It sounds childish and naive today, but there once was a time not that long ago when most people generally believed and trusted their government. The notion that elected officials would actually lie to the public would have been rejected by almost everyone.
I'm not sure, but perhaps this was because—to my generation, the postwar baby boom generation—the government was run by the Greatest Generation: the people who had defeated the Nazis in World War II. It was a generation that was easier to trust.
On more than a few occasions, I have teased Professor Grumbles for his ignorance of economics. A movie enthusiast, all the good professor knows about economics is what he picked up from watching Frank Capra movies: a fantasy world where all the business men are evil Mr. Potters and banks exist only to cheat the working man and to foreclose on widows and orphans.
Truthfully, in my own way, I am just as guilty as Professor Grumbles, for while I know better, I still want to believe that every politician is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I want to believe that no matter how corrupt the candidate, once the election is over, the weight and importance of the job will descend upon the newly-elected and a change will take place whereby he becomes worthy of the high ideals I want to believe exist—if only because they are the things worth believing in.
Unfortunately for me, it was difficult to live through the Sixties and hold on to such childish notions. Even for a poor dumb ol' country boy, it was hard to escape reality during a decade that was all but engineered to be the end of innocence. Whether it was the Vietnam War, the Peace Movement, or an increasingly aggressive press, this was the generation that became all too aware of what the nightly news called the "Credibility Gap."
As a child, I must have been dumb as a post, for I think I was the last teenager in America to realize the truth, but eventually, even I wised up. One day in school, there was a mandatory viewing of a drug film—part of the endless campaign against the evils of marijuana. I wish I could remember the name of the film, but the plot was easy to follow. A sailor fell in with evil companions while on shore leave and smoked a dreaded marijuana cigarette. Months later, the sailor was back on duty aboard an aircraft carrier, where his job was to help provide radar data so planes 9could safely land. During a violent storm and at a crucial moment, the sailor suddenly experienced the dreaded marijuana flashback, resulting in the fatal crash of the fighter plane onto the deck of the carrier.
All over the room, people suddenly sat up and looked at each other—a marijuana flashback? A twofer? How do you get two hits for the price of one joint? Hell, at that point, I had never tried marijuana, but even I knew that was bullshit.
For me, that was the first crack in the dam. Once I started doubting, however, it wasn't long until I began to doubt everything in government. By the time Watergate was over, I was the full-fledged curmudgeon who writes this blog today.
There was one last attempt by the young, in 1972, to reestablish ideals. The youth of America helped select a Democratic candidate who, in retrospect, could not possibly be elected. Their enthusiasm highjacked the primary process and dismayed the party regulars who, after suffering a major defeat, changed the delegate selection rules to insure that such political antics would be impossible in the future, thus guaranteeing that elections would be far from free and far "better" controlled.
This was a painful lesson for the country to learn, and the generation that lived through this period was changed forever. The very idea of believing in an honest government became standard fodder for talk-show comedians. A new, and far more cynical age, was upon us.
And politicians did their best to perpetuate the loss of trust. In swift order we had presidents who, though they promised not to lie, swore they couldn't remember details under oath, or lied to grand juries. And no one expected anything different from them: they were simply validating what we already believed about them.
Which brings us to this election cycle. Once again, a disaffected youth vote selected a presidential candidate who, though perhaps unelectable, nevertheless reflected ideals that were worth believing in, even it they were both naive and impractical. Millions flocked to support a candidate for the first time in their lives..and the rules established forty-four years ago immediately stopped this campaign cold.
Millions of voters learned that the election was rigged, that winning the most votes didn't necessarily produce the most delegates, and that the entire process was a sham. A candidate favored by the status quo has been selected—regardless of the will of the people. Though there is ample proof of the effort to subvert an election, no one currently is facing criminal charges.
Once again, an entire generation has been taught that being idealistic and naively innocent carries the high price of disillusionment. Another generation has been taught to distrust both our government—and those who aspire to run it.