By Lloyd E. Sheaffer
I was programming some radio presets into my wife’s new-to-her car. In scanning the stations up popped Ronnie Milsap’s sappy “Lost in the 50s Tonight.”
Something primal pricked my memory and goaded me back to my own childhood in the Eisenhower Era.
Before I succumbed to nostalgia, though, a frightening thought struck me: we are, in many areas, being thrust back into those post-war years–and not into the good parts–in several significant matters today.
Culturally and politically too many disturbing similarities are reappearing.
The year 1953 saw the appearance of every hormone-charged male teenager’s–and many adolescent-minded men’s– primary secret reading material, Playboy Magazine.
Each month the smarmy, smoking jacketed, millionaire publisher was seen rapaciously clutching one of his bevy of objets d‘art; they were Hefner’s Bunnies, his pets, his possessions whose purpose was to provide him with pleasure and then be disposed of when his fancies changed or their bunny tails sagged too much with age.
Judging by his oft seen debasing behavior toward young, attractive women and his own boastful crowing, I bet the current billionaire Groper-in-Chief had his own cache of the glossy fold-out magazines.
Imagine the attitudes toward women that today’s susceptible young men’s minds are developing as they observe such abusive behavior on the part of the President.
In 1957, a couple hundred of us pupils left behind nine one-room schools scattered throughout the township and strutted into a new state-of-the-art, consolidated elementary school. It had things our young country minds had never imagined: indoor plumbing, a public address system, a cafetorium where we could eat hot lunches and listen to choir concerts.
The classrooms were sparkling with shiny terrazzo floors, scratch-free blackboards, and formica-topped individual desks which we came to appreciate–from underneath. These furniture items served not only as smooth surfaces for our writing and arithmetic exercises but also as personal protection when the hated Ruskees’ bombs rained down to fulfill Nikita Khrushchev’s promise to the United States: “We will bury you.”
In 2017 the Russians still present a threat to our democracy. At this time they are working to bury us, not with post-bombing debris, but with a web of computer viruses, internet snooping, and infrastructure-aimed threats.
Today the reawakening Bear gleans information, not from the Rosenbergs or Aldrich Ames or Earl Pitts, but via tete-a-tetes between a steely, experienced intelligence agent and a minority-elected, can’t-make-up-his-mind, foreign policy neophyte.
Six decades ago Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other brave protesters brought attention to the plight of racial discrimination confronting African-American and other minorities throughout the country.
In particular these dissidents marched for the equality and opportunities assured under 1870’s 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States–the right to vote. Their goal came to fruition in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Yet half a century later the tares in the current crop of conservative politicians are striving to inhibit these same voting rights through bogus voter fraud commissions and other executive orders to circumvent the law of the land. Our minority brothers and sisters may, once again, become disenfranchised citizens.
Constitutional issues were not the only struggles facing the black population in the 50s; social contentions spewed forth as well. In my own backward-thinking community, even in my own clan, the N-word was uttered as often as were coordinating conjunctions.
The J-word, the S-word, the C-word, and other ugly terms peppered conversations. Today’s white supremacist gangs’ vitriol relies on the same demeaning epithets.
And just as today’s hate groups also target any immigrant population that does not fit their WASP ideal, the 50s saw disparagement against those who did not fit the “Leave It to Beaver” Cleaver Family crowd.
The Italians were the W-word; the Spanish were the D-word; the Chinese were the C-word or the G-word. Any person whose skin was not white or who spoke with a non-American accent wore a figurative belittling dog tag.
The current nationalistic, right-wing administration appears set on straining the contents of our once admired melting pot.
The increased screening of immigrants to the US seems to use a sieve with such a tight mesh that few aliens or refugees have a chance to share in the freedoms and opportunities that our culture has encouraged and needed as our nation grew.
The past welcoming and nurturing of immigrants into our society contributed to our greatness as a nation; the country will not be “great again” by banning those of different heritages, religions, or races.
The holes in the social safety net of the 50s–if there was one–were so large that hardly anyone could be saved from an unexpected fall; people were pretty much on their own in terms of medical care, of homelessness, addiction treatment, and so on.
Only the wealthy had access to top-notch service in such matters.
The present cadre of social deconstructionists seems bent on rending completely our current safety nets as it proposes to cut funding to social services, to drive health care costs out of the reach of the lower- and middle-class citizenry, to decimate investments in medical research, and so on. At best one might have a 50-50 chance of landing in the net, unless that one happens to be a member of the elite, the top one percent.
“The ’50s were a simpler time,” opine some who lived through them. If such an observation is true, applying the policies and attitudes of that less complicated age demonstrates an ignorance of the complex, onerous world of 2017. We must be looking forward, not backward, in a progressive manner, not in a reactionary mode, to ensure a great nation and a secure world.
If we follow the 50s-style approaches to governance in the formidable world of the 21st century, we won’t be “Lost in the 50s Tonight”; we’ll just be lost.
Lloyd E. Sheaffer is a regular PennLive Opinion contributor. His work appears monthly. Readers may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.