The United States approaches its anniversary in a collective funk.
As the country prepares for the July 4 holiday, pessimism and resentment are growing as trust in grassroots institutions fades.
A national poll indicates that over the past decade, confidence in the Supreme Court has fallen from 50% to 22%; for the Congress, 42% to 9%; for the executive power, 41% to 11%.
Two in three Americans think their voice no longer matters and 61% express dissatisfaction with their lives.
The New York Times offers this diagnosis of our national disease:
“For many Americans, this is the age of anomie, when events, technological communications, and social movements combined to confuse the national sense of purpose and values.”
On ExpressNews.com: “My whole body hurts for her”: a graduate of Uvalde high school without her little sister
Such was life in the United States in July 1976, as a country in conflict celebrated its bicentennial.
On the one hand, Americans were carried away by the marketing blitz for the country’s 200th anniversary. For two years before the big day, you could watch “Bicentennial Minutes” every night on CBS, aired by celebrities like Vincent Price and Jessica Tandy.
In 1976, companies were selling everything from Liberty Bell socks to red, white and blue ice cream.
In San Antonio, North Central Ford offered a $200 cash rebate for any car purchase on Independence Day week. Hy Grade Meat Co. invited locals to celebrate America’s bicentennial “the old-fashioned way with a delicious box of steaks from the Steak-O-Matic system.”
However, all the orchestrated festivities and trade ties could not heal the nation’s battered psyche.
We were emerging from a long and disastrous war in Vietnam and the sordidness, corruption and abuse of power that fell under the umbrella of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. We had clashes over race, ethnicity, morals, gender roles and sexual orientation.
We were locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, facing an energy crisis, battling runaway inflation and worried about pollution.
Conservative syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick said Americans were desperate for a “cessation amid strident and bitter tumult”.
Where we have not seen division, we have surely seen dysfunction.
At the risk of turning this column into a verse from Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire,” my point of departure, for anyone overwhelmed with frustration, anxiety, and anger right now, is that we have been here before.
On ExpressNews.com: Editorial: No, knocking down Roe is not at all like knocking down separate but equal
There’s no doubt that our 246-year-old national experience looks pretty tattered right now.
We can’t agree on fundamental realities, like Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election or a pro-Trump mob of conspiracy theorists leading an insurgency (not a tourist tour, like some Trump cronies l ‘insist) at the Nation’s Capitol.
We see little children being murdered in their own classrooms and politicians doing little to address it.
We have acrimony over the United States Supreme Court striking down the federal abortion law. We have fights over access to the vote. We have Republican leaders trying to stop teachers from discussing the history of racism in this country and school libraries from including books that acknowledge same-sex attraction.
We have social media that stirs up divisiveness and provides each of us with our own comfortable silos of confirmation bias.
But it’s important to remember that we’ve been here before.
Not exactly that way. Certainly not with this technological ecosystem. But we were divided and we were cut down.
It’s a long road out of here – with a few maddening detours and no guarantee that we’ll reach our preferred destination.
It requires a commitment to communicate with each other, seek information from trusted sources, opt out of social media, and leave some oxygen in the room. It means putting a little more effort into persuading people and a little less effort into defeating them.
It means stubborn political activism. It also means we stop rewarding blind flattery and demand the best from the people who represent our main parties.
I recently had the displeasure of watching the Republican Governor’s Debate in Arizona on Wednesday night and was stunned by the parade of ignoramuses on display.
There are smart people in this country across the ideological spectrum, but in too many cases we raise buffoons to political office, because they shout the loudest and don’t overload our brains with nuance.
Let’s use this 4th of July to reboot, recalibrate and rekindle our belief in the possibility of change. In the end, that’s all we have.
[email protected] | Twitter: @gilgamesh470