I’m old enough to remember at least vestiges of those Rockwell America days. (TV’s “Leave It to Beaver”, “Ozzie and Harriet”, “I Love Lucy”. Charles J. Johnson’s Chicago Tribune article below saddens me; it’s a reminder that those more “innocent” days are forever gone.
One wants America to be a Norman Rockwell painting again. The other also wants a Rockwell painting, but with maybe a woman, or even two women, carving the turkey at the head of the table.
But Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton want to steer us away from where we find ourselves, to another time, a different America. On the stump, they both describe a rosier period when the middle class was stronger, the military more incisive and America’s elected leaders more in tune with the metaphorical farmers’ fields they left when taking up office.
Neither is describing an America that is familiar to me or to other millennials who share the same national signposts.
I’ve been an American citizen from birth, but my life as a political citizen began when I stepped off the school bus in seventh grade into the arms of my crying mother. At first, I was confused because she should have been at work that Tuesday in September. American flags were out on all the neighbor houses.
The day we first bombed Afghanistan, my mom had to drive me to the mall. When we invaded Iraq, I put down my French homework and watched television while the boy I was baby-sitting slept. When Lehman Brothers failed, I was starting to look for jobs, which was also when I noticed a lot of my classmates’ parents losing theirs.
I have lived my entire political life with my country in a state of war, my entire career in an economy that feels hollow and debt-burdened, in which anxiety and not future fortune is the overriding sentiment.
Over my lifetime, government dysfunction has become so commonplace it’s laughable. But Brooklyn and Baton Rouge, instead of laughing at Congress, now seem hard-wired just to laugh at each other without realizing the anchor of Washington’s incompetence is tied to all of our ankles.
Whatever Rockwellian time campaign speechwriters are selling, I’m not familiar enough to buy.
I’ve never known an America that didn’t speak Spanish — parents of friends who asked their children to translate sleepover pickup times; the kitchen crew that taught me Mexican curse words and brought me conchas on Fridays; immigrant classmates, including Ivy League-accepted ones, disappearing to live with other relatives.
These are not abstracts to me. This was high school.
I am told there was some other America before this, when ranchero music didn’t blast from construction sites and factory jobs could send kids to state colleges, but I don’t know it. The idea that yanking people off Glen Ellyn landscaping crews or from behind taqueria counters and plugging native-born Americans into their $11-an-hour jobs will restore some decades-past social contract strikes me as somewhere between naive and racist.
A taco truck on every corner doesn’t sound like a dystopia. It sounds like lunch in my America.
I’ve never known an America that wasn’t at war in the Middle East, often in more than one country.
I am told there was some other America before this, where U.S. military power could stop the slaughter of innocents and return yoked peoples their national sovereignty. The America I’ve known is the one that doesn’t win wars so much as sledge them into smaller pieces. Then it stands astride, picking through the sharp pieces to see what can be glued back together for something like a finished product.
Wars don’t really end in my America. They just become something else.
I’ve never known an America that wasn’t fighting a drug war. I sat through D.A.R.E. classes, part of the first generation of Nancy Reagan’s disciples to trudge off from middle school imbued with the notion that street drugs were a cancer, that trying them put you on track for addiction, and that those who bought them were criminals. All this despite the fact that I could go to any pharmacy in America with a busted leg and walk out with orally administered heroin.
This was considered good medicine, as long as it could be afforded. As long as the employer-provided health insurance lasted.
I am told there was some other America when lawmakers stepped in to prevent dangerous products from making their way to public markets. That Congress was a check on corporate America’s at-times inhuman profit motive, the kind of thing that could upend a world economy or turn a nation of football players and aging steelworkers into junkies.
I am told these same people will now devote themselves to reining in the cash that floats their political careers — muscled, if need be, by a president whose political and personal fortunes also have been quietly nurtured by bankers and pharmaceutical executives.
I’ve heard of other things about this different America: how 26-year-olds could routinely afford to buy houses, and how a mass murder at a movie theater or school wasn’t an every-other-month part of life. I am told there was a time when the fundamental failure of our bedrock institutions was the exception, rather than a rule.
I have little confidence in those who say they can return us to a time they and their generation undid.
Neither major party candidate seems to grasp that the country and the world have changed. America is different for us who don’t know what it was like before this reality.
Our institutions’ abilities aren’t what they were. Neither candidate seems like a good option to lead the America we have now — the one I grew up in — the one whose reality is very different from the nation I hear described at campaign events in high school gymnasiums in Florida, Ohio and Iowa.
The America they hope to lead? I’ve only seen it in paintings.