1980 - 1989 | Howard Smead

1980 - 1989


          Forever young ...

 

"Are you better off than you were four years ago ...?

-- Ronald Reagan

 

To a leaderless and seemingly directionless nation, Ronald Reagan was The Man on Horseback. This retired actor performed his way through eight years in the White House, escorting Baby Boomers into middle age. Unintentionally picking up on Boomer themes , this magnificent speechmaker told us our government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," was as corrupt and anti-people as protesters in the streets a decade earlier said it was. His solution, in its way as misleading and destructive as a nything Timothy Leary ever advocated, was to embrace old fashioned materialism. He promised to bring back the Golden Era of the 1950's. Exhausted by the nearly two decades of turmoil and entering a brief period of prosperity, the country fell for it. Boom ers especially embraced Reagan with a fervor that showed a deep desire to forget. Conservative politicians, led by the Gipper, co-opted the anti-establishment rhetoric of the 60's and hurled it back at liberals and what was left of the counterculture with unfettered delight. The pursuit of wealth and material possessions became the route to self-fulfillment and a better society. Boomers embraced the culture of consumption as though we'd invented affluence -- just as in the 60's we thought we invented sex. Soon, quick wealth, the cult of something for nothing, proved to be false gods. The Reagan years increased class consciousness, social violence and disillusionment with pluralist democracy. We left the Reagan Era worse off than we'd been in 1980, less se cure, angrier, our optimism dashed, yet seasoned and, perhaps wiser.

 

          1980

 

         

"Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

          -- Ronald Reagan

 

That was easy to answer. No, as in Hell no! We didn't feel better off, thank you very much. The fact was most of us weren't. Inflation, de-industrialization and competition from Europe and the Japanese -- not to forget the Ayatollah -- were taking thei r toll. The general consensus mourned the old American spark, the old prosperity we'd taken for granted. Not that we especially trusted the man who posed the question. Not just yet.

 

          ***

 

          "There you go again."

          -- Ronald Reagan

 

Reagan's cool performance in the debate with Carter convinced the public he wasn't a mad bomber. He came off as personable, genteel and sensible. By contrast Carter seemed like a stick-in-the-mud. He also suffered the burden of four years of history, s ome of which was largely beyond his control. So was the election. Reagan won in a landslide of reaction to liberalism, the Iranians, the bad economy and Carter's uninspiring leadership

 

          ***

          Voodoo Economics

          -- George Bush's critique of Reaganomics

 

We should have listened to George when we had the chance. Supply side economic's Laffer curve proved exactly that. Bush charged that Reagan couldn't increase defense spending, cut taxes and still balance the budget, no matter how much he promised to cu t social spending. Bush changed his tune, though, when Reagan selected him for vice president. The voters didn't care. We sensed gold in Reagan's something for nothing promises. Fool's gold was more like it.

 

          ***

 

          Mount St. Helens

          -- volcano

 

When it blew its top on May 18, we saw nature in a way we weren't used to. The eruption blanketed Washington State in volcanic ash and altered national weather patterns. Mother Nature was no one to fool with. Neither was corporate America. Three days l ater Carter announced a state of emergency over a man-made disaster known as Love Canal in New York State, where toxic wastes from a chemical plant had made a nearby community uninhabitable.

 

          ***

 

          Little Havana

          -- Mariel Boat Lift

 

Miami already had well over 300,000 Hispanic residents when Castro allowed thousands more Cubans to flee his dictatorship. Ten years after the boat lift almost half of the city's 2 million people were Hispanic, the fastest growing minority in the count ry. Boat people from Southeast Asia had been immigrating since 1975. Later, Haitian boat people created the enclave of "Little Haiti" with a population of 60,000. By the 90's Miami had become a microcosm of our diverse and ethnically troubled nation.

 

          ***

 

          Who Shot J.R.?

          -- Dallas tv series

 

Power and greed were the national pastimes. Now they joined forces in this number 1 rated show, with its bizarre values and dubious morality. This November episode of the prime time soap opera became one of the most widely watched shows in history, as 80 million people tuned in all over the world to watch discover that Kristin was the one. The following year Dynasty premiered with its story line celebrating glamour and greed. Still later chipmunk diva and sex goddess Madonna entered popular cult ure as the Material Girl. The superficial glitz bore an official imprimatur from the Reagan Administration, which was, according to Johnny Carson, "the first administration to have a premiere."

 

          ***

 

          All we are saying, is give peace a chance.

          -- John Lennon

 

John Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York apartment building by a psychotic fan, Mark David Chapman, on December 8. As though there was any doubt, the moribund spirit of the Sixties and our youth, bid their final adieu with this tragedy. Now , we had to grow up. John was 40 years old when he died. Peace had become a cliché.

 

          ***

 

 

 

 

          MADD

          -- Mothers Against Drunk Driving

 

Candi Lightner founded this seminal organization after one of her twin daughters was killed by a drunk driver who was a repeat offender. Focussing on public education and stiffened sentencing guidelines, MADD's mission was "to stop drunk driving and to support victims of this violent crime." It grew to include a membership of over three million with 400 chapters nationally. MADD represented a greater reaction to the perceived excesses of sexual promiscuity and drug and alcohol abuse stemming from the M e Decade. "Neo-Prohibitionism" represented by organizations such as MADD spread into a crusade against sexual freedom, smoking tobacco and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign against drugs.

 

          1981

 

          *****************

          * Early boomers *

          * hit 35 *

          *****************

 

 

 

 

          "Government is not the solution to our problem,

          government is the problem."

          -- Ronald Reagan

 

So much for democracy. Although Reagan kept the lid on his more extreme ideas while running for office, once in the White House he unleashed them in all their wrath. Few people realized the fundamental absurdity of this statement about the very governm ent he'd been democratically put him in charge of. What he really meant was liberalism was the cause of our problem. And the Reagan Revolution set about undoing it, especially the welfare state that most Americans liked and wanted to maintain. How'd he do it? He blamed blacks and the poor for their plight, while re-assuring the rest of the public they shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of their wasted lives. At the same time, he used the government he supposedly reviled to cut tax breaks for the wealth y. During his eight years, their income rose dramatically while the middle class barely stayed ahead of inflation. The lowest 10% saw a reduction in their incomes. Reagan made a joke of social responsibility -- and turned the 80's into the Greed Decade.

 

          ***

 

 

 

 

          Traditional Values

          -- Jerry Falwell

 

Considering the extremes of radical feminism, leftist terrorism, black nationalism and the counterculture, it was about time someone injected a little tradition into the social equation. People were justifiably alarmed by the social uncertainty they sa w. Emphasis on Christianity, family, patriotism, democracy -- and white supremacy (the undeclared fifth value) came as an honest reaction to ideas that had exceeded the bounds of reason and decency. The rub was the fifth traditional value -- it needed exp unging. Reverend Falwell and the Christian right were reluctant even to admit it existed. And why should they? What good are moral absolutes when you're in power?

         

          ***

 

          "The wines were too various. It was neither

          the quality nor the quantity that was at fault.

          It was the mixture. Grasp that and you have the root

          of the matter. To understand all is to forgive all."

           -- from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

 

Our wines were too various. We watched the PBS series with envious fascination, intoxicated by the prospect of affluence being promised us. The costumes even stirred a mini-fashion craze. All things considered it was a major improvement over dis co. Besides, we've always had a inexplicable fascination with upper crust Brits.

 

          ***

 

          "Yes, whatever love is."

          -- Prince Charles

 

His July 28 marriage to Diana Spencer seemed like a fairy tale, especially when she gave birth to two handsome young sons, heirs to the throne. We were enthralled and completely taken with Princess Di. All of us, including the royal couple, should have paid closer attention to Charles' flip affirmation when asked if he loved his beautiful, blushing bride.

 

          ***

 

          "Honey, I forgot to duck."

          -- Ronald Reagan

 

Our new president gave us an object lesson in grace when John Hinckley, one of our generation, shot him outside the Washington Hilton on March 30. His self-effacing quip to his wife and later his statement to his doctors that he hoped they were Republi cans indicated the nature of this basically good-humored man who harbored no ill-will towards anyone.

 

          ***

 

          "They shot the Pope!"

          -- John Paul II

 

The assassin had murky links that pointed towards the Kremlin. Fortunately, the pope survived. In Cairo Anwar Sadat did not. Disgruntled, anti-semitic soldiers stormed his viewing stand during a parade and murdered him for making peace with Israel.

We were stunned to learn that Sadat was more popular in the United States than his own country.

 

          ***

 

          Rejection!

          -- assassination of Anwar Sadat

 

During a military review, several of his own troops detached themselves from the parade ranks and rushed the viewing stand which they sprayed with rifle fire. Sadat and many others were killed. Televised images of the horrific, bloody scene shocked Ame ricans as did the indifferent reaction of the Egyptian people. Sadat was more popular in the United States than his own country. The Islamic fundamentalists who murdered him were part of a widespread Rejection Front that opposed the Camp David Accords.

 

          ***

 

          Unplugged

          -- MTV

 

The biggest boon to payola, plugola since Alan Freed. Once a group of clever boomers came up with this idea for cable tv, rockers stopped sucking up to Jann Wenner and started crying for their MTV. We invented it, but aside from the acoustical part, we spent more time on VH-1. Either way, music videos began a new art form.

 

          1982

 

          Stay the Course

          -- Republican campaign slogan

 

The Reagan Revolution got off to a running start with deep tax cuts and a huge defense buildup. Compromising on social spending, he failed to cut federal outlays enough to compensate. In the short term, we were falling in love with charming Ronnie even as he led the economy South. Two years into the Reagan Era we were suffering a recession that bordered upon depression. Reagan blamed it on Carter and predicted that if were allowed to continue, all would be hunky-dory by 1984. With help from Carter app ointee Paul Volcker at the Federal Reserve, the economy recovered. An economic boom followed that lasted through the decade.

          ***

 

          the Eagle Forum

          -- Phyllis Schafly

 

Conservatives defeated the Equal Rights Amendment on June 30 when the deadline passed for state ratification. Mrs. Schafly rallied the troops. Arguing that the ERA would lead to homosexual marriages, unisex toilets and women in combat, she swayed a nat ion already fearful of even more change. ERA's defeat proved more symbolic of conservativsm's rising tide. Even without the amendment, women have come to realize equal rights -- and unisex toilets, same sex marriages and 30 thousand women serving in the G ulf War.

 

          ***

 

 

 

 

 

          The Wall

          -- The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

 

Controversial from start to finish -- just like the war itself. The Maya Lin designed wall bearing the names of our KIAs in Southeast Asia was one of the most emotionally wrenching memorials in the country. The angular black wall humbled us with its po werful statement of death and loss.

 

          ***

 

          Solidarity

          -- Polish labor movement

 

Led by electrician Lech Walesa, Solidarity challenged the autocratic communist government. In October the Polish government bowed to pressure from Moscow and imposed martial law, banning it. The heroic stand of the Poles marked the beginning of communi sm's death in their country.

 

         

***

         

Machine of the Year

          -- the home computer

 

Time magazine saw the personal computer revolution before most of us. The Apple II came first in 1977. In August 1981 IBM followed with the PC that set the industry standard. The power individualized computing brought to us had begun to transfor m our lives in ways that remain imaginable only to the most visionary.

 

          ***

 

          "He say you Blade Runner

Tell him I'm eating."

          -- Harrison Ford in Blade Runner

 

Future noir as it might be scripted by Raymond Chandler. This movie was as seminal as 2001 in its predictions for our future, warning us about a possible future that might not be all sweetness and light.

 

          ***

 

 

 

 

 

          "Wanna feel my heartbeat?"

          -- Dr. Barney Clark

 

Meanwhile back in reality, medical scientists implanted the first artificial heart, the Jarvic 7 in the chest of an ailing dentist. We might be facing an uncertain future, but advances in science held out the prospects of longer, more productive lives. The heart failed as a permanent replacement and Barney Clark died. But it proved valuable as a temporary measure before a replacement heart can be found.

 

          ***

 

          Question: What sound does the Delorean horn make?

Answer: Toot, toot!

          -- major cocaine bust

 

John Delorean quit General Motors to manufacture his own automobile. For a while he did, until his bust for possession of 59 lbs. of cocaine ended already failing endeavor. By the early 80's, cocaine had become the drug of choice. In the 60's it was ma rijuana and LSD, the 70's speed and downs. Now coke snorting extended into the mainstream. It was easier to conceal that pot, unless you forgot to wipe your nose. And you could still function -- you wanted to function, which was its attraction. Eve n though Delorean's bust was wholly trumped up by police and he was completely exonerated, cocaine usage was widespread, especially among boomers. Billions of our dollars flowed into the pockets of drug traffickers. The wealth it created made the drug eve r more attractive. Club hopping Yuppies dressed in Armani suites drawing white lines on small mirrors replaced blue-jean clad hippies rolling joints in incense clouded rooms.

 

 

          1983

 

          "Ride, Sally, Ride!"

          -- Newsweek cover

 

Sally K. Ride became our first women astronaut when she road the shuttle into orbit. The complex space craft represented another triumph for American engineering and ended the long hiatus in our space program.

 

          ***

 

          The few, the proud ... the betrayed

          -- 241 dead Marines

 

They'd been sent to Beruit to keep the peace. The ever posturing Reagan turned tail and ran when he saw the horror of the bodies in the twisted wreckage. So much for America standing tall. The public was so in love with the actor, it scarcely noticed. Remarked Rosalyn Carter, "If Jimmy did the things Ronald Reagan does, he'd have been impeached."

 

          ***

 

          Stars Wars

          -- Strategic Defense Initiative

 

Reagan hoped the satellite-mounted SDI would provide a decisive supplement to our anti-missile defenses. The cost was enormous. The practicality, even the possibility, dubious. But it scared the Soviets, who already feared our scientific and engineerin g prowess. Stars Wars and the defense build up came at the cost of a trebled national debt. As a result, in 1984 America became debtor nation. When he promised to give Stars Wars to the Soviets, no one believed him. He might have been just a tad out of to uch, but no one wanted to believe that either.

 

          ***

 

          007

          -- Korean Airlines

 

A few months before announcing SDI, Reagan called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire." The Soviets obliged by shooting down a Korean Airlines passenger flight that strayed into their air space, killing 269 passengers. The horrific act gave credibility to Reagan's characterization as it re-escalated Cold War tensions. Reagan labelled it for the "act of barbarism" it was.

 

          ***

 

          Standing Tall

          -- Americans in Grenada

 

He also believed in a monolithic international communist conspiracy. When marxists took over this small Caribbean island and began receiving Cuban aid, he authorized an invasion. The successful military effort was our first since defeat in Vietnam.

 

**********************

* There are now more *

* people over 65 than *

* there are teenagers *

**********************

         

 

 

 

 

 

          1984

 

 

          Young Urban Professional

          -- Bob Greene

 

The soaring economy was making fortunes for many of us, freshly out of college and into Wall Street. The Yuppie was a creature of the Reagan Era. As the president quipped, "They don't call it Reaganomics anymore." The times were high, optimism bright a nd bountiful. In declaring The Year of the Yuppie, Newsweek commented that yuppies existed "on a new plane of consciousness, a state of Transcendental Acquisition." Former radicals changed their tune with the times. Eldridge Cleaver became a born a gain Christian clothing designer, Bobby Seale a chef, Jane Fonda a fitness maven, Jerry Ruben, a stockbroker.

 

          ***

 

          "I have a foot in each world."

          -- Leanita McClain

 

For Buppies (Black Urban Professionals) the track was neither smooth nor certain. On Memorial Day, at age 32 Leanita McClain, a successful journalist, committed suicide. For her, like so many upwardly mobile blacks, making it in a white world had a da rk side. "I am a member of the black middle class," she wrote, "who has had it with being patted on the head by white hands and slapped in the face by black hands for my success." Petty insults, daily compromises with white prejudice, and the opprobrium o f pious, racialist blacks proved too much. Her ex-husband, Clarence Page, wrote that "her suicide was an instant paradigm for the discreet angst of America's new emerging black bourgeoisie."

          ***

          "I'll be back"

          -- Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator

 

The first American archetype since Vito Corleone. The Terminator might have been a villain in the first movie, but by the sequel he was a self-sacrificing good guy slightly more articulate than his soul mate, Rambo. They represented America prot ecting truth, justice and the American Way.

 

          ***

 

          "America is back ... it's morning again."

          -- Peggy Noonan

 

With speech writers like her, even Nixon might have survived. Actually, Reagan was so popular he was able to survive a scandal worse than Watergate. Up for re-election, he terminated old line liberal Walter Mondale, who foolishly promised to raise taxe s, even though Reagan would later give us the biggest tax increase in history. The referendum on Reagan and his policies resounded loud an clear, even as budget deficits mounted to untold levels and most of us were shut out the prosperity we saw all aroun d.

 

          ***

 

          "I am Death Wish Vigilante"

          -- the New York Post

 

The crime rate kept rising. When frustrated loner Bernard Goetz blasted four young black males who were harassing him on the New City subway, he was hailed as the Subway Vigilante. Never mind vigilantism was illegal. The racial elements of the attack d id not go unnoticed. Nevertheless, Goetz became a symbol of our growing fear about crime.

 

          ***

 

          Cyberspace

          -- Neuromancer by William Gibson

 

This bleak but exciting novel gave us new phrases to describe the "consensual hallucination" of cyberspace that would develop through the Net, what we now call the Internet. Gibson's dystopian view of the near future, appearing as it did in 1984, updat ed Orwell and touched off a new genre of speculative fiction, cyberpunk. As all good fiction should, it also offered a commentary upon contemporary circumstance.

 

          ***

 

          The Hunt for Red October

          -- Tom Clancy

 

Two literary genres invented in one year! "Nonputdownable," according to Ronald Reagan, this first techo-thriller presented a world in which America was strong and right, liberals silly, duplicitous and anti-American, and military technology always wor ked. Clancy's enthralling novels put him up there with horror writer Stephen King as the two best selling and arguably most influential boomer writers. King triumphed in the 70's with his stories of people at war with their world. Clancy's 80's villains w ere readily identifiable -- oppressive communists and the expansionist Soviet Union. He made it clear that a forthright America could and would win, if liberals would only mess out.

He also taught us a new meaning of boomer.

 

          ***

 

          Insanely Great

          -- the Macintosh

 

Ridley Scott's tv commercial first appeared during the January 24 Super Bowl. An athletic woman ran towards a giant screen on which Big Brother (from IBM) was indoctrinating a room of muted, automaton-like men and hurled a sledgehammer through the glas s. With this act she liberated the stunned crowd. The Mac began the process of liberating users from the arcane command line in favor of easy to user graphics. Two years after time named the personal computer Machine of the year, Steven Jobs' vision of a relatively inexpensive graphic computer became the third great industry milestone after the Apple II and the PC and launched a revolution in computer use. The graphical user interface was first developed by Xerox at PARC. But their stodgy executives fritt ered the marvelous invention away. Not so the geniuses at Apple. Once they got a load of the Xerox model, they went to work. The Mac's tiny icons defined the term user-friendly. The icons became icons. The Mac was the true shape of things to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

          1985

 

          New Coke

          -- the Cola Wars

 

Since the boom in the diaper business in the late 40s, baby boomers had defined the youth market. When Coca-Cola announced it was replacing its original Coke formula with a sweeter, less fizzy version. Why? To reach the new youth market, the "baby bust ers," Generation X! Here was age translated to dollars and cents. Suddenly we weren't young anymore, as if we didn't already suspect it. The youngest of us were twenty-one. Teenagers drank more soft drinks. The real importance of the Cola wars wasn't the battle between Coke and Pepsi but the switch from the baby boom to Generation X. But there are far fewer of them than our giant generation. We rose up in righteous indignation at the slaying of our sacred Coke and three months later Coca-Cola Classic appe ared and within a year was outselling New Coke four to one. Coke's mistake was simple. We control the market not because of our age but because of our numbers.

 

 

          ***

 

          "We are the World"

          -- Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones et al

 

Social responsibility was in disrepute but not quite dead. The scenes of starvation in East Africa resurrected the better angles of our nature. The joyous music by the assembled stars, for once burying their egos, raised relief money for the starving c hildren in Ethiopia. And rekindled the idealism of our youth in the form of the simultaneous 17 hour Live-Aid concert broadcast to 152 countries.

 

          ***

 

          Essentially a one-lane road

          -- entrance sign at Rajneeshpuram

 

The commune in rural Oregon was chocked full of professionals, many with Ph.D.'s, all of them devotees of the Human Growth Movement wisdom of their Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They rewarded him with ninety-three Rolls Royces. The commune took o ver the nearby village of Antelope and renamed it Rajneesh City. TM, communal therapy and free sex were attractive at first. But after a few years of autocratic control by Ma Anand Sheela, the Bhagwan's gun-toting, foul mouthed and ultimately murderous li eutenant and financial shenanigans that squandered upwards of $20 million, newcomers stopped coming and the most religious left. By December the commune and the Rolls had been sold, Sheela and others were on their way to jail and the Bhagwan was on his wa y out of the country. Many of his followers were returning to society for the first time in a decade. Said one, "We saw Bhagwan as this big Daddy who could take care of everything. But we've learned that you can't avoid taking responsibility for yourself. "

 

          ***

 

          Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link

          -- the WELL

 

When Stewart Brand and others founded the WELL, it became one of the earliest and best online virtual communities. With it came a bright new world of interpersonal global contact free from government regulation and control. The affect of such democracy had revolutionary portent. Nothing like it ever existed before in human history. Although other computer networks became bigger and better known, the WELL preceded America Online, Prodigy and Compuserve. More important, it set a high standard for cyberet hics, respect and fellowship that only a few networks have since equaled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

          1986

 

          ***************

          * Boomers hit *

          * forty *

          ***************

 

 

          "Obviously a major malfunction."

          -- mission control

 

The Challenger disaster brought chagrin into our homes. The one remaining source of pride in our government was shattered when the shuttle exploded in the bright blue Florida sky on January 28, killing all aboard including teacher Christa McAuliffe. Ou r space program went on immediate hold pending an investigation that revealed short-cuts due to budget reductions, bureaucratic sloppiness, and risk-taking that caused Sally Ride and others to resign from the program in anger.

 

          ***

 

          Estrangement Zone

          -- Chernobyl

 

On April 26 a Soviet nuclear reactor in the Ukraine blew apart and spewed deadly nuclear radiation to the four winds, 200 times more than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. An 800 square mile Estrangement Zone around the reactor was evacuated. Now known simply as the Zone, villages, towns and cities remain empty save a few desperate people living like rats amid the deserted highrises. An area the size of Maryland was contaminated. In neighboring Belarus alone 15,804 families were forced from their homes. That's 37,231 people who fled radiation over 270,000 times higher than the acceptable level. Mankind's worst nuclear disaster offered a serious lesson about the future, if we were wise enough to learn it.

 

          ***

 

          Greed is Healthy

          -- Ivan Boesky

 

In standing the Me Decade on its head, the Reagan Era gave us the Greed Decade, in which it was everyman for himself. He celebrated the personal at the expense the commonweal and made our self-centered antics at Esalen look like acts of social charity. Ivan Boesky' self-serving comment would have embarrassed any freshman trying to sort out the nature of Ethical Egoism. Never mind what this said about the Moral Relativism conservatives were so hot and bothered about.

 

          ***

 

          Hands Across America

          -- national campaign for the poor

 

On May 25, 5 million people, including the Reagans, linked hands from the East to the West coast to raise money for the poor and homeless. Cuts in social programs had produced hundreds of thousands of homeless people on the streets of the major cities. Estimates ran into the millions. Many of these unfortunates were King of Hearts mental cases released from under-funded asylums. Many more were single parent families down on their luck.

 

          ***

 

          DOS is Boss

          -- Microsoft's computer operating system

 

With Bill Gates' leadership, boomers began to make the sort impact on society we'd dreamed of. Who'd have predicted the computer nerd would become a boomer hero? Economic, though not industrial, social, though not institutional, the computer revolution began to re-distribute power and opportunity in ways unimagined just a few years before. Computer nerds began to replace yuppies as boomer success stories. Widespread usage of Microsoft's operating system, later Windows, which reduced the Apple's Macinto sh to a niche, allowed Time's vision of its Machine of the Year to become a reality.

 

1987

 

          "Mistakes were made."

          -- Ronald Reagan

 

Minor mistakes like an insurmountable debt and social disintegration? No. The issue involved in the Iran-Contra scandal was subversion of the Constitution on a scale unrivaled even by Watergate. This time, however, the revered Ronald Reagan was respons ible. And the outcome was different. The public directed its ire against Congress and was otherwise forgiving, even as it became clear that Reagan had been lying about trading arms for hostages with Iran. Worst of all, he had set up -- or through incompet ence allowed to be set up -- a shadow government organization to subvert laws passed by Congress. The contempt by Reagan and his men for democratic government rivaled that shown by southern slave interests prior to the Civil War.

 

          ***

 

          "I misled Congress"

          -- Oliver North

 

In his first inaugural address, Reagan blamed the government for our problems. Testifying before a Congressional Committee investigating Iran-Contra, a Marine Lieutenant showed us the consequences of turning the people against its own government. Weari ng his military uniform, North defiantly admitted lying to Congress. His excuse -- he was following orders. He also blithely confessed to destroying official documents and evading federal law. The public was so alienated from its government, loved Reagan so blindly, and found Oliver North so charismatic it readily overlooked even the impeachable offenses committed by Reagan himself. We found his propensity for making up facts to suit him endearing. As Bill Moyers said, "We didn't elect this guy because he knows how many barrels of oil are in Alaska. We elected him because we want to feel good." The Great Communicator left office even more popular than when he arrived.

 

          ***

 

          Black Monday

          -- Stock market crash

 

Reagan campaigned against Carter's $80 billion deficit as close to treasonous. But for eight years he incurred such high deficits that he tripled the national debt. He blamed liberals for it and got away with it. Then on October 19 the stock market gav e us a jolt of reality when it dropped 508 points. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 22% in a single day. Every year during the Reagan Era, 100,000 men and women became millionaires. The rich literally grew richer, the poor poorer and the middle class struggled to get by. Although Wall Street recovered from the crash our striated economy became a source of frustration and concern. The term yuppie, already a slur, now became a bad joke, as in:

                   Q. What do you call a yuppie arbitraeur?

A. "Waiter!"

The truth was, despite the many lost jobs, reduced fortunes, and the undeniable gulf between rich and poor, Black Monday amounted to a mere hiccup in the long rise of the market. As the years rolled by and we grew older, we began to dump millions of do llars into mutual funds, further boosting the market.

 

          ***

 

          Life is hard and then you die

          -- popular sentiment

 

Unintentional and ironic commentary about the happy times of the Reagan Era.

 

 

          ***

 

 

          Harmonic Convergence

          -- the New Age

 

Warm and fuzzy New Age remedies from potions and mantras to crystals and gurus promised to help us get in touch with our inner child when what we really needed was to get a grip on our inner adult. In mid-August devotees of the spiritual and New Age hi psters convened at various power points, held hands and waited for ... the new age. At least these convocations of airheads didn't hurt anyone.

          ***

 

          Pass the Loot

          -- the PTL Club

 

Daft religiosity was not limited to New Agers. Televangelists more than balanced the scales. The flagrantly materialistic Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker preached about God and power shopping until Jim went to jail for defrauding his faithful. The most pious tv minister of all, Jimmy Swaggart, got caught dallying with whores. Faith-healer Oral Roberts locked himself in his plush prayer tower, wailing that God would take him away unless people sent him $8 million cash -- and fast. The following year the lunati c presidential candidate Pat Robertson promised to shift the path of a hurricane to make it hit New York. He was also caught lying about his war record. Such corruption and disgrace among its leaders merely slowed the conservative religious revival.

 

 

          ***

 

          Glasnost and perestroika

          -- Mikhail Gorbachev

 

We got a New Age. Only it wasn't what we expected. The new Soviet premier saw his nation falling apart from decades of corrupt and ludicrously inefficient communist rule. When he announced new policies of openness and restructuring, he set in motion lo ng pent-up historical forces no one would be able to contain.

 

          1988

 

          "Willie Horton"

          -- Lee Atwater

 

The Reagan years destroyed the national consensus on civil rights. Clear evidence of it came from Bush's shameful negative campaign ad about furloughed convict Willie Horton. Lee Atwater raised the attack ad to high science, using racism and prejudice as palying cards. In 1990 before he died he publicly apologized for the careers he'd ruined and the damage to political discourse his cynical ads had done. Too little, too late. The damage he did became permanent.

 

          ***

 

          Dittoheads

          -- Rush Limbaugh's fanatics

 

With "talent on loan from God," as he put it, right-wing talk show host, Rush Limbaugh went national and became a central figure in the conservative counterrevolution. William F. Buckley said he possessed "preternatural fluency." Liberals called him Th e Most Dangerous Man in America. This as he sent them grasping for the Maalox. He reached over 4.5 million listeners at any given moment as he played conservative Mr. Bluster to his mostly white, male, college-educated peanut gallery. Although he was comp ared to other talk meisters such as Howard Stern, he was always more political and better informed and worlds less obscene. His hatred of all things liberal, of the Clintons, his contempt for the self-indulgent, cowardly baby boom generation, to which he belonged, his ridiculing of AIDS-ridden homosexuals, feminazis, tree huggers, the poor and blacks; his clever sense of humor (as in caller abortions), his championing of conservative causes and candidates, his penchant for self-aggrandizement (freq uent factual errors included) -- all of this brought him unprecedented clout with Congress and the Republican Party.

 

          ***

 

          A kinder gentler nation.

          -- Republican campaign slogan

 

This not so subtle cut at the cold-hearted cult of the individual beneath the Reagan charm promised a return to social responsibility. Alas, it proved to be mere Peggy Noonan rhetoric as Bush had to fend off his own extreme right wing which thought him a liberal lickspittle. They wanted the poor, the elderly, the infirm and especially minorities to fend for themselves, as they earnestly believed they themselves had.

 

          ***

          Suicide for the Hell of It

          -- Abbie Hoffman

 

One of the antic heroes of the 60's couldn't cope. Like so many others, he fell victim to depression. Whether it was the failure of the dream or a simple chemical imbalance, we'll never know. But Abbie lit a light that burned too brightly, but always i lluminated the truth beneath the bizarre.

 

 

          1989

 

          "A Thousand Points of Light"

          -- George Bush

 

Offering the essence of the Judeo-Christian tradition that championed individual responsibility and rugged individualism, the newly elected president failed to overcome the anti-pluralist, sectarian nature of his party, now dominated by the Christian R ight. They wanted no part of any points of light that included non-Christians, non-conservatives and anyone who even looked liberal.

          ***

 

          the Junk Bond King

          -- Michael Milken

 

Merger-mania encouraged by men like Milken, Ivan Boesky and others led to layoffs and cut salaries while rewarding stockholders -- and in the long term increased industrial competitiveness. But it was the means, not the ends that was so symptomatic of the times. The illegality of insider trading and stock fraud did not speak highly of conservative notions of unleashing business from government regulation. The multi-million dollar savings and loan scandals produced by de-regulation offered another indic ation why Congress had created regulatory agencies in the first place. When Boesky was charged with insider trading, he gave up Milken, who was earning millions negotiating leveraged-buyouts of companies using high-interest, high-risk junk bonds. Milken w as indicted on 98 counts of criminal racketeering and securities fraud. His firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert paid a $650 million fine and went bankrupt. Boesky paid $100 million in fines and went to jail. They both managed to come out millionaires, which ma de many of us wonder if insider trading wasn't worth it after all.

 

          ***

 

          Wilding

          -- assaulting the Central Park Jogger

 

In late April, a mob of teenagers laid in wait for a 28 year old woman jogging through Central Park. They'd already robbed a man, thrown stones at a taxicab, attacked bicyclists and male joggers. Minutes after the men were able to struggle free and run away, the woman, an investment banker for Solomon, Inc, appeared. Aged 14 to 17, mob members beat her with the their fists, their feet, a rock and an metal pipe, raped her and left her for dead. They got caught. The event caused a sensation. These boys, wrote Tom Wicker, were not stereotypical pluguglies from the ghetto. They came from moderate to middle income families that had striven to keep their kids away from crime and violence. Still, the near murder was racially charged from the beginning, althou gh it said more about anarchic violence than the razor-edged dynamics of race relations.

 

          ***

 

          "I must state that I will not appease those

          of you who wish me dead. African-Americans

          will not be led quietly to their deaths,

          interned, or just disappear. Those murderers

          among you better realize that because

          I am an American, I will defend myself."

          -- Devin S. Standard

 

Racial violence increased throughout the 80's. In '86 a white gang lynched Michael Griffith for being in their white Howard Beach, New York, neighborhood. The lynching of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst for much the same reason showed how much race relati ons had soured. Middle class blacks who had "made-it" began to speak of their rage at being treated by their white co-workers as though they had one foot in the ghetto. The growing violence of a few young black males, and their lynching of whites in Crown Heights, New York, didn't help sooth matters.

 

          ***

 

          The Goddess of Democracy

          -- Chinese prodemocracy movement

 

Demonstrating for freedom of speech and a democratizing of the government, Chinese students erected this statue based upon the Statute of Liberty in Tiananmen Square in front of Chairman Mao's mausoleum. The students were heroic in the face of the Army tanks. All for naught. Authoritarian governments rarely bow to public pressure. The little red demon Deng Xiaoping crushed the movement. Over 5,000 died. The sad affair made us appreciate our contentious democracy all the more.

 

          ***

 

          Exxon Valdez

          -- America's worst oil spill

 

Reagan denied it. Bush acknowledged it. The Valdez oil spill proved it. America had an environmental problem. When the super tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound in Alaska, it dumped 11 million gallons of crude into the waters and onto the shores . The devastation to wildlife and aquatic game was widespread despite the efforts of environmentalists to clean the thick black goo off the feathers and fur of thousands of animals. The Justice Department prosecuted the super tanker's captain Robert Haze lwood for operating the ship while under the influence of alcohol. The Coast Guard ordered Exxon to spend $2 billion for the cleanup. Five years later Exxon agreed to pay $15 billion in damages to fishermen and native Alaskans. Despite this lesson, many A mericans continued to be highly suspicious of environmental activists, dismissing them as "tree huggers," and their movement.

 

          ***

 

          The Christian Coalition

          -- Pat Robertson

 

He formed this group out of the dregs of his debacle in the presidential race. Outwardly much less theologically rigid than the Moral Majority, this grassroots organization, run by the ingenious Ralph Reed, it reached out to white economic and foreign policy conservatives, white anti-tax and anti-big government activists, and conservative white Roman Catholics. By stressing a broader agenda and downplaying the extremist elements of its program, Robertson's group enjoyed far greater success than the Mor al Majority, which peaked in 1980 and collapsed in 1989 under the weight of the televangelist scandals, Jerry Falwell's unpopularity and its own radical image. By 1990 the Coalition had 57,000 members. Six years later it had grown to 1.7 million, with a d ynamic phone bank operation that made it a commanding force in the GOP.

 

Center>        ***

 

         

"The End of History?"

         

-- Francis Fukuyama

 

With opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, the forty year Cold War at long last came to an end. The Soviet Union disintegrated over the next few years. In Iron Curtain countries, communism gave way to democracy, or at least non-communist government s. We all breathed a deep sigh of relief when the super powers began dismantling some of their nuclear warheads. Francis Fukuyama argued that the fall of communism produced "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of West ern liberal democracy as the final form of government." The "liberal state," based upon consumerism, became "the universal homogeneous state" -- the only viable socio-economic system left. Let us all hope so.

 

Title Page
Introduction
The 1940's and 50's
The 1960's
The 1970's
The 1980's
The 1990's
The Most Influential People in our Lives
Conclusion

howard@howardsmead.com     © Howard Smead 2017