When Was America Was Great, Not Great, and How Can We Become Greater?
A significant number of Americans look at the current social climate in America and think that the country has become a puzzling. At times it can seem like a frightening collective mixture of cultural identities and social beliefs. One of the prominent themes that seem so baffling for a lot of people is that it appears that a significant population of the country have a desire to resemble an identity which appears to be nothing like the America they have come to know and love. To make the entire situation more confusing is that this apparently reconditioned American personality is being embodied as being the “America that is great.”
The notion of “making America great again,” suggests that some societal shift is required so to return the country to a past era of American glory. The difficult question on the mind of many individuals is what period in America should we return to for greatness? A generational example for the country’s goal for in national recovery has never actually been defined.
The reason that no one can give a particular decade for American greatness is because a time frame for this attribution cannot be defined. For some, America’s return to greatness cannot be solely contained on a timeline, because the greatness that many are seeking is a feeling and feelings are inherently not dependent on definable facts.
The sense that the country is entering a worrisome period of nationalistic rhetoric and belief in the superiority of the Republic is a feeling that many American’s have felt for the better part of the last thirty years. The same perception of American identity being uncharacteristic of what the country should represent is a perception that has increasingly been felt by about roughly 35% to 40% of citizens over the last several decades.
For this group of individuals, it is not a particular period, or even political identity that they have longed to feel again. Rather, it is exactly what they have said over and over, which is indeed the overall collective feeling that America is great. Fascinatingly, what is lost on many Americans is that the yearning for a cultural sense of ethnocentrism right now is not exclusive to America at all.
Nationalism is not just on the rise in the United States; rather it is rampant across the Western world. The nationalistic view of the nation-state reasserting itself has resulted in the sudden emergence of protectionist policies against immigration, and contempt for multilateral trade treaties. The assertion of multinational dynasties, ruled by autocratic elites that are in contradiction of one’s national interest is becoming a progressively vocal theme.
Now the critical issue for a lot of people is why is this going on? For some this may even feel like this the beginning of some biblical revelation-like period, which will ultimately end with the destruction of humanity. So is this it and are we now merely waiting to behold a white horse that ushers in our demise?
Well, hopefully, this isn’t the end of the human race. Truthfully, our biggest threat to humanity is indeed people, themselves. So in essence, our expiration always lies primarily in our own hands. However, the most likely answer is no, this is not the end of days for us all. What we are experiencing right now across the world, and especially in Western societies, is the collision of cultural generations, whose beginning starts with war.
Before you run out and begin doomsday prepping, I am not referring to World War III. Rather, I am talking about what made Americans at the time feel great, and that was World War II.
From 1940 to 1947, 10,110,104 American men were drafted into the U.S. military to fight in World War II. The number of conscripted U.S. service members totaled almost 15% of the entire male population in America. Not to mention, the number of U.S. military personnel who fought in the Second World War would total 16,100,000 men and women. This represented 12% of the entire population of the United States. Now, that is just the number of Americans who fought in World War II, and the cumulative number of combatants globally was around 1.9 billion people. All in all, approximately 60 million military and civilians would lose their lives as a direct result of World War II.
The battlefield wasn’t the only area of life that was dramatically affected during World War II. Citizens who were left at home faced many scarifies and dramatic changes to day-to-day life. Depletion of the labor force as a result of so many American men being sent to war allowed for women to be influential in the U.S. workforce, especially in the industrial sector. Many American teenagers dropped out of school, and over 3 million teens attributed to the American workforce. The period of World War II was understandably an emotional time in the United States, and the American family was irreversibly changed forever.
How did the average American mitigate the psychological stress of World War II and the dramatic impact on society? Well, the United States government helped out with nationalistic propaganda, of course.
In 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Office of War Information (OWI). The OWI, though billed as a means of providing the public with information on the war, was exclusively an American nationalistic propaganda machine. In order to instill a sense of nationalism and pride among Americans over the hardships being faced during World War II, the OWI used posters, comic books, leaflets, radio broadcast, books, movies, cartoons, magazines, and newspapers, all aimed at instilling a feeling of greatness in being American, and instigating hatred towards the enemy.
Ultimately, it 's hard to condemn the U.S. government for its OWI propaganda machine. The government had to do something to make American’s feel good about sending their husbands and children off to fight a war in a foreign land that most of them had never even seen.
However, the effects of this highly efficient propaganda machine would instill a lasting impression of nationalism upon the populous. In fact, to this day, the “Rosie the Riveter” image is still symbolism used for the empowerment of women. It is important to note, that America was not the only country to use nationalistic propaganda during World War II. In fact, virtually all of the allied and axis countries used patriotic marketing to some degree during the war.
The conclusion of World War II would usher in the Baby Boomer generation. The Baby Boomer generation was the cultural label ascribed to those born from 1948 to 1964, and the name originates from the dramatic increase in the post-war birth rates in America. The Baby Boomers would grow up under a redefinition of traditional national values. European and American boomers grew up during a time of widespread increase of affluence, and consumerism that could be called excessive by some.
Boomers grew up during a time of instilled national pride that was passed down from their World War II era parents. It was the Baby Boomer generation and their parent generation that would usher in many of the reverences for patriotic symbolism that prevails today. For example, in 1956 the motto of “In God We Trust” was adopted, replacing the unofficial motto of “One among many.” Additionally, the modern rendition of the pledge of allegiance in which “Under God” was added didn’t occur until 1954. For the average person who grew-up during the Baby Boomer era, the United States was great because the culture of the time instilled pride and a belief in American greatness in its citizens.
However, as time would pass and the 1960’s gave way to the birth of Generation X. Suddenly, to the boomer's things began to seem not so great anymore. The country was slowly starting to look drastically different, racially and socially, to what they had become accustomed too.
The Baby Boomer generation grew up in a time of dramatic social change in the U.S. There was substantial in-fighting between proponents of change and advocates of conservativism. Depending on one’s age, or family upbringing many would find themselves distinctly located on the side of liberalism or conservatism. By the 1980’s as many Baby Boomers matured, the later end of boomers found themselves increasing becoming more conservative. Suddenly, some boomers regretted their rejection of the cultural, ideological norms that their parents had tried to impart to them when they, themselves, suddenly became parents.
By the 2000’s and to today, the Baby Boomer generation, who fall between the ages of 71 and 53-years of age, are the most financially and politically influential generational demographic. In fact, baby boomers control 80% of the personal financial assets and 55% of all consumer spending in Europe and the United States. In light of this, the baby boomers have also been most affected by economic decline. With 60% of boomers losing values in investments because of the financial crisis, 42% feeling as if they cannot retire, and 25% claiming they will never retire from work.
The baby boomer generation, who faced a total of 3-years cumulative economic recessions during their entire 18-year generational birth span, have since faced a total of 7 years of declined economies. Coincidently, in 2007 to 2009, loosely coinciding with President Obama taking over the White House, baby boomers witnessed a 10% unemployment rate and a -5.1% GDP. The worst in their entire lifetimes. Additionally, the country looks nothing like the great America they knew and loved. In actuality, it looks more like the 1960’s, when the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, coincided with the perceived ruination of their America's greatness. To the baby boomers, the Generation Xer’s were bad enough. However, now the Millennial Generation seems to be following in the same ill-fated footsteps of liberalism and a lack of appreciation for national pride.
So to the baby boomers, and their lineage that was instilled more conservative nationalistic beliefs, the time is now or never. So it’s not that the baby boomers and their heritage are inherently explicitly racist. Rather, it is that minorities aren’t contained within that idealistic perception of American greatness. In reality, it is the exact opposite, as civil rights seem to conveniently aligned with what they consider to be the beginning of greatness’s ruination.
To the boomers and those who were raised under a contemporary neoclassical boomer ideology, the notion of not standing during the National Anthem out of protest is an abomination to the beliefs they were raised to hold dear. Again, it is the culture in which the boomers were raised, and for them, it 's hard to rationalize the fact that those same symbolisms they love, also represented oppression and subjugation for African Americans and other minority groups.
To the boomers and their domestic remnants, they will fight those who oppose the reemergence of nationalism tooth and nail. To them, that is when America was great. They could care less about facts, figures or even the truth. Because all of these qualities are rolled into one simple attribute that is the most important thing above all else to the boomer generational class, feelings. They resist the cultural changes to the world and desire above all else to feel great again. Everything else that does not represent a bygone era is, therefore, a threat.
In the end, all of these beliefs of greatness in nationalism, fear of foreigners, and anti-globalization were born in the fields of a World War. That is why this theme of patriotism is found throughout the much of the civilized world today. This mindset was a necessity that governments had to instill in their citizens to win a war. What many people fail to remember is that indeed nationalism may have contributed to winning a war. However, it was the overzealousness and radicalism, rooted in those same nationalistic beliefs held by Nazi Germany that started that war, to in the first place.
So what does this all mean? Well it means that we as people need to understand that the greatness that is strived for by many people right now relates to the very fabric of the only cultural identity they’ve ever known. Additionally, beginning in the 2000’s the baby boomer generation is the first in American history in which the progressive longevity of life has reversed. Baby boomers are living shorter lifespans than the generations of the past. Researchers, at Princeton concluded that the boomer generation is dying young due to legal and illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, and suicide. Basically, the boomers have been under a tremendous amount of personal stress. Make no mistake, in varying degrees, these feelings of fear and stress have been passed on by the boomers to their children. So many boomers truly feel like this is their last chance to save the world they once knew.
Additionally, the dug in boomers must also understand that to many Americans their idea of cultural distinctiveness is not a shared vision. To many other American’s the nationalist version of America is not the country they have known as home.
If any real unification or progression towards a national identity of equality is to ever exist, we must accept that right now, socially and politically, we are in the middle of a collision of three different generations. At this point the most important thing to consider is that, indeed, the collective of these three generations are what represent America and humanity as a whole. We must make an attempt to tone down some of the emotion and feelings in order to actually work together. In the end we are never going backwards in time. Therefore, the only option we have to actually progress is to learn to work together.