excited about. There are now ultrasound transducers which can be used with a smart phone to ultrasound a thyroid or a heart or a uterus, which make the stethoscope nearly obsolete and the old methods of poking and prodding during a physical exam antiquated.

Of course, one wonders whether some skills are lost along the way. I once could slip in an intravenous line into a vein in a patient in cardiac arrest, when the vessels in the arm constrict, but if you had done enough IV's, you could get a line into a nearly dead patient with your eyes closed at the end of a 36 hour shift--it was like tying your shoe laces. Now even vascular surgeons need a portable sonogram to start an IV. 

C'est la guerre. 

But reading the New York Times, the Washington Post, listening to NPR, watching the News Hour, all of which are peopled by folks who make no attempt to disguise their contempt and dismay over our current President, I find myself thinking about the cultural revolution of the 1960's, when things seemed to be coming apart, and it was said often, "The center cannot hold."

Joan Didion looked at the counter culture in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" and saw the obvious: walk around Haight Ashbury and you saw clueless twenty somethings, who had no competence, espousing incoherent incantations: "Turn on, tune in, Drop out." The brain dead were in ascendance.

On the other hand, look what they were reacting to:  There was George Wallace, segration now, segregation forever on the Right and one the Left,  Lyndon Johnson sending American boys to kill babies in Vietnam. There were Black revolutionaries like the Symbionese Liberation army who thought they were starting a revolution by robbing banks and there were armies of the Ku Klux Klan who thought they were saving White Protestant America by bombing Black churches and murdering children.

While all this was happening, the sands were shifting under the feet of the nation: The children of the 60's generation grew up no longer believing sex ought to be restricted to the marital bed, in fact, marriage has been largely abandoned as irrelevant by the underclasses--it's a luxury for the upper middle classes.  Racism is alive but not at all well; it's really on a respirator. Racist remarks in all but some segments or the lower classes are not tolerated even by White people. The idea of "career" has changed. Huge parts of the population now understand they will not be following their fathers into a factory or company for a 30 year career. Women now expect to work while they are raising their kids.  In the 1960's women were still mostly tasked with raising kids and men were not expected to contribute more than financial support. 

All that changed in the space of one generation. 

There were multiple forces forging this new Man and new Woman of the post WWII generation.  Hollywood, Playboy all played against the advent of effective oral contraception, which freed women from the fear of pregnancy from pre marital (or extra marital) sex.  Technology freed women to enjoy sex without fear.
The idea of the great white father, the God surrogate, father knows best, Ward Cleaver, dissolved.  Generations had looked to father to be the all knowing, wise being who knew better than you because he was older, wiser, more experienced. But old and experienced visibly did not mean wise when you had Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey and countless other White males telling you we needed to be killing babies in Vietnam.  
George Carlin, with his pony tail and insouciance blew that idea of respectability out of the water. 

Things had changed out there in the heartland, and in the cities, but the old guard who were still in official positions of power did not know it.

Listening to the former head of the New Hampshire Democratic power the other night, I had the same sense of hearing from someone living in thrall to past certainties. She told us the best way to resist is to do the same old things we have done for decades--neighbors talking to neighbors, canvassing. But even in a small town like Hampton, New Hampshire, you might know the neighbors in ten homes on your street, but go a half mile away and you are a stranger at the door. You might as well be from Montana, or, Heaven Forbid, Massachusetts.

The ground shifted from under the feet of the Democratic Party last November and our political leaders, our establishment, the people with the experience, have not understood that. Nor have the journalists I love so: Judy Woodruff, Mark Shields, even David Brooks, who is no longer even pretending to be the voice of the Republican viewpoint are all reduced to clucking and shaking their heads and words like "unprecedented" and "shocking" and "immoral" cascade from their mouths. They react much as the older generation did when viewing scenes of naked or semi naked hippies frolicking in the mud at Woodstock, or flashing peace signs at Haight Ashbury, "Oh, my, my. They are so ill behaved."

Here is the generation which changed the cultural norms of the nation, which rejected the ossified strictures of past thinking, now ossifying itself.

We do have problems with figuring out what to do with immigrants in Europe who flood out of Syria and Afghanistan, unprepared for the liberal societies they find in Germany and Scandinavia. France has been unable to figure out how to assimilate African Muslims. Britain has not faced up to the conflicts which the wave of Muslims now living in the UK brought. It's not racist or Right Wing to acknowledge these are real problems. 

A transgender boy to girl with testicles dangling, stripping naked in the girls' locker room of a public high school presents a problem. It's not reactionary to see that.

The displacement of the under-educated class of coal miners, factory workers in the Rust Belt from their jobs as business has gone global is not just their problem, it's our problem.

Fighting endless war whether in Afghanistan or Africa or Iraq is a failure of intellect and courage on the part of our political leaders. We have to admit, much as we loved him, Obama failed to extricate us from Afghanistan.

The power of Wall Street bankers, of rating agencies like Moody's and others and their failure which became the problem of the American taxpayer without any CEO paying the price of imprisonment is a failure of political leadership: Again, much as I love President Obama, he was too determined to be non confrontational in that instance. 

The success of the Koch brothers in defeating efforts to bring solar power and wind power on line in a massive way undermines our energy independence and our national security and this has been largely ignored by Democratic political leaders.

So, we have to wake up, or we'll be looking not at four years of struggle but of a two term President and a Supreme Court which may do more harm than we can imagine.

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