|Download PDF of this full issue: v50n2.pdf (24.8 MB)|
The Decline and Fall of America?
By John Ketwig
When I was a boy, television was brand new. We got off the school bus, parked our lunch boxes, and hurried over to a neighbor's house to watch Mickey Mouse Club on the only TV in the neighborhood. In those days, the small black and white screen brought heroes like Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, and Sky King into our living room. The good guys always defeated the bad guys back then, and we expected real life to follow suit.
As we matured, we became fascinated by Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best, the first space flights, American Bandstand and rock 'n roll music, and the Ed Sullivan Show every Sunday night. Then President Kennedy was murdered, an unthinkable act, and we began to be aware of politics. Barry Goldwater became George Wallace, and the conservative point-of-view began to challenge everything America had accomplished in 200 years of an experiment with democracy. Batman and Robin became camp TV heroes, and the Beach Boys made us all dream of surfing in California. The Beatles and Bob Dylan dared us to imagine peace and love, but then we were confronted with Vietnam.
Everything changed the day President Kennedy was murdered. The draft kidnapped many of us and sent us to Vietnam, and far too many of us came away disillusioned by the terribly unnecessary violence, death, and destruction we had witnessed. America's efforts to "bomb them back to the stone age" were all too successful, and any thoughts that we were the good guys overcoming evil were dissolved in an ocean of blood and tears. America has never been the same. Nixon prolonged the war to help his re-election, and hired a gang of incompetent thugs called "The Plumbers" to cover up the evidence while he and Henry Kissinger destructed the Constitution. "Tricky Dick" was chased out of town, but President Ford pardoned him. Henry Kissinger is still there. No one is held accountable in Washington.
Reagan brought us catsup as a vegetable for school children, a record 138 administration figures indicted or jailed for criminal conduct, and the travesty of Irangate. He is widely revered as some sort of savior of America, despite the fact that his "covert" minions defied Congress and sold arms to Iran in order to raise illegal funds for the Contra terrorists attempting to overthrow the democratically-elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The Contras utilized tactics identical to those of the Taliban and Isis a few years later. Again, no one was held accountable. The two Bush regimes were corrupt and incompetent, except when it came to gobbling up unprecedented shares of America's wealth and political power. Does anyone remember the Savings and Loan scandal? 9/11 was not really a turning point in American history. The George W. administration was obviously steered by Vice President Dick Cheney and a new brand of "conservatives," the neocons, who created the wars in the Middle East due to their tragically mistaken belief that Democracy would overwhelm the Arab world like the thoroughly discredited "Domino theory" that got us involved in Southeast Asia. Although Washington is still loath to admit it, we lost the Iraq War the day the photos from Abu Ghraib prison became public. History will surely question our disastrous twenty-year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have accomplished nothing but to make the military-industrial complex wealthy, and the national debt all but insurmountable.
The sad truth is that every experiment with "conservative" government has proven to be incredibly corrupt, expensive, and disastrous. If the American people would ever just step back and look at history, it is obvious that conservatism simply doesn't work. The Trump regime has exceeded all the conservative administrations that came before. Trump struts his lying as if it is a measurement of his cleverness, all concepts of dishonesty be damned. He routinely fires ambassadors, decorated military heroes, Inspector Generals, chiefs of staff, Press Secretaries, and anyone else who endeavors to safeguard American ideals and ethics by telling the truth. Today our national debt is somewhere beyond twenty-five Trillion dollars! Our country is essentially bankrupt, both financially and morally.
Today, cable or satellite TV offers most homes an incredible variety of channels and outlooks. The three big networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC have become corporate spokesmen with every newscast twisted by the corporation's vested interests. The infamous Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court decided that corporations are due the same rights as citizens, and TV will never be the same until the unlikely day that Citizens United is overturned. The big corporations are now free to donate huge sums of money to influence our "representatives" in Washington, and to construe their news coverage to conform with top management's political slant. As a result, Fox News offers a sad satire of what's happening, and a certain segment of the American public devours their preposterous ideology like it was candy. The coronavirus pandemic has created a critical moment in American history, with disastrous levels of business failures, unemployment, and more than 200,000 dead. Like the old Roman emperor Nero, Donald Trump fiddles on his golf courses while the empire burns. A recent article in The Atlantic magazine reports that Trump has described America's war casualties as "losers" or "suckers," but his base will never abandon him.
Sadly, it appears we are seeing the final stages of the decline and fall of the United States. Oh, there will be impassioned protest at that statement, but the good guys have long since hung up their six guns and left us for the happy hunting grounds. There are no TV westerns, and Mighty Mouse no longer attacks trouble singing "Here I come to save the day!" Today, the two candidates for the highest office in the land are Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Does anyone really believe that either of them can inspire a return to the accomplishments, optimism, decency, or compassion we used to know in the Kennedy years? Authoritarian leaders have come to power in Brazil, Poland, Turkey, Belarus, and Saudi Arabia, and if Trump is re-elected it will happen here. We have witnessed a lot of history in our "baby boomer" lifetimes, and I'm afraid we will also witness the end of American Democracy. Having brought children into the world, and with grandchildren bubbling over with energetic optimism, I hope I'm wrong.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW and the author of two books about the Vietnam War.