What exactly went wrong in America? Guys, Pale Beer, or Skynyrd? IDK
Everyone has a favorite theories or two about what went wrong in America. And from America what I really mean is the United States of, disregarding the other 34 countries in America – which speaks for our extraordinary egocentricity, which could indeed be seen as one of the overarching reasons the country went in the pot. Not only do we have a fervent belief that we have nothing to learn from others, we also barely understand that they exist.
As the Republican Party’s platform shifts from obstruction to fascism (e.g. CPAC plans a spring tour in authoritarian Hungary), citizens go mad for wearing masks and talking about anything but a safe and free vaccine in a deadly pandemic who claimed more American lives than were lost in our Civil War (in an era when doctors could do a lot more than just use a saw) and school leaders faced violent threats to promote basic inclusion and diversity efforts in public schools to support – for many the concept of American exceptionalism has been turned on its head.
One could easily argue, as was argued at the time, that the country went (literally) south when it was first really established because too much had to be given to the south to ratify the constitution. We still suffer from these compromises and continue to make them to this day. America’s hidden wound, as the writer Wendell Berry put it, our collective unwillingness to fully recognize our history of slavery, is now producing the vicious arguments over the critical racial theory taught in public schools and the prohibition of books dealing with the History of slavery deal in this country. This wound can prove fatal.
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In a side note, I would like to mention the insightful – and unfortunately very relevant for our time – article entitled “Who Wants to Be a Nazi?”. by Dorothy Thompson, published Harper’s Magazine in 1941. If you haven’t read it, read it now as if we had it. Because we are.
My few pet theories can’t rival the increasingly bizarre QAnon-esque fantasies on the right, where less is said the better. (I’m not going to bother linking to anything. Anyway, as we now all too well know: Do your research yourself!)
While we still have time as we enjoy what may be the final days of this little experiment in semi-representative democracy, let me propose a few less theories, just for the record. Lesser theories, you might say, from my admittedly lesser mind.
Was it the guys?
The serious lack of seriousness and misogyny that life in a typical fraternity has inculcated during a young man’s college career has bled into most of our institutions, including Congress. The problem with many ex-boys is that they are never really ex-boys. Then they were young and strong and could have a beer without even thinking about it. not Thinking about things was a badge of honor. You look back on these years as formative and suffer at least from a certain development standstill. In their underdeveloped minds, they still gleefully cheat on exams, brag about their sexual prowess, regularly use words like “pussy”, and make the life of promises a living terror. If you want to understand how dangerous they can be if they stumble into public services later in life, just trade promises and trade citizens in the previous sentence. You’re done, promise. Get me a beer.
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I regret to note that the current Congress has many members, both Democrats and Republicans, some of whom I admire who turned Greek in college. All I can say is that when I was in a Promise Class fraternity I was trying to get a group of a dozen promises through one insanely idiotic and semi-dangerous hell week (only one guy had to be hospitalized), I decided that I would not return for the next year and quietly let the active members know. The upper class took down four or five of the more sober, more sensible members to try to talk me out of it. So my guess is that there are some reasonable members out there who have not participated in the “stupidity of the right,” as Bret Stephens, a conservative voice at the New York Times, calls it. But for the most part, I think the frat boy theory has to stand, just as the endless influx of so-called Oxbridge graduates apparently leads to group doctrine in Westminster Parliament. So yeah, go get me the beer. Speaking of …
Maybe it was light beer
I contend that the remarkable success of Light Beer around the Ronald Reagan era has led to further gaslighting, constant abandonment of reality, and unnoticed underlying, troubled discontent among US men. They have been pounded by the message all their lives that these weak foams “taste good and are less filling,” which is utter nonsense. At a certain age these men felt confused at first and then probably duped, but they kept buying this stuff because, you know, Sports.
Perhaps another message was conveyed: We don’t need any darker brews here, no dark-skinned Beer, my good colleagues of European descent! Light is right! Someone on the right must have figured out that if you could get men to believe these watery brews were beer, you could get them to believe anything. Younger men also fell for the onslaught of light beer marketing (see above: Frat Boy Theory). Here, too, the lack of taste led to an unrecognized deep dissatisfaction with the prospects of life, like that “incel” thing, but with beer. Light beer is to beer what watching porn is to sex – you will definitely be disappointed. The advent of an infinite array of delicious (and, yes, sexy) craft beers enjoyed by younger Americans (the 18-40 demographic now makes up 31% of the electorate), sometimes brought away from “microbreweries” into “growlers” get no doubts overwhelmed and enraged the aging cohort of light beer quaffers whose lives have been stolen from them, so irrationally calling them, you know, MAGA. Don’t forget where Hitler and his good friends processed their grievances into an incoherent conspiracy theory – fueled reasons for ruthless killing, pillaging, and conquering the world – in beer halls. Beer counts.
The Breakthrough Theory of Athlete Pay
When St. Louis Cardinals midfielder Curt Flood sued Major League Baseball in 1970 for independence from the reserve clause that left all career decisions to team ownership, he never personally enjoyed the fruits of his labor. But other players did, ushering in the free agent era and raising salaries for professional athletes. Interestingly, in the same era, the company bosses looked around and mumbled to themselves that they should be paid more.
When Flood advocated his freedom as an independent contractor, a top manager’s salary was roughly 30 times the salary of his worst-paid worker; now it is almost 400 times higher. The most devoted lackeys of American corporations in Congress later called these men “job creators” as if they were demigods. (I didn’t mention a lot of these liberated athletes were People of Color because that sounded like a CRT tangent and might be annoying to some people. I just want a little credit for not mentioning any of these Craft beers, yeah? If it costs $ 10 for a beer at a ball game, it might as well taste like something.)
Service with a smile
The culture and traditions of the American workplace have always been associated with the slave economy, and our expectations as consumers of endless “service with a smile” fit this owner’s mindset exactly. Think of Brad on Fast Times at Ridgemont High being scolded by a grinning customer who is asking for his money back and his manager has no support at all. Or think of me as a young man who works in a New York restaurant replacing a colleague who breaks down in tears after being molested by a foursome of coked Wall Street characters. One of them thought it would be fun to grab my shirt and pull me close to his face to express his unhappiness that I wasn’t the waitress he wanted to keep harassing. Now think of store clerks and chefs and flight attendants and nurses yelled at by endless streams of toddlers posing as adults. This is the attitude – on steroids, if not cocaine – that key workers across the country faced during the pandemic. As journalist and author Sarah Jaffe notes in an excellent interview with Ezra Klein, many workers learned during the COVID crisis that their bosses literally didn’t care if they died.
The “Gospel of Prosperity”
The Republican Party managed to get people to believe they were interested in religion and grabbed their votes as they turned God into a CEO, suitably impressed with your numbers, and Jesus into a caddy waiting for it To meet your country club needs. (As much as I loved playing golf, what are country clubs but a slightly more presentable version of the Old South Plantation?)
Talk on the radio
You hear them when you drive across the country, especially outside of metropolitan areas: hours of tirades from religious and political madmen. Just try to find an NPR station. It’s incredible.
The “Freebird” theory
Gosh, I really don’t want to go on talking about the south. I loved that double lead guitar sound – I mean when I was a frat boy). But it’s really hard not to blame at least part of the blame on Lynyrd Skynyrd, isn’t it? I know this statement is likely to mislead some of her fans. So, listen, just take me three steps, mister.
Consider this similarly insightful material from Salon dot com: