Around this office – granted, it’s a home office – we have what we call “Epitaph Days.” Perhaps you know the feeling. These are days when something in the news or just stubbornly embedded in the society gets you scratching your head or clenching your fist. Sometimes it’s because you’ve been made to feel like an alien in your own culture. Or you get “mad as hell” in the Howard Beale/”Network” sense. And sometimes it’s just a chagrin-and-bear-it moment; nothing a TV remote can’t surf away.
But the net result: “EDs.” As in: “When the epitaph of this country is ultimately written, this will be included.” Not to wax histrionic about rise-and-fall-of-empire scenarios, but here’s a working short list:
*Embarrassingly low voter turnouts. Demoralizing, appalling frames of reference for anything related to civics. Single-issue voters with their marching orders.We continue to lecture the world, especially countries that are still post-colonial constructs, about the merits of democracy. In fact, we get vicariously giddy upon seeing a bunch of Muslims showing off a painted digit after voting for their favorite cleric or war lord.
*The re-election of George W. Bush.
*That there is a need – and that surely can’t be debated – for a law that allows a parent to anonymously drop off an unwanted infant at a designated “safe haven,” such as a firehouse. It’s a disincentive to use dumpsters for newborns. Are we losing our ranking in the animal kingdom?
*Sure, most people don’t want a military draft for all the obvious reasons. But the fact that this issue has been exhumed speaks volumes. We haven’t resorted to Hessians yet, but increasingly our over-committed armed forces are getting herded into battle based on demographics.
Educational qualifications continue to erode, and a criminal record is no longer considered poor form for military service. Sort of like tattoos: Doesn’t look good, but what the hell. And we now have gang members returning to civilian life after undergoing professional weapons training.
*Being confronted with a do-or-die, us-or-them, civilizational war, we still refuse to enlist the American people in the battle. We remain sacrifice-challenged, except for those over-contributing overseas and $3-per-gallon gas. But nobody’s driving appreciably less – and efforts to wean the U.S. off imported oil remain token at best.
*No country worth its sovereign salt has ever ceded control over its own borders. How long can America continue as an historical aberration?
*Despite the Don Imus Imess, rap music and its myriad financial benefactors still go largely unhassled, unfazed and unleashed. How alarming is it that a crude, thuggish, nihilistic, self-loathing, crotch-grabbing, misogynistic, dysfunctional culture is not something that is scorned – but successful and celebrated as “real”?
*The Goliath syndrome. So, exactly where does the United States fit in this imperfect world? And what do we do that best advances our enlightened self-interest? The case can be made that not enough Americans are asking that question, and yet our national security and our place in the global economy are inextricably involved. The case can be made that if we don’t get this one right, everything else is moot.
*A presidential selection system that requires candidates to first impress the most extreme among us in order to have a chance to represent all of us.
*A presidential selection system that now requires the most viable candidates to raise $100 million. That’s ostensibly what it will cost Barack Obama if he is to succeed in taking “cynicism” out of the political process. Who knows what it would cost to take irony out of the process.
*The neo-monarchial prospect of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton caste continuum.
*The Cold War relic that is America’s embargo-dominated policy toward Cuba. Only now it further undermines our worldwide credibility as a fair and honest force for good in the world.
*Anna Nicole Smith
*Obesity as a birthright.
*Political correctness that’s much more the rule than exception. Imagine not being able to properly use the profiling tool in defending ourselves against terrorists.
*Affirmative action that is still tilted at equal results rather than equal opportunity. The last bastion of meritocracy: the National Basketball Association.
*Out-of-wedlock births. Stigma? What stigma? It’s a choice.
*Marriage. Two men? Two women? One of each?
*Too much attention on self-esteem curricula in our schools. Would that it helped America compete in a global economy. But perhaps we will feel better than we otherwise would have for future failures.
*Laws (we’re not making this up, Louisiana has one and others are considering) that address how pants should be worn – and the proper ensemble role of underwear.
*Media meltdowns. Ratings-driven media that pander as much as inform. The line between reporting and editorializing too often obliterated. The blogosphere: Who needs editors, publishers and libel laws? Local news devoting precious air time to pimp non-news network programming.
*Remedial courses on college campuses.
*Coarsening and trivializing of the culture. Let’s not even count the ways.
*Two hallowed Amendments, the First and the Second, continuously subverted. If the forefathers were anticipating porn shops and assault weapons, then they get high marks for prescience and low marks for perversion.
*Did I mention oxymoronic rap artists?
Of course, this is not a definitive list. But it does put into context cell phonies, Saturday morning leaf blowers and drivers with jet-engine-decibel-level car stereos.
It’s a lot worse than that.