This is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned moon landing. It marked the greatest achievement yet of a burst of federal funding of science begun under President Dwight Eisenhower. The 50th year since college students from the north went to Mississippi for Freedom Summer. Fifty years ago the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. President Lyndon Johnson fought a war in Vietnam, misbegotten though it was, while declaring war in poverty. Soon, we will mark the half century since passage of the Voting Rights Act. In 1963, the Clean Air Act was approved, followed in 1972 by the Clean Water Act. In 1970, President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce these laws.
What was the nation that did these things?
A few things stand out. It was a nation with the greatest middle class in history, the greatest industrial base the world had ever known, which made things — often with union hands, and even when not benefiting from the advances for working people ensured by organized labor. That nation believed in science and progress. It was run by two mass political parties encompassing conservatives, liberals and centrists. Taxes were high on the rich and progressive. Productivity was widely shared.
That nation is gone.
Today, a large number of Americans don't believe in science and their wishes are being enacted by a reactionary Republican Party. Research funding is being smothered. This nation doesn't have a manned space program; we are dependent on Russia to send our astronauts to the International Space Station. As we face climate change, an existential challenge even greater than that of the Soviet Union at its worst, we are doing...nothing.
The middle class has been wrecked by more than thirty years of policy changes that destroyed unions, sent jobs overseas, chained us to bad "free trade" agreements. Inequality is the highest it has been since the Gilded Age, which is no coincidence as taxes have been repeatedly cut, especially on the rich, especially with loopholes and welfare for big corporations — the latter still complaining and threatening to move overseas. "Welfare as we know it" is gone for the poor. But jobs are more difficult to find than any recovery in modern history, and those that are available likely pay poorly. Unless one is in the elite.
Our infrastructure is falling apart, in some cases with lethal consequences. Although traffic is worse than ever, most of the country is dependent on single-occupancy car trips. Our passenger rail system in the dismal 1960s was more far-reaching and reliable than today. Even large, dense cities struggle to fund inadequate transit. And there's always an excuse for doing little or nothing. An obsession with the costs of Amtrak and the expense and disruption of light rail and streetcars. Yet nobody says a word about the costs and disruption of freeways, the opportunity costs of going all-in on cars, the continued pollution of the global commons called the atmosphere. Always an excuse. "Use buses instead" (but they will be stuck in the same traffic jams as cars). "Soon we'll have self-driving cars" (even though this has been a chimera since the late '50s and car-centric Americans love to drive — they don't want to be a computer's passenger).
Our first African-American president has endured the worst attacks and nihilistic policies of the "loyal opposition," with so much of it using the dog whistles of race. Barack Obama and the fears of a changing demography have sent the agents of white supremacy to the barricades. States across the New Confederacy are enacting laws to make it more difficult to vote. Reproductive rights are similarly under attack.
We're spending between $4 trillion and $6 trillion on military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan — both wars lost. Funny, the anti-trains and transit crowd wasn't complaining about this wasted treasure. Just like they are conspicuously absent as the taxpayers are fleeced for billions of dollars on such boondoggles as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Meanwhile, our Navy and nuclear forces are either degrading or facing major cuts.
"We're broke," the reactionaries tell us. We must cut "entitlements" — i.e. the earned benefits of Medicare and Social Security. In reality, we're not broke at all. A combination of returning to the old progressive tax system and adding taxes on carbon, Wall Street carried interest and transactions, and slicing back corporate welfare would allow us to make the investments to remain an advanced nation.
Similarly, a pro-worker stance on trade, card check for easier unionization, taxing companies that send jobs overseas, breaking up highly-concentrated industries, attacking tax shelters, raising the minimum wage and providing incentives for the rich to invest in job-creating enterprises rather than gamble — all this would go a long way to reversing the hollowing out of the middle class.
The reactionaries that set this nation's compass are opposed, always opposed — "What about the debt we're leaving our grandchildren." Unions? "They're greedy!" They are not the least concerned about the planetary disaster we are leaving future generations through our greed, short-sightedness and corruption in failing to address climate change. They are pleased that the rule of law is not applied to the rich, the banks and the "persons" that are corporations.
A court has dealt a major blow to Obamacare, which, remember, was the conservative alternative originating in the Heritage Foundation and implemented in Massachusetts by the GOP's last presidential nominee. The right will never quit until it is dead. We are the only advanced nation without universal health care. The Republican message to the poor is: die. Yet a majority of poor whites vote Republican every time.
For you brightsiders who read this and feel depressed, I have laid out intelligent responses to many of our problems. But a polity outside of the reactionaries, duhs and ignos must engage and fight. Even then, the Constitution has been so corrupted, the courts, the Congress, the big money...I don't know if it can be turned around. How on earth could the Party That Wrecked America be in a position to take the Senate this year? A peaceful, orderly breakup of this nation might be the best outcome possible. Let the New Confederacy go.
I watch the Bourne movies as they show a Europe that is beautiful, prosperous and linked by high-speed trains. This is no Hollywood fantasy. It shows what happens when nations retain a sense of the commons and don't waste so much of their money on empire and arms. If I were 30, I would move to northern Europe. I am so tired of a fight where the best we can hope is to delay national suicide.
The me that watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon couldn't have imagined that I would ever develop such a sentiment. But that was in another country.