Right from the Middle: Did America Peak in the 1950s?
By Bill Lipinski
In my opinion, the United States of America, this land of the Pilgrims Pride reached it’s zenith of moral responsibility economic power, patriotism, civic and community engagement, global leadership and freedom in the late 1950’s.
Since then we’re witnessed a long slow decline, except for the extraordinary efforts this democratic Republic and it’s citizens have made to create equal opportunity for all enabling African American citizens to fully benefit from the American way of life, where an individual if he stays on his toes can reach the stars and enjoy the benefits of the nation with the highest standing of living in the history of the world.
Gains for African Americans
This has occurred by our democratic republic government and the overwhelming majority of our citizens being dedicated to correcting the mistakes of the past and seeing to it that African American citizens have the same rights and opportunities in this Land of Liberty as other citizens.
Besides African Americans working hard, pursuing education, continuing to be optimistic and gaining more and more political power, our democratic republic and businesses have spent billions and billions of dollars creating the “Great Society”, through side-A-side programs, quota programs, and preference programs.
The justice department has intervened in over a thousand cases ending discrimination of African Americans.
This unprecedented effort by African-Americans, the federal government and other American citizens has produced incredible gains for African Americans.
There has been an African American president, there is a black woman vice president, there have been 11 United States senators, 147 members of the United States House of Representatives, two justices of the Supreme Court and thousands and thousands of none Federal elected officials.
There are many African-Americans on television, in radio as news reporters and anchors. African American own many businesses and are CEOs of major corporations. And their are many High ranking officers.
In our military that are African Americans. African American have come a long, long way since the 1950’s.
Continuing this progress, unfortunately, will be tougher if our society doesn’t reverse it’s downward trajectory.
The Role of Religion
But now lets get back to the decline of the United States of America overall since the late 1950’s. First and foremost, there has been a significant decline in America’s religious beliefs and attendance at religious services.
In a Democratic Republic that proudly displays in numerous places the phrase “In God We Trust”, God is disappearing more each and every day.
Fewer and fewer public officials mention God in their speeches, unlike our founding fathers. America’s greatest quality has always been it’s belief in God; that is what made it exceptional among nations.
Religious guidelines kept marriages together, reduced single parent families, and generally provided believers with a strong moral compass that has served as a sort of protective guardrail along the highway of life.
Our democratic republic grew, progressed and prospered when our belief in God and religion was at its apex. In my view it is necessary for all American clergy and lay people to do their utmost to return God and religion to their proper place: believed in, honored and respected in our society.
God and religion can do more to bring this nation together than any other force or entity. The brutal fact in our nation is that participation in religious services has dropped dramatically since the 1950’s.
Leading the way is the Catholic Church were attendance has dropped by 23 percent since the 1950’s.
The other qualities that propelled this democratic Republic to the pinnacle of freedom, and economic and military supremacy, are marriage, close families, patriotic spirit, and individual responsibility.
Like religion, these qualities have also suffered since the 1950’s. In 1950, 79% of households were married couples, today it is 49%. In 1950 fewer than 20% of married couples ended up divorced; today it is near 50%.
I don’t know if there’s any way to measured the decline in patriotic spirit and individual responsibility, but just look around you can’t not miss it.
How many flags do you see flying from homes on the 4th of July, Flag Day, and Memorial Day?
How many patriotic parades do you see? So many Government programs and teachings in high schools and colleges are destroying individual
Responsibility: Karl M. would be very happy.
Civic, service and fraternal engagement has also declined precipitously. In the late 1950’s organizations like the Jaycees, Lions Club, Shriner’s and veterans groups like the VFW and American Legion all had strong membership.
Have you met a Shriner lately? Know anyone who participates in a bowling league ?(they were very popular in the 1950’s!) The sense of identity, community and service that members received from such organizations is missing for many people today.
Entertainment has changes as well. Television was just emerging in the 1950’s and TV shows were careful to promote (rather than challenge) the widely accepted moral and social norms of the day.
People still went out frequently to nightspots for socializing and entertainment that, by today’s standards would would be considered boring and tame. Entertainment generally didn’t push social boundaries as it does today.
Rebuilding after World War II
World War II (1939-1945), I believe, played a major role in the rapid increase in American living standards in the 1950’s. After the war, America stood alone in the world as an Industrial power. As European countries rebuilt their obliterated economies, America provided the vehicles, machinery, steel and other products that were needed.
This allowed private sector unions to secure wages for their members that propelled factory workers into the middle class. Middle class Americans could afford spacious suburban homes, new cars, lake cottages. Many sent their children to private and religious high schools and on to college.
Many individuals who studied the 1950’s have concluded that the affluence of so many more citizens, higher levels of formal education, the start of rebellion against authority, and the so-called “empowerment of the individual” started America’s downward trajectory.
Some have said we couldn’t handle being the economic powerhouse of this planet and the number one military power on earth, because it all came too fast.
In my next column I will comment on how we might recapture the best elements of the 1950s for the 21st-century.
(William O. Lipinski served as the Congressman originally representing the 5th Congressional District and later the 3rd Congressional District from 1982 until 2005. Previously he served as the alderman for the 23rd Ward between 1975 until 1983, and as Democratic Committeeman for the 23rd Ward. Share your comments with Lipinski by email at BillLipinski@hotmail.com.