To paraphrase Queen Elizabeth II, we're about to bid farewell to a decadis horribilis. To be sure, there have been rotten decades before, but there were always redemptive events to counter-balance the daily drumbeat of doom and despair. The fifties gave us McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and "Duck and Cover," but also Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jonas Salk. Anyone nostalgic for the sixties was obviously not someone in the line of fire. But amid war, assassinations, generational conflict, the draft, and the daily televised body count, we had the Beatles within a flowering garden of popular music, and a self-created counter-culture with unprecedented expressions of artistic freedom.
The seventies brought inflation, oil embargoes, gas lines, hostage crises, a cocaine epidemic among young professionals, and Disco. But on the bright side, we had the Bicentennial and Quaaludes. Reaganism ruled the eighties, with his theory of "trickle-down economics" sewing the seeds for the most recent orgy of fiscal de-regulation and near economic meltdown. Military budgets ballooned and social programs were cut adrift while the Christian right muscled a seat at the table and an age of rah-rah, jingoism returned to America. Iranian revolutionaries who had humiliated the U.S. were rewarded with illegal weapons sales and once empty CIA planes returning from money drops to Contras in Nicaragua, now came home loaded with something new for the Pepsi Generation; crack cocaine. On the positive side, we beat the Russians in hockey.
The nineties were the uproariously entertaining Clinton years, where grown-ups were forced to explain the meaning of oral sex to their children. For what more could we have asked? Scandals, investigations, wiretaps, blue dresses, cigars, impeachment; the Clintons delivered it all, and more. Hillary's heartaches and what "is" is, live on in our common psyche. But, in the words of James Carville, "What didn't you like; the peace or the prosperity?" Bubba coulda' been a contenda' if he had just holstered his weapon once in a while. Everyone eventually grew weary of the whole circus, but they took it out on Al Gore.
The laughter ended in 2000 when a politicized Supreme Court actually stopped a vote count in progress and awarded the presidency to the intellectually challenged George W. Bush, a decision that ranks up there in wisdom with Dred Scott. Thus, the prophesy made by humorist H.L. Mencken in 1920, was fulfilled; that, "On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." The Great Stem-Cell Compromise of 2001 was so exhausting, the whole Bush gang went on vacation, and, of course, we know what happened then. We were all behind Bush that awful day and, without exception, wanted our president to succeed. Something redemptive might have arisen from that terrible tragedy, but Bush began following a playbook from an earlier age. A dark time of imperial arrogance and deceit descended upon this nation, and if you disagree with that statement, you may be part of the problem.
In another time, during another war, when things were going badly and people were marching in the streets, a president demonized dissenters as "bums" and "traitors," and energized his base to rise up against these scruffy protesters. Violence and riots followed. Richard Nixon, during a volatile time of social upheaval, unnecessarily polarized society between young and old, black and white, and rich and poor for personal political gain. Only resignation saved him from being booted from office for abuse of power. The next such divisive president, casting aspersions of disloyalty and treason toward those who would oppose him and fraying the nation's societal fabric in the process, was old GeeDubya "Bring 'Em On" Bush. And who was the common link connecting the political philosophies of the Nixon and Bush governments? Dick Cheney, Master of Disaster.
The decade's nadir came exactly midway with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The country was shocked to see such an unrelenting tragedy compounded by the government's ineptitude; the same government that plunged us into two wars and an economic catastrophe unmatched since the "Roaring Twenties." But Bush was such a one-man, walking disaster that he made it possible for the first African-American to be elected president. So, just here, at this miserable decade's twilight, comes the glimmer of hope of what's possible in the next; affordable health care, resolution to wars of choice, government infrastructure projects and the accompanying jobs that follow, high-speed rail to finally compete with the airlines, quality public education and reasonable college costs. Positive things can happen when people finally decide to work together. Of course, I believed John Kerry was going to be elected president too.