Charlie Pottenger’s Sept. 15 Guest Opinion gave me pause to consider the same topic. After some thought I realized that I have a different take on what happened to America. The phrase “Make America Great Again” is often used as a slogan. I assume that most people using that term are thinking that America was great during the WWII followed by the decades of the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and even the ‘70s.
What made that period great? Born in ’39, I remember a bit of WWII. I came of age in the ‘50s and after High School volunteered for the draft and did a tour of Germany at the height of the Cold War. I returned to civilian life and college while Eisenhower was still president. So, like Charlie, I’ve seen a lot of change.
What I remember about those times was the energy, the feeling that, as a nation we were going somewhere and that we were leading the way for the world. As a nation we were building the interstate highway system together with lots of dams and energy systems. We were putting people in space.
Our mentally ill were safe in hospitals, college education was free, or nearly so, and education in general was supported which resulted in our country’s technological advances. Our military was staffed and funded even if it took the draft to fill the ranks. In short, we were making the world a better place. The word “we” is used a lot in the above because it was “we the people”.
Then, in 1980 Ronald Regan pointed to a new way for America. Cut taxes he said, and the billions saved will be spent on new factories and capital investments. The new investments will raise new taxes, so by lowering the tax rate business will be freed up to build new taxable investment and the same tax revenue will be available. We can have it both ways he said. The nation loved the idea, so tax rates were cut over the next 40 years to one-half of what taxes were in the “great years.” One half the taxes for the rich, but most workers didn’t see much cut.
Unfortunately, it took a while for the new investments to show on the tax rolls, so legislators everywhere were forced to cut budgets until the new promised money arrives. Looking back now if you make like a cop and “follow the money” you find a trail leading to Asia. Instead of investing in America our billionaires sent their money to build factories in Asia. We loved it! All those low cost cars, power tools, food, furniture and electronics made the average American’s money go farther, so it was like a tax cut. Meanwhile the taxes available to maintain our infrastructure proved less than adequate so legislators everywhere had to cut corners.
Early on mental hospitals were emptied, and those are now in tent cities or are populating our jails and they give our police lots of work. Maintaining roads is difficult enough, forget the idea of improving roads. College has become so expensive our kids are dropping out while my son’s high-tech company has to hire foreigners. Locally, the Forest Service used to have huge crews doing a variety of work, crews that were available when a fire started. All gone now. Our reduced military is hard pressed to keep a military presence around the world. I think all of us can all come up with a big list of “what used to be”.
So, in 1980 we went from being a creditor nation to a debtor nation. As a nation we replaced the need of “we the people” to “I need” and our focus is all about my freedom. The collective term “we” is long gone. What we see happening around us is that change. My question is, “Why are we surprised? Like my father used to say, There ain’t no free lunch – you pay for it one way or another.”