Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Three Decades Later - What's Different?

In the late 1970's and early 1980's times were pretty tough. Economically the United States was hip deep in double digit inflation and smack in the middle of one of America's worst recessionary periods. Unemployment percentages were in the teens, interest rates on home purchases was around 12% and credit card interest rates were about 22%. OPEC was putting the squeeze on the West causing severe auto fuel shortages making for lines at the pumps that went on for blocks. Jimmy Carter, the President at the time, was elected in 1976 as the person who would bring change to the D.C. status quo and break the gridlock that had stifled Congress causing our elected leaders to be unable to get anything substantial done to help move the country out of its economic and moral quagmire. Carter failed miserably on all fronts. He failed with the economy, he caused more gridlock in Congress, morale fell to an all time low, he sparked some of the worst class warfare rhetoric in the country's history, de-budgeted and demoralized the military to the point that the nation's ability to protect itself was at its worse since the days of its founding. Things looked pretty bleak and many were crying the doom and gloom and end of the great American experiment.

Sound familiar? Here it is three decades later and we find ourselves in a very similar situation. The majority of the American people, nearly 78%, believe this country is headed in the wrong direction and many have lost all hope of a decent future for their kids and grandchildren, something that hasn't been the case in over 100 years.

There are some differences between thirty years ago and now. First, we are no longer under the suffocating umbrella of a global nuclear threat from the Soviet Union, that great evil empire many in my generation grew up with as a constant threat. Today the threat is more frightening because the Western world is on guard against an enemy that isn't as clearly defined, has no particular home country or leader and can strike anywhere from something as simple as an everyday bus drive to a packaged-sized nuclear device hidden under the grandstands of a sporting stadium or a lethal white powder in an envelop coming through the reliable postal service.

The other thing that is different is how we receive our information or news. Thirty years ago we were totally dependent on the half-hour nightly news from ABC, CBS or NBC. We leaned on folks like Walter Cronkite, Huntley/Brinkley or a very young Tom Brokaw to tell us what we needed to know. Since the news segment was only thirty minutes long there wasn't time for fluff or opinion, only the hard news. These reporters simply told us what was happening and moved on. Over the last three decades we have seen the birth of 24-hr cable news outlets and the internet, none of which ever sleep or shut down. The public is inundated with what is now passed off as news, but is almost entirely op-ed pieces, confrontational dialogue and entertainment fluff. To garner ratings, which is now the sole drive of these so-called news outlets, most of the stories presented as real news are chosen to illicit the greatest amount of shock, gore and emotional stimulation as possible. Truth in journalism has been replaced with awe and the public is blasted with this schmaltz 24/7. We have raised an entire generation who cannot distinguish between real news from information received from a Lifetime movie of the week.

This gravitation to the negative has become epidemic. There are economists who make fortunes by selling books about the end of America's financial future, politicians and talking heads showing up on the tube touting their latest tome of how America's better days are behind it and its future is all doom and gloom, and the news agencies plastering this sorry state of affairs at every opportunity. "Buy gold now to ensure your future after the fall of the great American empire," "The great reckoning is just around the corner," "Housing cannot rebound in the foreseeable future," and the list just goes on and on and on. Every time I turn on the television, go to the internet or look at the latest list of best sellers I feel like I'm walking down a street in which tattered folks in sole-less shoes are carrying those old signs and placards that say "The End Is Near!."

I'm here to tell you that most of this is just hype. That's right - HYPE! I'm also here to tell you not to fall for it. Are times bad? Yes, but can you really show me a time when it hasn't been bad on some level? Has there really ever been a good-ole-days? Do you truly believe this nation is about to collapse? If yes, then for you it is. I say that because the actions we take are always based on what we assume to be the truth. If you think or assume the hype is true then you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe the economic and housing situation will only get worse then you will take the required actions to make it happen. It is as simple as that.

Let me tell you what is different between thirty years ago and today. In 1978 one man rose and began telling the American people that "America's best days were still ahead of her," "Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have," " Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit," " I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life," and If you're afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again."

That man was candidate Ronald Reagan, who was overwhelmingly voted to the presidency of the United States and set this country on an economic footing that lasted for over twenty years through three presidential administrations.

However, it wasn't Reagan, it was the American people who took his words to heart, believed in them and put those words into action. Those actions of the American people set into motion a strong, respected, prosperous and confident nation that stood tall for over two decades.

In reality nothing on the world or home front has changed much. The players on the field may have different faces, certain minutiae are variant but the world has changed very little. What has changed is the confidence, courage and faith of the average American. Find a way to tap into the heart and soul of the American people like Reagan was able to do and watch the greatness of this nation rise to the fore. It has happened before, it can happen again because at the center of it all the American people; not its elected officials, not its news media, not its industry; are completely responsible for the destiny of this nation and their individual lives.