This week we will celebrate the last 4th of July of the second decade of the 21st Century. This is when we are all supposed to feel good about our country, and just be grateful to be Americans. These first two decades of the new century have changed that feeling as much as any twenty-year period in our history, and it should make us question who we are, and what it means to be an American. The traumatic start of the 21st century may have actually started in the last years of the 20th century when we lived through the impeachment of a president for lying about a sexual relationship with a young intern. Sound familiar? But that seemed to fade away as we were worried about Y2K. Remember? Then we had the 2000 election that was decided by hanging chads and the Supreme Court.
Of course, the day that changed everything was that bright, sunny Tuesday morning when terror came hurdling down from the sky at us. That jolted us like few other days in our history. That led us into one endless war in Afghanistan and one completely unnecessary war in Iraq. Disastrous political decisions that killed or maimed thousands of our young men and women and many more thousands of civilians as we stumbled around the world looking for the source of that evil that rained upon the towers in New York, the Pentagon, and that green field in Pennsylvania.
As we approached the middle of that first decade, we were blind-sided by the greed of the housing and banking industry that nearly plunged us into depression. All this was happening as we elected the first African American president, with a foreign sounding name, who saved the economy from crashing. But despite his overall popularity and re-election, many disaffected white citizens saw this as just another sign of the changing face of America that they didn’t like. There was a time in the not too distant past when the thought of electing a liberal, black president was impossible. The reaction by that small minority led to something else that seemed impossible just a few short years ago, Trump. There may never before in our history been two men elected president in succeeding terms more different than Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The country was whiplashed. These two men challenge us to think about what kind of country we want.
The face of America is changing rapidly, and some see that as threatening. In July 2016, White, non-Hispanics made up 61.3% of the population. Hispanics and Latinos made up 17.8%, and African Americans 12.7%. The Pew Research Center predicts by 2055, Whites will be 48% of the population, the number of Hispanics and Asians will triple to a combined 38%, and African Americans steady at 13%. Add the numbers, for the first time in our history, Whites will be the minority. This diversity scares the hell out of some and has been a major source of contention in the past two decades. We are allowing our differences to divide us.
Americans have lived through years of trauma before, the Civil War, World War I, the Depression, World War II, the struggle for civil rights, the tumult of the 1960s filled with war, riots, and assassinations, Watergate and the loss of trust in elected officials. These last twenty years we have not felt safe as our schools, churches, movie theaters, and concert crowds have become killing fields for deranged mass killers with access to guns meant only to kill as many people as quickly as possible. Most of those men were one of us, not some foreign terrorist who hijacked a plane. This has all made us afraid and angry, and it has infected our political discourse. We are not only trying to put walls at our borders, we are putting up walls between ourselves and those who disagree with us. Political discussions have become shouting matches full vitriol and insults with no one listening and looking for common ground.
When we put out our flags this 4th of July, we should think about where we are and where we’re going for ourselves and our children. Two lost decades are enough.