A Reader Recalls Cronkite, Steinbeck and the Election of 1960

Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Travels with Charley: In Search of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THE GOOD OLD DAYS AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

Dear Mr. Titanic.

It’s good to be aboard, but it’s little unnerving to look around and see all the other passengers already wearing their life vests or, to date myself, their Mae Wests. Anyone who remembers Mae West also remembers exactly why life vests were called that. At any rate, I have an interesting tidbit to add to your mention of the most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite, and the polarization of America into continually warring, wrangling, restless contrarians.

Just by coincidence, last night I was re-reading John Steinbeck’s classic road-trip chronicle, Travels with Charley, written in 1961-1962, during the reign of Cronkite as the arbiter of truth in America. I, myself, will always love Sir Walter because he had the audacity to weep on-air while announcing the death of JFK in Dallas.

Anyway, during the first leg of Steinbeck’s travels with his French poodle, Charley, he noted that the whole nation in 1960 had become polarized by the election campaign between JFK and Richard Nixon, but polarized in a completely different way than you reference here, 52 years later. In 1960, commented Steinbeck, people dissagreed with each other by refusing to tell one another what they were for, whom they were voting for, and where they stood, left or right. In other words, people everywhere were still possessed by the repressed 1950s.

Steinbeck used his own family to illustrate his point. His family in Salinas, California, where he grew up, were all Republicans, and his visits home were all characterized by knock-down, drag-out verbal fisticuffs. But, during his latest visit, all that had changed. Nobody was willing to offer an opinion on anything. In fact, they barely talked at all. Steinbeck blamed it all on the H-bomb, saying that people everywhere were befuddled and at a loss, simply because they hadn’t had a chance to get used to Armageddon at the touch of a button.

Maybe something different but similar is happening today. Perhaps the possibility of Armageddon by economic collapse has us all gobsmacked. But, instead of making us all dumb, this new Armageddon makes us all mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more. Who knows? Not me certainly. But I think it’s an interesting comparison between then and now.

———————–

Charles Creekmore’s electronic book, Back to Walden, is posted complete and free of charge on www.backtowalden.com, and he is  the author of a 2003 spiritual book, Zen and the Art of Diabetes Maintenance.

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