by Howard Smead


It is the close of the century. America's finest hours are behind it.

Our democracy and our future are being questioned amid growing distrust of our institutions.

Our country is filling with people speaking strange tongues, whose values are different from our own.

The cities in which they live are rife with crime. They are divided into pockets of ethnic minorities that seem incapable of and unwilling to assimilate.

A bill is before Congress to restrict or ban immigration outright.

The poor grow poorer while at the top of the social pyramid the super rich enjoy incomes  200 times higher than average citizens.

They are so wealthy they appear to live in a different world, with scant loyalty to our own.

Corrupt politicians line their pockets and ignore the "general welfare. "

The inefficiency of city governments and the laws coming from Washington, DC, serve the wealthy and large corporations first — then, if at all, the people.

Although the severe economic downturn that took place early in the decade is largely past, average citizens still feel its effects. While wealthier Americans are enjoy enormous wealth and prosperity. Catalogue sales of a vast array of consumer goods, for example, are booming. Many lower middle class and poor families must scramble just to make ends meet.

Thirty-some years previously, during the 60s, the country was involved in a costly and divisive war, the effects of which are still felt throughout society.

More recently America fought and spectacular victory in a short war. It was the most popular war in our history, but it hasn’t quite overcome the deep divisions of the previous war.

Traditional values — based on the family farm and God-fearing Christianity — are threatened. A Great Awakening, led by fundamentalist evangelical Christians, has created a social and cultural counter-revolution in reaction to what they consider rampant public decadence, especially in our burgeoning cities, and declining morality. The GOP has become the beneficiary of this re-surfacing of strict Christianity and emotional religiosity. Religious leaders, politicians and reformers point to several warning signs of doom.

    —  Drug imports have reached seven times the immigration rate.

    —  Although they’ve leveled off, divorce rates have nearly doubled over past decades.

    —  Although they’ve also leveled off, abortions have been on the increase since the 60s.

    —  Homosexuality has become increasingly open in large cities.

    —  Women activists, Feminists, are demanding equality, which countervenes Biblical law.

    —  In addition new ideas and new technologies are transforming our culture right before us.

Political radicals rail against the elite, claiming they're out of touch with the nation's heritage. A prominent conservative, considered by many to be a demagogue, is running for president claiming both parties are elitist tools of large corporations that owe no allegiance to the people. He wants to change trade and tariff legislation to help the small guy.

Armed vigilante groups have formed to protect local areas from intrusions by peoples and organizations they dislike.

Since the '94 off-year election, when the GOP swept away the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, it has bee a period of Republican domination of the political outlook — conservative.

A powerful Speaker of the House, known for his candid and often intemperate remarks, led the attack on a Democratic president considered by many to have dubious morals. The Speaker himself carries serious moral baggage.

Now, the well-bred son of an aristocratic Republican Northeastern family, who is cynically characterized as "that damned cowboy,"  is widely expected to become president at the turn of the new century.

And everywhere race relations haunt public discourse. Racial violence has been on the rise throughout the decade.

Blacks are dying violent deaths daily, especially young black males.

Reaction to a famous court case has set blacks against whites, and split the black leadership between those proposing separation and self-help and those advocating assimilation and remedial federal legislation.

Famous and influential on both the right and the left analysts argue the country has actually been in decline for some time.

America may once have been great, they say, but China and Japan are threatening its greatness.

We look toward the new century with a mixture of shared hope and dread.


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The Decade is the 1890s ... the last decade of the tawdry Gilded Age and one of the most tumultuous peacetime decades in our history.  Rivaled by the 1990s!