Historically, when our nation has transitioned from one way of life to another, there has usually been some optimism about what was to come. That was true at the time of the American Revolution, and it was true as we moved from an agrarian society toward the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th through mid-19th centuries.
Today we are gripped not by optimism but by a deep pessimism, even cynicism, that permeates virtually every layer of our culture. According to a Real Clear Politics Poll, more than 66 percent of those surveyed think this country is headed in the wrong direction, yet like a man who is lost but refuses to ask for directions, we keep barreling full steam ahead.
Though politics has always been a rhetorical combat sport, the insults thrown by Donald Trump and his supporters have taken political discourse – if it can even be called that – to a new and depressing low. Such language keeps us from solving, or even discussing, the real problems this country faces.
A book by an “anonymous congressman,” titled “The Confessions of Congressman X,” is scheduled for publication on May 24, according to DailyMail.com. In it, the writer, who is reportedly a man and a Democrat, mocks the country he supposedly serves as a “nation of naive, self-absorbed sheep.” He says he and most of his colleagues never read the bills they vote on and spend most of their time raising money. “My main job,” he writes, “is to keep my job, to get re-elected. It takes precedence over everything.”
Given the behavior and history of so many members of Congress, who doubts his claim?
It was thought once that our leaders should possess good character. In this election, however, it appears voters will be forced to choose for president – if they vote at all – between a boastful, superficial, narcissistic misogynist and a corrupt, entitled, shady, lying, unaccomplished woman who has ignored her husband’s affairs in the pursuit of power.
Are these two candidates a reflection of our cynical and increasingly secular culture? They must be, otherwise so many voters would not have propelled them to the top of their respective parties. If we are willing to settle for less than the best, we can be sure that less is exactly what we will get.
Another character quality that is in decline is modesty. A new Calvin Klein ad features an “upskirt” photo of a young woman’s underwear. Victoria’s Secret catalogs and shopping mall displays, visible to children, feature barely clad women with “come hither” stares. Some of the sexiest films ever made were produced during Hollywood’s Golden Age when women and men kept on most of their clothes. Films and TV today go for the blatant, mainstreaming sex scenes, flaunting nudity.
Scriptwriters put words in the mouths of actresses that “would make a sailor blush,” as the old saying goes. Yet we are supposed to regard this as progress and equality.
Do I sound old-fashioned? There is something to be said about old things. Some things endure because they have proved to work for the individual and for society at large. Nations built to last generally do; nations allowed to rot from within do just that.
Cal Thomas, a columnist with Tribune Content Agency, appears in Opinion on Wednesdays.