In my last post I talked a bit about the history of American culture in the last 50 years and some of the changes that we’ve gone through because of major political and historical events.
I’m going to say right here that my dad is one of those guys who wants to go back to how things used to be. I love my dad more than anything and would never disrespect him. We see things differently on this issue, but I wasn’t there during the 1950’s so I don’t know his perspective. When he talks about things being better then, I ususally say, “Yeah, you were a white guy during Jim Crow. How hard could it have been?” My dad is in no way a racist and sees that element of our history as the shameful plight that it was. What he means is the friendliness, honesty, perceived integrity, no need to lock doors, lifestyle where he grew up.
Why did it not last?
If things were so great in 1955 and people were so happy and crime-free, then why did things change? Why didn’t we hang on to that utopian ideal and why don’t we all still live in an episode of the Andy Griffith Show?
1. Morality of the time was about external appearance, and did not stem from an internal transformation.
I went to Christian schools my entire life. The first time I set foot on a public school campus was when I started teaching at one when I was in my 30s. I can beat you at Bible Trivia but it didn’t make me a better person. Within a few years of my high school graduation a good portion of my class had completely turned their back on the faith we were taught in school. They kept up the appearance when they had to, but it wasn’t part of them. They behaved with integrity because they were supposed to, not because it was who they were.
2. “Separate but equal is inherently unequal.”
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down the rare unanimous decision known as “Brown vs. The Board of Education.” This decision overturned the 1896 decision “Plessy vs. Ferguson” which made legal the segregation of schools. Now with school segregation overturned based on the 14th Amendment, the tide of desegregation that eventually led to the Civil Rights movement begun.
The utopia of 1950s America didn’t last because it wasn’t fair, and therefore couldn’t possibly be real. The patina of an idealistic society had underneath it the scourge of social and economic injustice. The tension was bound to boil over and it did. Selma, Stonewall, etc. It all came crashing down because it was built on a false foundation.
Take a look at this series of graphs, some of which have information that go back to 1960. Over the last 20-40 years things have not gotten markedly better for people of color.
3. God’s values have been tangled up with American values
Americans have long been confused about the role of religion. The Founders intended for the government and religion to be separate but they couldn’t possibly envision how complicated that could get. I’m glad that American doesn’t have a state church. I’m glad my taxes don’t support the maintenance of someone’s house of worship. But I believe very strongly that America is about freedom for people of all faiths and one faith shouldn’t have greater public display or advantage than any other. Frankly, I think the Founders would’ve been more specific about some stuff if they’d known just how many religions there are.
When we got it in our head that God had somehow blessed America above all other countries, we began to believe that everything we did, our form of government, our economic system, our massive businesses, were blessed and preferred by God. Therefore, anything that was “American” became “Christian”. If we prosper, we’re blessed by God, and if we stop prospering we’re no longer blessed by God. This prosperity gospel has permeated the Church in America so that when bad things happen to people or to our country, we cry “Unfair!” since we’ve supposedly done everything right. But have we really?
Another question I have is:
Were things really all that much better?
Depends on who you were/are.
Between 1990 and 2009 the rate of forcible rape went from 80.5 per 100,00 to 100,000 52.3. While horrifying, it’s still an improvement.
I’m not going to go too deeply into statistics here. We all have the Google machine. I browsed through a bunch of stats and it looks like the most dangerous time in the US in the last 50 years was 1980-1984. Glad I made it through grades 3 – 7. Whew.