At the end of the first decade of the century, I present reflections, nagging thoughts and judgments about the state of and direction of our culture. Each time I am tempted to reject or alter or soften an idea, something within prompts me to go for it.
Overall, I see good things looming in our country. We are not, as in the past decade, going at things blindly, taking the easy hit. In the past week alone, I have met bright, hard-working Americans opting for careers in endeavors like health care, social work and teaching. One of my favorite young men is wrapping up four years in Nigeria. He is happy doing good for others. And he’s smarter than your MBA whiz and, from where I stand, happier and more fulfilled.
He is at the vanguard of a new America, embracing idealism, as he shuns advice to save for a vacation home. I have great respect for occupational and physical therapists who work hard at tasks that make the world a better place. My oncology nurse smiled when she told me she loves her work. I never imagined.
Wherever I go, I’m encountering people who derive immense pleasure from helping others. Every day we hear stories about people willing to forgo pay raises if it means saving a job for a colleague. A law of inverse proportions seems to be at work: The more people struggle, the more willing they seem to help others.
Still, powerful forces are at work to stymie the impulse to do good. On all sides of the political spectrum, we need men and women whose primary impulse is to promote decency and respect for others, especially those less fortunate through no fault of their own. Especially annoying are public figures who inflame hatred and prejudice with politically motivated catch words.
And so, while I look to the new decade with hope and optimism, I am still annoyed by the lies and name calling that dominated in the past decade. Here then, for your consideration, is my list of those who best represent the low points of the past 10 years.
Think what you want, but one villain stands alone as a disgrace and insult to American values. If truth and justice prevailed, former Vice President Dick Cheney would be on trial for war crimes.
You want an example of gross injustice? Think of Bill Clinton impeached for lying about consorting with a bimbo versus Cheney’s lies that justified the deployment of troops in Iraq. His prevarications not only cost lives but allowed the Taliban to dig in and continue their dirty work.
Why aren’t more Americans appalled by this callous disregard for American integrity? The issue transcends political allegiances. Clinton’s dalliances sullied his legacy and in some quarters defined him as a slimeball. Cheney remains an accomplice to the cause of lies. We all should cry shame each time he is called “a fellow American.”
Confronted with evidence that Americans opposed the war in Iraq, Cheney replied, “It doesn’t matter.”
When will more Americans wake up to the self-serving pretensions of charlatans like radio host Glenn Beck? In the 1930s Father Coughlin was exposed as a bigot, but not before he fanned the flames of prejudice, ignorance and hatred. Beck has the audacity to embrace and herald the battle cries of patriots like Tom Paine, a guy who would be appalled by Beck’s rants.
Beck’s off-the-wall ideologies demonstrate ignorance and malice, and show up the cowardice of those decent Republicans terrified of landing on Beck’s wrong side.
Where is a modern-day version of Profiles in Courage, a grass-roots hero when America sorely needs one? Where are the gutsy, honorable Republicans — like Nelson Rockefeller, Dwight Eisenhower, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson — when we need them?
We need more decent hard-working Americans like John Brennan, President Obama’s anti-terrorism adviser. His appearance on a recent Sunday’s “Meet the Press” was the most enlightened and refreshing presence we have witnessed in years. Totally nonpartisan. Old-fashioned American.
It’s one thing to forward a strong opinion, but quite another to wish for an opponent’s misfortune. Such is the case with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who urged fellow senators “to pray [that] somebody can’t make the vote.”
It was widely believed Coburn was talking about Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, 92 years old and in ill health. This vicious canard was upped by conservative blogger Bob Owens who bragged, “All I Want Is a Byrd Dropping for Christmas.”
People who find these rantings humorous define themselves as stupid. These are the ones who speak in clichés like their idols, Rush Limbaugh and Beck, avoiding an intelligent discussion of ideas. Rarely can they engage in an argument of substance because they hang by the skin of platitudes. My suspicion is that Obama hatred stems from resentment that a black man can outduel them in a fair debate.
Meanwhile, we don’t need a president who beats his warrior chest, urging an avowed enemy to “bring ’em on.” Remember Bush?
The major challenge for politicians in the new decade is to find a way to address the mounting populist rage. It may come down to one question: Who has the courage to take on the banks?
We close the decade’s book on American idolatry and the bastardization of American music. It’s time to expose eight-bar music frauds like Adam Lambert, a symbol of the desperate need to shock (“Show me yours, I’ll show you mine.”) It’s a recipe for cultural disaster.
If you want cool, consult names like Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Lester Young, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Parker, Elvis Presley — artists in touch with themselves, who give rather than exploit.
Here’s to artists and politicians with the courage to stay in touch with themselves and their unselfish dreams.
Reach Dan DiNicola at [email protected]