Some people are really good at remembering history accurately, with all of its scars and ugliness. Take middle school, for example. Most of us remember it well enough to know that we wouldn’t care to revisit that part of our lives ever again.
Some people are not so good at remembering the ugliness. Instead, some people are really good at romanticizing the past. This psychological phenomenon is a cognitive bias sometimes referred to as “rosy retrospection.” And actually, more of us than not are pretty good at this technique. Have you ever heard a parent or grandparent speaking earnestly of the past? Or, how about a friend saying how things were so much better back when we didn’t have ___? (insert noun of choice, like ‘the internet.’)
I know from my own personal experience, I very much used to live in the past. As a kid of the ’70s and early ’80s, I found my adult self frequently lamenting, “Why can’t we just go back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons and giant bowls of cereal?” It wasn’t until years of cognitive behavioral therapy that I realized exactly how harmful romanticizing the past was. For me, it became a coping mechanism that I formed to steel myself against some of the really horrible things that happened in my life at a very young age.
Yes, we had Scooby-Doo and The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show, and Kellogg’s was still using “Sugar” in its titles, i.e., Sugar Corn Pops, Sugar Frosted Flakes. Certainly, I remember drinking water from the garden hose in the summer and riding all over town on my Ross Stingray banana seat pink polo bicycle – without a helmet. And yes, I lived to tell about it. Sure, it is actually true that we kids made our home the outdoors, and we explored the neighborhood woods and creeks, or came together in cul-de-sacs for roller skating, and games of red light green light, and flashlight tag. We knew which lawns had the nice soft grass, pleasing to walk on barefooted, and which yards would get us screamed at if we dared to trespass. Absolutely, it’s true that the streetlights were our cue to come home for dinner on Saturday, and we wore ourselves slam out, came home ravished, ate dinner at the table, settled down watching The Love Boat, and went to bed without bathing.
But it wasn’t all fun and games.
What the memory of childhood tends to downplay or forget altogether is that we had probably at least as much, and possibly more bad outweighing the good. During that era of outdoor play, sugary cereal, and four hour marathons of Saturday morning cartoons, we also had pregnant mothers who saw nothing wrong with smoking while pregnant. We had the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate affair, and his subsequent resignation, the first of any American President. Twenty-nine people attending an American Legion convention in Philadelphia were killed by a mysterious, terrifying ailment, discovered a year later to be a bacterium, which we came to know as Legionnaires’ Disease. The New York city blackout resulted in massive looting and disorderly conduct for the duration of twenty-five hours.
The Iran hostage crisis began. We also had an insurgence of religious cults gaining momentum – The Children of God, the Unification Church and the “moonies,” Heaven’s Gate, Branch Davidians, and, of course, Jonestown and its subsequent massacre, to name a few. There seemed to be a rash of widely publicized, mystifying serial killing sprees from Son of Sam to Ted Bundy. The AIDS epidemic became recognized and people lived their lives in fear and uncertainty as homophobia took on a life of its own. Incorrect information was widespread and ignorance about this deathly syndrome was rampant.
Mount St. Helens erupted, killing fifty-seven people. John Lennon was assassinated by a stranger and Marvin Gaye was assassinated by his father. Global warming became well-known to the scientific and political communities and people got angry. We watched in horror as Ethiopians suffered widespread famine and children starved to death in front of us on TV sets.
During class, we sat and watched in sheer silence as The NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disaster unfolded, taking several lives, one of which was a school teacher who would’ve been the first teacher in space. Parents around the country held on to their children a little tighter as they watched the story of cute little 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who vanished in broad daylight, just an aisle over from his mother in a shopping mall, and was later found to have been abducted and brutally killed. And also, the financial world of the 80s put a spotlight on greed personified in the form of a rich man named Donald Trump.
Now, thirty-six years later, greed personified is our President. And not just greed, but this shell of a man also is a textbook case of narcissism and tyranny. He campaigned simply on a slogan of “Let’s Make America Great Again,” referring to some unidentified era in U.S. history that his followers couldn’t quite name either, but knew it just somehow rang true.
People who fell for a line like “Let’s make America great again” are the very same people who spend the present living in the past. When they drone on about the horrible state of the world today, they also long for a time when “things were just better.” If pressed to recall exactly which year was better, they might have some idea of a year that was personally better for themselves (for any number of reasons having nothing to do with the President). But they fail to remember all the bad stuff that happened that year, too.
These people, as I’ve learned, are also not very well able to look outside their own bubbles and see issues that affect the greater good (or detriment) of the people. Therefore, they vote on issues that exclusively impact their own lives, and maybe the lives of their immediate family or a few close-knit friends. Being a bleeding heart liberal, it has always been my mindset that when you are handed the awesome privilege to vote, you really shouldn’t vote for the betterment of your own situation exclusively. You should vote for the betterment of the people. Which includes ALL people. You don’t get to censor people’s basic, civil rights.
On the note of censoring, trump may threaten and attempt to censor the “dishonest” media (he won’t succeed), but that doesn’t mean that your closet racist Uncle Fred or your pumpkin spice loving, white BFF Jessica has the permission to do likewise. They don’t get to censor Facebook, sending threats to “unfriend” anyone who posts political stuff. The story of this exact thing happening has lately been recounted over and over again across Facebook groups where people come to ask for advice on this very thing.
The resounding response from the overwhelming majority is always, “when people think your personal posts are at/about/directed towards them such that they take personal offense, it illustrates their very self-centered world view. And that is a huge problem with why we are exactly where we are right now.” I’ll use an analogy I’ve heard a lot of conservatives make whenever police brutality happens and a black person is killed. They always say, “if he wasn’t doing anything wrong in the first place, he should’ve done what the cop said/not run from the cops/kept his hands on the wheel/not voiced his concerns, etc., etc. (Never mind the fact that plenty of black people who have been killed were obeying orders.) Regardless, under that logic, one could argue that, if you’ve done nothing wrong in electing President trump, you should have nothing to feel attacked over in a Facebook post, right?
I’d also like to discuss this notion of people saying “America is the greatest nation in the world, and illegal immigrants are ruining us.” I agree America is pretty great, but I disagree that illegal immigrants are ruining us. I’m pretty sure your white, pumpkin spice loving BFF Jessica does not want to work in the fields, planting tobacco or wearing a hard hat for a construction job. And besides, saying that type of thing out loud, over and over for the rest of the world to hear is pretty much the equivalent of the stuck up, puffed up high school jocks who think every guy wants to be them, and every girl wants to get with them. Those poor guys… they have no idea how many “normal” kids are laughing at their shallowness and stupidity. In terms of age, America is the privileged,puffed-up teenager of the world, and boy do we act like it. We really shouldn’t fool ourselves – other countries have been laughing at our immaturity forever.
Maybe what will go down as one of the ugliest facets of this past year’s history, though, is that half of our country did not even vote this election. We fought exclusively for that right, we fought hard, and we don’t even use it? And then what happens? We get a very mentally unstable, sick, narcissistic psychopath by the name of Donald Trump who actually gets elected 45th President of the United States.
And here we are, pining painfully, for an unidentified time in America that half of us believe was truly “great,” a belief held from behind rose tinted glasses, from people who favor living in the past over progress and growth.
A friend of mine in Australia tells me that voting is compulsory there. Failure to vote at a federal election without a valid and sufficient reason is an offense under section 245 of the Commonwealth Electoral act 1918. She says the lines are long, and the wait is hard, but people would much rather take advantage of their privilege to vote than pay the meager fine. She says they treat it like a party. Everyone hangs out and barbecues while waiting in line, and it’s a big celebration of people coming together to sing, talk, and celebrate. No one throws away their opportunity to make a difference like that privileged sister teenager, America.
America, we could truly stand to take a history lesson from others – maybe even from our own nation – if only we could remove those rose colored glasses first.
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