Now that it's painfully clear the U.S. is on a downward slide, the only question worth asking is when, precisely, did everything start to fall apart. At what point in time did the pendulum begin swinging the other way? Accordingly, history buffs, philosophers, and amateur intellectuals rejoice in debating this question.
Some say it was the Kennedy assassination. Others say it was Vietnam, the first war this country ever lost. Others say it was Watergate, the scandal that destroyed a president and shattered our faith in government. Still, others say it was Ronald Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers, a decision that put the zap on organized labor and set loose the dogs of unbridled corporate greed.
Personally, I think it all started in 1978, when TV weather people began referring to rain as "shower activity," but that's just me.
In any event, whatever it was that precipitated our decline, there can be no doubt that our best days are behind us. And anyone who thinks otherwise might consider the following.
- Estonia has stronger labor laws than the U.S. It's true. According to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Estonian workers have better protection than American workers. Which raises the obvious, disturbing question: Where is Estonia?
- Sarah Palin almost became vice-president. Americans can take a joke as much as the next guy, but that little stunt could have backfired.
- The movie Titanic beat out LA Confidential for the "Best Picture" Oscar in 1997. A big, splashy movie squeezes out a smaller, well-crafted, artistic gem. Quantity over quality. Style over substance. Ho-dads over surfers.
- The U.S. now has almost twice as many suicides as homicides. In the 1970s, we were recognized as the murder capital of the industrialized West. But our murder rate has dropped dramatically. That's the good news. The bad news is that we've taken to killing ourselves instead of other people. Not an encouraging sign.
- In 1983, the U.S. military invaded Grenada, an island nation (132 square miles) roughly one-fourth the size of Phoenix, Ariz. The justification for invading? It was determined that Grenada represented a threat to U.S. security.
- In 2003, California, the most populous and, arguably, most diverse state in the union, recalled Gray Davis, a perfectly suitable governor, and replaced him with an ESL Austrian movie star whose physique was once described as a "condom stuffed with walnuts."
- The Kardashians get better ratings than the PBS Evening News.
- In 2002, President George W. Bush lost consciousness after choking on a pretzel. Bush's dog revived him by licking his face (something the First Lady regularly did to divert his attention from televised football). Washington survived Valley Forge, Kennedy survived PT-109, Reagan survived a gun shot. And our commander-in-chief passes out from eating a pretzel. Who can deny that our best days are behind us?
- The United States is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Babies are fat, children are fat, adults are fat. Even American pets are becoming obese. Oddly, this national obesity epidemic coincides with increasing annual expenditures on exercise equipment and athletic apparel.
- According to unofficial polls, 92 percent of Americans believe they have a Guardian Angel watching over them. If that's true, then these "guardians" need to step up to the plate, because we're getting our rear-ends kicked.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at email@example.com.