Twilight in America?

There was an election ad in 1984 run by Ronald Reagan.  The ad asked voters: "Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?"  Based upon the election returns in 1984, a large amount of the country felt that they were in fact better off in 1984 than they were in 1980.

I would pose the same question to our country today.  Remove the individuals whose career relies on creating differences between races, classes or even genders.  Are we better off today than we were 50 years ago.  Let examine this a bit closer.

In 1964, most families were still parented by two individuals.  I don't presume that each of these homes was happy, just that a majority were two parent households.  Nearly all of these homes had a single breadwinner in the family (usually the adult man).  The career paths for women consisted of one of the following for most women of the age: homemaker, nurse or teacher.  There were obvious exceptions, but again this was the standard.

In 1964, race relations were strained at best.  White on black discrimination was certainly evident in the South (and in the North as well).  The Civil War had been over for nearly 100 years, and the former slaves families appeared to be free in, name only.  Jim Crow laws and separate but equal were the way of most people living in this country.  School integration had begun, and Rosa Parks had taken a stand (or to be precise a seat) that began a peaceful protest for change.  Reverand Martin Luther King, Jr. was a nationally recognized Civil Rights Leader.  The race riots would flare throughout the remainder of the decade and continue at times into the 1990's.

Vietnam was beginning to ramp up in terms of US involvement and troop commitments.  Nearly 60,000 young men from the US would die in this conflict.  This doesn't take into account the loses by the North and South Vietnamese, Cambodians, Loasians and French.  All told this conflict began at the close of World War II and lasted on and off for another 30 years.  Draft dodger entered the lexicon at this time, and we have been forever haunted by this experience.

Fast forward 50 years.  Remember the Reagan ad?  Are we better off today than we were in 1964?

While there are still two parent families, this is fast declining.  More and more children are born out of wedlock or are children of divorce.  Too many families are forced to rely on two breadwinners just to keep up.  The world has opened to women as far as careers.  A woman can now hold nearly any job that a man can.

The average lifespan for both men and women has increased to the mid 70's up from the early 60's fifty years ago.  Along with that increased life span has been increased medical costs and technology.  For some this is wonderful, for others it becomes about prolonging life at any cost regardless of the quality of that life.

There haven't been any major race riots in over 20 years in this country.  This does not presume that racism is gone from our society, but it is certainly on the decline and hopefully on the way to the dustbin of history.  In 1964 it was common to have a poll tax, writing test or simple intimidation to keep away those deemed unworthy to vote.  Today we require no identification to vote in nearly every precinct in the country.  This has some undesired effects since some of those individuals voting either have already voted elsewhere or have no right to vote (non-citizen).  The same intimidation tactics have now been applied in reverse and have been used to intimidate votes in ethnic neighborhoods and highly political areas.

Mural in South Los Angeles, CA. 2009 - Image from
We have a war on terrorism that shows no end in site.  We haven't lost nearly as men soldiers as we did in Vietnam, but it has only been slightly more than a decade.  History will decide in another 20 years if this was worse than the past era.  It does not take into account again all of the turmoil caused throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and the other nations affected by terrorism.  All told, there are so many costs associated with these wars that have yet to be fully calculated.

We have a political apparatus that instead of trying to solve the class, race and gender issues, is instead trying to foment anger and resentment amongst all of these groups against the other.  Are we better off?  You decide.  Don't look at the past with rose-colored glasses.  Look with a critical eye.  We are better off in some ways but worse in others.

This blog is dedicated to telling historical truth.  The past had weighty issues, and the world was a dangerous place.  Today our lives may seem better and in a number of ways they are, but we seem to have forgotten that the world is still a very dangerous place.  We live longer, but with more illness and limited resources with which to treat them.  We have more opportunities for careers, but in all reality most of us will change our careers on average of 4 times throughout our working lives.  We don't have the race issues that plagued the past, but we certainly have the class issues to replace them.

Are we better today than we were 50 years ago?  Maybe, but we are still a work in progress.  Hopefully we can ALL make the changes necessary to be better 50 years from now.