Monday, January 4, 2010

Goodbye to the Aughts, Baby!

Is it too late to write about New Years? Your blogger spent the holidays trying to take care of a sore throat/cold that (thanks to the very good Doctor at the local urgent care clinic) turned out to be strep throat. As a result, the January 1st posting has waited four days to germinate. However, I've been happy to have a few days to think about it.

2009 was a challenging year for all, but I like to think that in the crucible of the most intense recession of our lives, I learned how to prioritize better, to become more creative and resourceful in my work, and to not just accept things as they are. I think we'll collectively look back on the past year and be grateful about how we avoided the worst that might have been. Some will disagree, saying that Obama has taken us on an inexorable march towards socialism, but I disagree and refuse to digress.

What I've been thinking about the most is how we are now (arguably, at least) at the beginning of a new decade. There have been a few reminiscences about what this means in terms of the best television of the last ten years (I say in many cases that's an oxymoron), but honestly this one snuck up on me. I think this has been such a challenging decade that we don't feel much like celebrating it. More like turning the page on ten difficult years and hoping that the teens will be better.

What to make of this decade? What to call it? I do like the "aughts" because it sounds like the way the gentleman at the top would refer to it. It's hard to think of a personal pronoun to attach it to. The "me decade" is already taken, and the "us decade" doesn't fit. Maybe the iDecade because of the fast pace of technology. But here's what I'm thinking about what we were like from 1999 to 2009.

We were angry for much of the time. The decade started with the final fallout from the Lewinsky scandal. (Remember that one? Impeaching a President over a sex act seems, to borrow a term from the subsequent administration, "quaint".) Republicans manufactured a great deal of anger on their side, and Democrats felt like the President they voted for had betrayed them or been unjustly maligned. What a mess. Then George W. Bush and his minions squeaked by in the 2000 election. There are very strong arguments that they manipulated or stole votes in Florida, but at the very least it was an election in which 50 million people voted for his opponent and the other side, had it been as assertive as the Republicans, could have won just as easily. Did Bush govern with the "unity government" as was suggested? Of course not.

Then a litany of infuriating things followed. Worldcom. Enron. The failure of the Iraq war. The disaster of Katrina. On and on and on. And of course, the signature event of this decade and possibly our lives, the September 11th attacks.

September 11th channeled this anger, mixed with intense fear, and created a sense of rage and fear that drove politics for the rest of the decade.

I've wanted to write for a long time about September 11th and haven't been able to put it to words. This is not the time or place for that reminiscence, but if my own experience is any indication, the event brought forth an incredibly complex range of emotions, both all at once and over time: anger; rage; fear; deep, deep sadness, loneliness, powerlessness. I think our country went through a similar experience. We felt a great many things but internalized most of them. They manifested themselves in what I can only call a "rage-based" foreign policy under the Bush administration, focused on avenging the deaths of those killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. It resulted in what we thought would be an easy war to defeat Saddam Hussein, the hated Arab bogeyman and "appropriate" scapegoat; new interpretations of laws allowing the torture and indefnite imprisonment of our enemies; and a go-it-alone approach that alienated us from nearly all of our allies except the U.K., Israel and Australia. I think we're coming out of this funk but it lasted long enough to permeate our domestic politics as well. Witness the hyperbole and screaming about "socialist" stimulus packages and "Nazi policy" being made through healthcare reform.

With a new decade, I hope that we'll no longer be driven by anger and fear. I hope the recession is teaching us to live in a more grateful way and to appreciate our neigbors, rather than to be driven to annoyance or worse by our differences.