Ah! Take me back to the good old days! Many of the problems of our political economic and social systems, as well as those of our churches are related to this fervent wish to return to an earlier time—a time we feel was better, friendlier, more comfortable and not as anxiety-ridden and threatening as the current time. Americans, unknowingly for the most part, are in mourning for what they see as being lost in those past days, but are in denial that the loss is actually happening.
Much of the problem for Americans is that the virus of “exceptionalism” has infected our country since early times of the Pilgrims and continues to do so. We have always seen ourselves as having a God-given destiny as a country to be the greatest power in the world. The strongest militarily—having the strongest economy—-being the most intelligent scholastically—-the keepers of morality for the world because “God is on our side.” We have come to see these things as a God-given right, and become very upset when it begins to appear that U.S. “exceptionalism” is becoming less and less exceptional!
We can’t believe that our hegemony militarily, economically, scholastically, spiritually and morally is deteriorating. We can’t believe it is happening to us! We refuse to believe it is happening—-so we deny that it is happening and work feverishly to try and restore the “good old days.!”
In politics, that’s what the Tea Party and the ultra conservative movements are trying to do—-go back to the “good old days!” They advocate going back to the Founding Fathers and the Constitution as originally written. They proclaim they want to “take their country back.” What they want is to take the country to the past that they see as more comfortable for them, less threatening before all of the changes that have happened since the Vietnam War. They are strident and extreme and uncompromising because they see those changes undermining life as it was when the U.S. was exclusive in its place of military and economic power. Those who refuse to compromise have hamstrung our representative form of government and caused Congress to be unable to do anything meaningful. There is a failure here to recognize that the world has changed.
It has changed since 9/11 when our military invincibility was shattered by the attack of Al Queda on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. Since then we have engaged in two disastrous and long-term wars that have drained us militarily and economically as a nation—-Iraq and Afghanistan. The outcome of both showed the U.S. inability to be “policemen and peacemakers for the world” with God on our side. Our military might did not prove useful in either as far as long-term results being achieved. We watch as both countries are on the verge of descending into partisan strife and chaos after all of our advice and expenditure of money and lives over many years.
The same is true of our economic invincibility. We are faced with the competing economic juggernaut of China. At G-8 meetings we no longer get the agreements from other world powers we used to automatically expect. Our U.S. economy slipped into a severe recession in 2007 and in spite of everything we have tried to do to fix it, there has not been a return to the previous prosperity, although 7 years have elapsed. There is a good chance there never will be. Those days of prosperity may have vanished.
We have spent so much on wars that our infrastructure is crumbling in the United States. So also is our health care—especially for the poor. Our health care system is one of the most expensive and least effective dollar for dollar of any health care system in developed nations. We are trying to balance the budget that is out of control due to the huge war expenditures on the backs of the poor, of children, the elderly and the most vulnerable in our society.
And all the while, power has been consolidating in the hands of the oligarchic few who are growing richer and richer as the middle class shrinks. The middle class shrinks because wages have not risen with corporate profits and the laws and court rulings are favoring the oligarchic few. Unemployment and underemployment is still high as jobs have been sent overseas to take advantage of cheap labor there so that profits can be even higher for the oligarchic few. The system we have is broken. Unemployed people can’t keep our economy going because they have little money to buy with. We are not taking care of the most vulnerable in our society and more and more people are becoming vulnerable. This will have huge consequences for us.
It’s not a pretty picture. Many will deny its truth. They do so at their peril for it is an honest picture that needs to be faced. We need to mourn what has been lost—-it was great while it lasted—-and go forward toward something different for the future. We cannot do this until we admit that the “good old days” are never going to return.
Thomas Wolfe saw this in the early 20th century, looking back on “the good old days” of the Gilded Age which much resembled our current times, he wrote:
“You can’t go home again….You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood,….back home to the old systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—-back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” (Thomas Wolfe: Look Homeward Angel)