Cantlon: Decline didn’t come from the ’60s or the Left
There has been moral decline. Where did it come from? In Doug Graham’s column in the July 3 Courier, he puts it on the baby boomers. Doug, the Courier’s community editor, was referring to boomer culture after the rebellious ’60s, but let me draw that distinction more clearly, because many people think back to the changes in outlook and the sexual looseness of the ’60s (was it really any looser than humans have always been?) and think that was responsible for all kinds of decline since. But that’s the wrong target.
The activists of the ’60s were rebelling against an existing moral decline. The conservative mindset of the time was that everything was fine: The white, male hierarchy, the stale, traditional churches, plus anything business wanted, including the consumerism boom of the ’50s and ’60s, and, quite frankly, the good business of war.
Activists threw off having just a work life and a lot of consumerism as a meaningful life, and took up moral causes. We led on important issues that we later came to find the broader public agreed with. We supported the leaders of the black civil rights movement, and we were right. Called for treating the environment with respect, and we were right. Opposed the foolish Vietnam War, and we were right. Started more informal and personal religious services, and we were right. Stood for greater women’s rights, and we were right.
Of course, there were a lot of hangers-on who took it as an excuse to be hedonistic. That and a lot of normal youthful foolishness. Hangers-on tarnish every group, just as the “greed is good” crowd did to the better parts of conservativism.
Plus the media always exaggerates the worst of everything, because it makes for better headlines.
Then, starting in the ’80s, the conservatives got co-opted by those spouting that phrase “greed is good,” and a disrespect and a looking down on anyone who wasn’t financially successful grew, along with a new worshiping of the very successful as if that in itself was a moral accomplishment. Later some of that same crowd led us into new foolish wars, as if invading Iraq would be a noble thing to do, and easy, and have wonderful benefits. Plus there was a steady decay of our politics. Politics used to be more what it should be, a powerful struggle of competing ideas, but fought with tolerable fairness, followed by compromise. Then conservative campaigns took us to much lower lows, with the abhorrent smearing of a combat veteran in the “swift boating” of John Kerry, the outright stolen Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, then Trump welcoming Russian help to get elected, and now the political depravity of both Trump and Mitch McConnell.
Yes, there definitely has been a moral decline. I agree with Doug’s point, which was more about our individual, private morality, that it’s essential that we each, “rise above our own personal interests.” Something that we all can do better at. But as far as the question of the public decline, of our politics, our public debate, how we run the nation, where did the bulk of that decline come from? If you’re looking to the left, you’re looking in the wrong direction. A mirror might help. If not to see oneself, then to see those who co-opted the conservative view and turned it into something vicious and petty and immoral, and those among the sincere conservatives who nevertheless allowed that to happen as the price of a few victories.
I’m proud that I was, and still am, part of that rebellion that started in the ’60s, always pushing for the better parts of our nature.
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Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.