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Longing for an era that was sometimes dreadful

Roberts, Bill

A recent trip to Farmington yielded a welcome insight into what is going on in this country. Welcome, but disturbing.

On the way back, there was a large sign that struck me as important. It was surrounded by Donald Trump signage and read, “I want to live in the country I grew up in.”

Home was calling and my passengers were hungry, so there was no time to stop and verify the verbiage. But while perhaps not word-for-word, that is essentially what it said. And that explained so much.

Much of what passes for debate over public policy today is nothing more than nostalgia. Worse, too often it is nostalgia for a time that never existed or was actually dreadful.

Some nostalgia is inevitable and often healthy. I have fond memories of being young enough to enjoy getting pounded into the sand, body-surfing the Wedge in Newport Beach.

But I have other memories as well. Too many involve guns, high school kids in Mexico, the “The Sixties” and cars – always cars. Only one car crash landed me in the hospital, but there were so many near misses.

I am practiced enough that I can tell those stories and laugh, but in fact most reflect profoundly foolish behavior. The only reason anyone can laugh is that on balance we were lucky and there were few real injuries.

All of which makes me wonder what the sign maker had in mind for the world. Is it a world like the 1950s when an Ohio neighbor warned my mother that there were some of them – meaning Black people – in a nearby town? Is it a world in which a child can buy a gun at a garage sale as I did at 12 or 13? (It was junk but I could have killed someone with it.) Perhaps the sign maker longs for the world in which, as a child, I was served an airline meal that included a three-pack of cigarettes.

The world in my youth also meant I learned to drive in a car with no seat belts, no air bags and a steering column tantamount to a javelin aimed at my heart. Smog controls, radial tires and disc brakes were yet to come.

Of course, those are personal things. Add racial justice, women’s equality, voting rights and scientific advancements and a more complete picture emerges. The polio vaccine alone was a world changer.

Who knows what world the sign maker has in mind? Donald Trump has said that he sees the late 1940s and 1950s as America’s high point.

More than 50 years ago, there was a television show called “All in the Family” that mocked exactly that sort of delusional nostalgia. Its theme song sounds a lot like Trump.

Some excerpts:

“Guys like me we had it made. . .

And you knew who you were then. . .

Girls were girls and men were men. . .

I don’t know just what went wrong

Those were the days.”

It does not matter what world I want to live in. My wife and I have two grandchildren (so far) and it is their world that matters. I want our granddaughter to be treated better than my grandmothers were. I want our grandson never to be told to “smoke ’em if you got ’em.” I want neither of them to have to work themselves to death like so many of my ancestors did.

I remember Trump’s supposed golden age. And I can sleep well knowing that whatever he or the sign maker might envision, our grandkids will not live through a repeat of that time.

Bill Roberts was a former Opinion Editor for The Durango Herald from 1990 to 2017.