2017-07-13 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

Not enemies, but friends

Phil Foley — Staff Writer Phil Foley — Staff Writer Our parents, grandparents and now great grandparents were born in the Jazz Age. They survived the greatest economic crisis in the nation’s history and fought to keep the world from plunging into the abyss.

The very youngest among them are approaching 90.

Tom Brokaw dubbed them “The Greatest Generation,” but what made them great? I’d suggest the two most significant institutions making them who they were public education and mass media.

Newspapering in America began with Benjamin Harris’s Publick Occurrences, Both Forreign and Domestick, which was printed just once in 1690. Over the next 300 years the main stock in trade of newspapers was commercial news and partisanship. Even Lovely Lapeer, at one time, had competing papers — The Lapeer County Democrat and Lapeer County Republican.

The invention of the telegraph made the dissemination of news nationwide easier and high-speed presses made newspapers inexpensive. From the mid-19th century on, the county was flooded with the Irish, Italians, Poles and others. Newspapers taught them English and made them Americans.

Public schools gave them a common story, values and point of reference. Public schools created the greatest generation, people who could think for themselves and take charge.

Radio in the 1920s, followed by television in the 1950s made us more alike than different. Watch a newsreel from the 1930s and then today’s evening news. You’ll still hear a regional twang here and there and broad A’s and dropped R’s in “Haavid Yaad,” but you won’t hear Al Smith’s “ain’ts” and “Neew Yawk,” at least not from anyone with any education. I think the greatest generation really was. Did they make mistakes? Of course. Every generation does. But overall, they did more good than harm.

The key for succeeding generations is to keep what worked well and discard what didn’t.

The niche marketing of news and education over the last 20 years is one of the things I believe hasn’t worked. It has pushed us back to the tribalism that existed when our great grandparents and great, great grandparents stepped off the boat.

Kennedy was on the right track when he said, “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

He also started his Inaugural Address in 1961 saying, “We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning — signifying renewal, as well as change.”

It’s a far cry from today’s rhetoric.

We’d do well to remember Lincoln, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

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