A Moral Compass
by Myra Gross Schoen
For years there was one America. It was post-World War II. After the Holocaust in Europe. After the McCarthy hearings. During the Eisenhower years, when returning GIs could buy a house, go to college, raise a family, get a job.
It was "I Love Lucy," "The Perry Como Show," then Dick Clark and rock n roll. Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys. It was the start of the '60s. We all watched the same television shows, all heard the same pop hits on the radio, read the funny pages across the country.
But something happened. An awakening. The Vietnam War shook something loose in our society. Young people, children of those who'd fought in the last great war, a war that was supposed to end wars, thought they had the right to speak out, to speak up. They didn't like the new war. Where there had been consensus earlier, a mainstream that described, defined, the United States, now there were factions, conflicts, diverse tastes, disparate ideologies, distinct and different dreams and visions of what constituted freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
"Papa America..." In a sense this is the notion everyone believed in, respected, venerated, obeyed. But it had been shaken. Not everyone agreed anymore on what was patriotic, on what were the fundamental values of our society.
And into the '60s and beyond, more and more subgroups broke from the mainstream. You could tell by their music, their artistic expressions, their life choices and goals. Bohemians, beatniks, hippies, hipsters, hip-hop.
Civil rights, ERA, pro- and anti-abortion, birth control pills, AIDS, gays opening closet doors. The life-stream of America was changing. As it became more open, it also became more raw, more vulnerable, more fractionalized. The divide between the right and the left widened, grew more raucous and less rational, often denying the possibility of a civil conversation.
With technological advances - cable television, the Internet - and almost inevitable globalization, life in the United States and around the planet has become increasingly more splintered. Populations are shifting, moving from inhospitable places to live more civilly and peacefully to other, seemingly more stable and safe, places.
People rooted in their home places have become frightened of these displaced others, digging in, fearing that their own traditions and culture, their well-being, their security are being threatened by outsiders.
Around the globe and here in the United States, the modern seat of democracy, life has never felt so anxiety filled. It's as if someone turned over a rock, and slugs and worms and bugs have been unearthed, causing an upheaval of apprehension, distrust, and revulsion. And this chaos is fertile ground for dictators.
Gone it seems is the humanity and compassion, gentility and civility, kindness and charity that once defined our America. Where is that spirit that led us to greatness of being? Those core values that inspired other nations to find democracy? Where are our leaders? Who will bear the moral compass we so desperately need to make us once again the United States of Being?