March 30, 2020

The Good Ol' Days Delusion

By Stephen Tuttle | Aug. 18, 2018

We are now being told that some of us are suffering from something called “cultural anxiety” as a result of our losing our traditional American culture. Good grief. 

This is nonsense perpetrated by some politicians and pundits eager to find yet another wedge issue they can drive between us.  

Fox News talker Laura Ingraham is apparently the flag bearer. In a recent speech she offered this: “Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they're changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don't like.” 

The next day she said she wasn't talking about race or ethnicity. One does wonder, then, just what “massive demographic changes” she was referencing. Age? Marital status?

It's just another extension of the us vs. them gibberish now pouring out of politicians that’s drowning any hope of meaningful dialog or progress on real issues. Creating a delusional anxiety is easier. 

Data released by Pew Research showed nearly half of Americans believe the past was better than the present. When asked to be more specific, the largest number said the 1950s. Somebody wasn't paying attention to their history.  . 

It's true enough the ’50s were a time of billowing smokestacks from an industrial powerhouse honed during World War II. A man without a college degree, or often, without even a high school diploma, could get a decent blue collar job, with benefits, and work his way into the middle class. 

The all-time record low unemployment happened in 1953, during the Korean War, when it plunged to 2.5 percent. The steel, auto, and railroad industries were flourishing. We were building the interstate highway system. 

But if you were a person of color, a woman, or got sick, the ’50s were not good at all. 

Segregation was the norm, not the exception — including here in northern Michigan. Racially divided schools that were supposed to be separate but equal were separate and wildly unequal but weren't found unconstitutional until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. (Incidentally, current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has said he believes that decision was wrong.)

There were still lynchings in the ’50s — nine that were documented; likely many more that were not. There were poll taxes, alleged intelligence tests and all manner of ways to prevent minorities from voting. They were pushed into defined neighborhoods, or more accurately, kept out of some neighborhoods, by a practice lenders used called red-lining. Interracial marriages were illegal in more than half the states.

Things weren't so good for women, either. The Rosie the Riveter icon from World War II was ushered out of the workforce when that war ended. There were not many career opportunities; young women weren't even encouraged to attend college until very late in the decade. Those interested in careers were typically led toward nursing and teaching, and there was always secretarial school for the non-college grad.

In 1950 only 5.5 percent of medical school students were women, and only about 8 percent of law school students were women. Those figures are 53 percent and 50 percent, respectively, today.     

It was illegal to be gay pretty much everywhere in the ’50s, and such an offense could and did land people in jail. There were no laws protecting the environment, and the Civil Rights Act was still half a decade away. 

Even crime wasn't better. The murder rate in 1959 was 4.9 per 100,000 population, and today is just a couple ticks above 5.0. The overall crime rate is actually lower now. 

Before 1955, the first year a vaccine was available, there were 58,000 new cases of polio every year, with more than 1,200 deaths. And a whopping 3 million annual cases of measles, with 500 deaths, until that vaccine came along in 1963. Average life expectancy was about 67 for men and 73 for women, compared to 76 and 81 today. 

There wasn't much about the ’50s, or any of the good old days, that was all that good. (The Lions did win the NFL in ’52, ’53 and ’57, so there's that.)  

Those now yammering about lost cultural heritage should explain what it is we've lost.

If it's the white patriarchal culture of the ’50s they're so missing, then shame on them.   

We have always been a nation in flux, every generation slowly adapting to the changes created by those previous. And we've always had some group or groups trying to make us fear those changes and then exploit them for their own cynical advantage. Cultural anxiety is a phony construct created as a diversion by those hoping we'll ignore their malfeasance.

Our cultural heritage is alive and well, its beauty being that we continue to add to it.  Just like we have for more than two centuries.   




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