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A Yankee Notebook

September 5, 2011


EAST MONTPELIER, VT – We have worked hard, raised our children, worshipped our God and grown old together. Yes, we are the ones some refer to as being over the hill.... – from “a retired Air Force friend” of a classmate of mine who hasn’t yet given up trying to enlighten me.

With the omnipresence and arguable advantages of instant messaging, a lot more information and opinion pass before our eyes than ever did before. Just as we now hear frequently from old friends who five years ago might have sent a letter by the postal service every six months or so, we also are newly able to read the opinions of people who, formerly frustrated by the small audience that snail-mail commanded, can now broadcast them to the cosmos with the touch of a button.

We are probably considered old fashioned and outdated by many. But there are a few things you need to remember before completely writing us off. We won World War II, fought in Korea and Viet Nam. We can quote The Pledge of Allegiance, and know where to place our hand while doing so. We wore the uniform of our country with pride and lost many friends on the battlefield. We didn’t fight for the Socialist States of America, we fought for the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”

You can see where that one is heading: Beginning with an old theme that’s been popular since the time of Aristophanes – ”Kids these days...!” – and condescendingly reminding younger readers that they probably don’t know what an icebox is, or have never used an outhouse, it shortly disintegrates into a promise to reclaim the United States from the godless socialists currently occupying the White House.

A lot of stuff like that comes from people like me: old enough to know better. It reeks of nostalgia, often for days and ideals that never were. Take the Pledge of Allegiance, for example, which old folks claim kids don’t know anymore. Many also seem to think it was invented by “the Founders.” It actually came along a bit before the Spanish-American War, and has been altered several times since,. Probably most folks my age don’t remember that we learned to recite it with the “Bellamy salute,” which was dropped in 1942 because it looked so much like the Fascist salute then popular in Germany and Italy. We switched to holding our right hands over our hearts, and in 1954, during the Cold War against godless Communism, added “under God.”

It was the young people of this nation who elected Obama and the Democratic Congress. You fell for the "Hope and Change" which in reality was nothing but "Hype and Lies". You have tasted socialism and seen evil face to face, and have found you don't like it at all. You make a lot of noise, but most are all too interested in their careers or "Climbing the Social Ladder" to be involved in such mundane things as patriotism and voting. Clearly, it’s an article of faith for many disgruntled conservatives to trash people different – no matter how – from themselves; in this case, for not being as old, experienced, “patriotic,” or, by implication, as wise.

Speaker of the House John Boehner complained recently that President Obama and Congressional Democrats are “snuffing out the America that I grew up in.” To which I would add, Right on! Without meaning to pull rank on Congressman Boehner, I’ll mention that I’m 14 years older than he; and thus, assuming that by “growing up,” he refers to the uncomplicated years every child enjoys before puberty, I’ve thought of a few items from the idyllic past he so romanticizes, and that many of us older folks remember well.

When little John was one year old, Joseph McCarthy began his infamous series of hearings attempting to establish that the United States government was riddled with Communist spies and agents. When he was three years old, the man who’d soon become Malcolm X was paroled from prison and became a leader in the Nation of Islam. When he was six, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott dramatized the plight of Southern blacks, and the often-bloody Civil Rights Movement began to gather some real steam. Homosexuality didn’t exist; it was still “the sin that dares not speak its name.” Marginal tax rates were significantly higher than they are today, and unions much more prevalent and powerful. Most important of all, the American political establishment was white, Protestant, and untroubled by disorderly immigration.

So what’s feeding these conservative fantasies about the good old days and provoking such adamant resistance to change? One answer may lie in an article in Scientific American, titled “The Psychology of No.” Conservatives apparently tend to view the world as a much scarier and threatening place than do progressives, and react to change with a negative reflex. In fact, if you could get one of each persuasion to stand beside the other and then hollered, “Boo!” behind them, guess which one would jump higher. Read the research; I’m not making this up.

Profound change is sweeping the world at an ever-quickening pace: tyrants teetering and toppling in the Middle East; terrorists seeking opportunities; rising global temperatures triggering ever more destructive droughts, floods, and other natural calamities; instant messaging consolidating and empowering alienated and underemployed young people; demographic projections showing that so-called white people will be a minority population in just a few decades. It’s not at all unreasonable to try to prevent these changes from becoming a runaway train. But it’s a lot like the legendary King Canute, who around the year 1030 demonstrated the inefficacy of political power to (literally) keep the tide from wetting his feet. We old white guys had best keep our waders handy.

Photo by Willem Lange