Once upon a time, Americans lived in a country where certain behaviors were so self-evident that no one of any political party argued with them:
- Lying is bad
- Elections should be fair and open
- Facts are important
- Russia must not influence an American election
- Government officials should be qualified for the office they hold
- Presidents must not profit from their office
- Obstructing justice is a crime
- Workers should make a living wage
- Healthy children are good
- Sexual assault is scandalous
- Nazis are evil
Living in Upside-Down America
We can no longer accept any of those things as factual or even preferable because we live in Upside-Down America. In this country:
- Facts have no value, truth is what people say it is, and a lack of qualification for office is, in itself, a qualification for office.
- Workers are expected to work for peanuts while senior management lives like emperors on the profits of their labor.
- America’s declared enemy celebrates the election of their favorite candidate—whom they helped to get elected.
- Nazis are “fine people” who simply have a different perspective.
- Sexual assault is a perk of power and office.
- Elections can and should be manipulated in favor of any party that can’t win an election on the merits of its platform.
- Science is a matter of belief, not verifiable and repeatable results.
Wow! The country has not just moved, on, it has flipped completely. Upside-Down America has entered “1984” country, where Big Brother tells us that up is down and we should not believe the evidence of our own eyes and ears. It feels more like the Twilight Zone to me.
An Expensive Change
The flipping of America has proved expensive. We have lost many things and these losses include respect for:
- Middle-class values
- Public service
- Public safety
What Country Do You Recognize?
I am tempted to say that my parents would not recognize this country but I don’t actually think that is true. My parents lived in a country where justice was even more inconsistent and defined by race and class than it is now.
In their America, bigotry and prejudice were expressed openly and without shame. “Good people” used all the pejorative words and told all the jokes—about black people, Jews, disabled people, Catholics, and women. In public. Everyone laughed.
No Country for Second-class Citizens
Homosexuals of both genders stayed closeted and hidden. Transexuals were unheard of until Christine Jorgensen became a woman in 1952. The U.S. Armed Forces were segregated until 1948 and black draftees were assigned to scut work and Kitchen Patrol. A person of color “passing for white” became the subject of scandalous books and a movie. In Major League Baseball all the players were white and In Negro League Baseball, only the ball was white.
Men could beat their wives legally and proudly. Raping their wives was a contradiction in terms. On television, an actor in a situation comedy threatened to punch his wife every week and we all thought it was funny. Birth control was illegal, even for married people. Women did not mention menstruation or menopause in polite company. A woman who accused a man of rape had her reputation publicly shredded. Help Wanted ads were segregated by gender and women need not apply for the good jobs.
Nazis in New York City
American Nazis held a packed rally of 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden in 1939. Screaming with joy, they raised their arms in the Nazi salute. German-American Bund leader Fritz Kuhn had between 6,000 and 20,000 members in his organization. Unapologetic anti-Semites included Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, both of whom received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle.
According to the Tuskegee Institute, “4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968 in the United States, including 3,446 African Americans and 1,297 whites.” Not only did “good people” attend those lynchings, they brought their children to see the spectacle. Afterward, they sent postcards to friends and family with pictures of the murdered victim’s body.
We Got Better
I could, unfortunately, go on but my point is that we had gotten better. if any of the above shocked you, that’s proof of America’s progress. Over time, many words, tropes, jokes and themes became socially unacceptable. Some people reacted negatively to this “Politically Correct” trend, preferring to do things the old-fashioned way. Slowly, painfully, the country began to turn around.
As a nation, we became more open, more tolerant, more diverse, more accepting of others who were not like us. Sure, there were and still are holdouts. We read articles trashing “PC” behavior and can find folks who think political correctness has gone too far. Many people who would like nothing better than to return to the “good old days” that were actually good only for straight, white, Christian men. Everyone else was second class
Flipping to Upside-Down America
Now, quickly and disturbingly, America is flipping again only this time not for the better. The old prejudices, hatreds, and intolerances have crept back into common parlance.
Police kill black men and boys with impunity and without penalty. Anti-Semites attack synagogues and murder Jews. They vandalize Jewish cemeteries and schools. The President of the United States mocks the disabled. He derides the families of men and women killed in action. Nazis march in the streets of American cities. The rich get richer than ever before in history but don’t share the wealth, even by paying taxes. Schools conduct “active shooter drills” to protect their students from young men carrying weapons meant for battlefield use.
The Big Question
So, here’s the question, folks: what America do you want to live in? On our national journey back to the future exactly how far back do you want to go? Would slavery, taking the vote from women, replacing science with alchemy, and criminalizing witchcraft make you happy?
If you’re uncomfortable with today’s Upside-Down America, ask yourself what you’re going to do about it. Because the hard work of reversing this retrogressive flip won’t happen by itself.