All stories are true; some even happened. This one happened over the 100 years from 1917, when America first entered a world war, up to 2017, when it first elected someone who failed to understand that world.
My trifling part of the story begins when my young parents joined a 40-seat storefront church during that very same year Woodrow Wilson took us into war. Without much forethought, parents and nation were both slipping into something seriously but obscurely new. To be sure, it was a time when anything new in America was generally thought of as progress; however, that will remain for later generations to judge.
In the years following our victory in WWI, my parents gave birth to their first child, while their storefront gave birth to Chicago’s newest Gothic church. By mid-century, following another victory in yet another world war, we had become a family of four, and the nation had become a superpower of one.
Our family easily wove its quotidian threads into the social fabric of this modest neighborhood of first and second generation Irish, Germans, Scandinavians and Italians. Soon local mom & pop stores grew up in spunky companionship to the many walk-to schools, parks, movie houses, and yes family taverns. What these couldn’t provide us, our daily mail carriers, milkmen, and assorted peddlers did.
A nice, even although flawed, little patchwork of middle-class America, you know what I mean?
I can remember most dads heading out early to long-hour jobs; most moms taking care of kids and homes to the hum of radio Soap Operas like Helen Trent and Ma Perkins; later most of us easing out to front porches greeting neighbors or in front of TV sets with Milton Berle and Father Knows Best. The operative word here at mid-century was “us.” As in all of us sharing a lot of the same inarticulated beliefs in God, flag, home. At least as we thought these should be believed.
Of course in our new century this patchwork of collective Americana has been giving ground to the rapid exacerbation of newer more personalized communication technologies. Now everyone is privately plugged into their own communications Cloud. For all their astonishing beneficence, these flashy handhelds can’t help but define their users more as “me” than “us”. Over time that can make everyone other than “us” seem more like “them.”
Turns out here in 2017 our family’s stunning Gothic church is being ripped down, because there just aren’t enough “us” in a neighborhood more of “them.” In this same 2017, just enough of “them” voted for a man who personifies this very dichotomy in 21st C America. Put another way, we’ve become an America with far more Pluribus than Unum. It’s taken just 100 years to generate some fundamental changes in both family and nation.
Am I stretching this parallel story just to make a point…? Probably. And yet the point seems to be staring us in the face. In an age where everyone is in their own communications cloud and personalized cause, families like ours are witnessing an ending to the “us” that built our neighborhoods; meanwhile the nation is witnessing an ending to the “us” that built our America.
Are there consequences to these shifts away from the “us”…? You’ll find them in tomorrow morning’s headlines.
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