Last night we had dinner at our favorite local watering hole. One of our regular servers waited on our table—a young man, probably early twenties. When he approached the table to get our drink order, he overheard the husband and me talking politics—as we often do. I believe I was making a point about how “news” stories should not be reported from a right- or a left-slanted viewpoint. And the kid said, “Exactly! That’s the way it should be!” We talked back and forth for a few minutes, about politics and the media and fact vs editorial; and then he asked, “Has it always been like this? Has everyone always hated the government like they do now?”
I wanted to tell him something that would give him enough faith in the process to keep him engaged, but my mind presented me with an odd sort of empty hole. I thought about it later. I thought, “What COULD I have said?” that might have explained the stupidity in which we now wallow, that might have given the kid some assurance that somehow, somewhere in recent memory, all this stuff had made sense. That people had once known how to respect opposing viewpoints and work together for the benefit of all.
As I contemplated how to assure this young man that, no, people haven’t always hated the government, I thought back to when I was a youngster, and we baby boomers were full of piss and vinegar and the self-righteous fire of freedom coursed through our veins, and we marched and we demonstrated and we burned draft cards and bras and college campuses. And we hated the establishment, and disdained the pigs, and called soldiers baby-killers. And we embraced ‘free love” and birth control and atheism and ecology. Anything that our parents had held sacred, we rejected. At top volume and with all the violence and vehemence our young bodies and minds could muster.
And I think of those days as the “good old days”?
Two streams of thought sprang forth from this ride in the Way-back Machine.
Stream Number One: Were we right? Were the windmills against which we tilted really the enemies we believed them to be?
Stream Number Two: Does nothing ever really change, permanently, for good or ill? Is it all a matter of the swing of the pendulum, whiplash and backlash, leap forward, leap back? Was our generation the slingshot to the left that resulted from the extreme pull to the right of the McCarthy era ten years before our time? And is the current situation the swing in the other direction after, arguably, twenty or thirty years of advancement of a liberal agenda?
Do we ever learn a god-damned thing?
I so wanted to tell this kid that where we are politically, as a nation, right now, is not normal or right or anything we had ever seen before. I so wanted to assure him that sanity and cooler heads really did prevail in the “old days.”
But I had to bite my tongue before the words came out of my mouth.