Harvest of Shame
During the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, I was cutting my teeth on a nihilistic philosophy that would guide me and haunt me for the rest of my life.
There is a direct line between those years and the onset of Donald Trump and his threats to disintegrate our system of government and much more. I have met the enemy and he is me.
I wore my pessimism, cynicism and disillusion as a proud badge of honor to show that I was too smart to be lulled by the government into believing their phony rhetoric. The popular culture in its movies, literature and music reflected the attitude that the country had to change radically, from the way it looked to the way it sounded.
The music reflected the feelings that so many of us felt, that the system was perverted, anyone over 30 could not be trusted, that it only reflected the needs of the rich and that it was a system that would not change but had to be ripped apart and replaced. Fewer and fewer younger people voted because they saw it as a hopeless waste of time and those who joined in the establishment whether it was in the ROTC program or being a Boy Scout were hopelessly square.
Many of us believed that external change was impossible and that change would have to come from within, in the form of exotic religions that worshiped gods and goddesses of old, mind-bending drugs and free sex. We were attracted to a new wave of poets, people like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs and later Bob Dylan, who all wrote of a self-destructive world that was its own worst enemy.
We were the start of the counterculture movement and for younger people, there was nothing better than to feel we were non-conformists who were defeating the older people who had ruined so much and led us to so many wars and to the brink of the apocalypse.
The government was seen as an annoyance at best and as a tool of oppression, at worst. We turned out for massive demonstrations to, if not topple the government, to force it to its knees and to end the Vietnam War.
People became disenchanted with candidates and with the system and saw the world as on the brink of destruction or eve of destruction. And we didn’t have to look very far to see the proof of our convictions.
But somehow, through the fog of our pessimism, we still clung to the belief that it was better here than most anywhere else and that there were many other like-minded people. We got older and more settled but we never really regained the commitment to our country that our parents had and we failed to foster that commitment in our children.
And we grew up and had children who became even more cynical about our system of government and specially, about our leaders. They adopted our attitude that nothing will change for the better and that it was futile to try and so they hung out on the sidelines, like us, uninvolved.
And then along came Trump and the chickens have come home to roost. We reap what we sow and if our sons and daughters don’t find a way to toss of that mantle of fatalism that we were so proud of, we will find our system of government gone and replaced by totalitarianism.
Our children, now the adults, have to understand that it can and will get much, much worse if they sit back and watch the circus pass them by. And then it may be too late. The real danger comes not from Trump but from all those who would allow him to continue as president.
Apologies from a generation that may have laid the groundwork for the fall.