America Exceptionalism is in decline


Being a woman of a certain age, as the French so delicately put it, I remember quite clearly growing up in the 1950s and 60s being told in myriad ways that America was the best in virtually every way it could be judged. Of course, the 1960s with the Vietnam War and the cultural revolution put the spotlight on racism and imperialism for profit, but even then the country could boast of being self-reflective and standing up, in the main, for what was right.

I believe a lot of the current division, malaise and general nastiness is caused by a prevalent feeling that America has lost her mojo. We are no longer a world leader in categories we had held for a long time, and our citizenry in many categories and locations seems to feel uncared for by the government if not under attack by the government.

The causes for these feelings are, of course, numerous. The evaporation of manufacturing jobs, long the bastion of middle class folks who did not go to college, without any viable replacement has to be one of the things considered. When I left high school in 1966 many of my classmates laughed at me for going to college when I could make more money at Frigidaire or NCR. Now, not only did many of those classmates find themselves without a job in their fifties, but their families who had no tradition of post-high school education, have had to scramble to find a new way to maintain decent lifestyles.

We hear from the media how the economy is booming. Yet, I do not remember homeless people having to be put out of restaurants where they want to stay until shelters re-open when I was growing up in Xenia. I do not remember people dying because they can not afford insulin to manage their diabetes or children whose only meal of the day is a free lunch at school.

Schools are struggling with both disciplinary issues and academic issues in ways I did not see either as a student or as a teacher. All of the solutions to the problems suggested seem to put the teachers and students in opposite camps rather than as partners in the child¹s education. Blame is tossed around freely and includes parents and parenting.

America was never the halcyon land portrayed in programs like Leave it to Beaver or Ozzy and Harriet, but I think we at least all hoped, and most believed, that a decent middle class lifestyle where people lived peacefully and did not have to worry about getting shot for no reason or discriminated against or raped or going hungry or homeless was attainable. I am afraid that hope is dwindling.

We can do better, but it is going to take a new kind of revolution, one where we demand that the government operate for the good of the people and where we begin to see people as our fellow Americans and accept the fact that we are all basically in the same boat although some of us have better cabins.

We have to strive to improve America and Americans¹ lives. We cannot continue to ignore our problems or blame them on someone else. The environment, poverty, education, housing, hunger, bigotry all have to be addressed and solutions found and improvement made. Otherwise we will not be great, we will not even be good, and eventually we may not be here at all. If a society fails enough of its members it vanishes.

By Cookie Newsom

Dr. Cookie Newsom is a retired teacher-professor. Contact her with comments at [email protected].

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