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I am 74 years old today, and I am tired to the bones, weary, disappointed, scarred by defeats that have been far too common over the course of more than a half century of hit-and-miss political activism, campaigns for this or against that, too numerous to recall. And though the degree of "activism" I engaged in waxed and waned, there was no day in all those years when I was free of concern, outrage, anger, hope, or emotional engagement. From Max Rafferty (remember him?) to Betsy deVos, from George Murphy (remember him?) to Darrell Issa, the reactionaries of the American right have sickened liberals of my generation with their hypocrisies, their hate-and-fear mongering, and their never-ceasing war against decency, truth, and good sense.

liberal veteran

I came of age when there was an upward surge of idealism among young people, buoyed by the election of John Kennedy and his message of progress, betterment, and service. His death was the first of a series of blows and setbacks that would continue, though often far less dramatically, until the present day. There were those blows everyone felt, of course--Martin Luther King Jr., murdered in Memphis, and Bobby Kennedy, laid low in LA, and Malcolm X, massacred in Manhattan.

But below the level of those high-profile losses and those scars we so routinely added to our psyches, there was the ongoing ugliness of those ubiquitous right wingers, their incessant campaigns to resist the expansion of rights, to suppress votes, to insult or shame women, to enshrine greed, to condone or excuse police brutality, and always--always--to contrive ways to make the world a more violent and dangerous place, to heighten rather than lessen tensions, to flood the planet with arms, and to make war on most any movement toward justice and a more equitable distribution of the riches and resources the planet affords.

There was never a shortage of things that required resistance, from discrimination in housing to poll taxes or literacy tests for voting, from depredations against our rivers and forests to open air nuclear testing. There was the flickering news from far away, sketchy stories of brutal dictatorships in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, nearly all of them holding power with help from the U.S.A., a place we'd been told since childhood was the world's beacon of hope, the global guardian of freedom.

When I was in college, I fretted over the war in Viet Nam every day, marched and gave a few little talks at "teach-ins" in front of hostile suburban audiences who didn't like my message, or the length of my hair. And I remember muttering aloud, but to myself, on a long ago birthday, that I could be happy if we could only end that war and then turn our attention toward addressing the plethora of other problems we faced. I had kids by that time, two lovely and precious daughters, a fact that increased the sense of urgency about the need for change. I remember holding my first child in my arms and silently promising her that the scourge of racism would be eradicated by the time she grew up.

It didn't seem so impossible. It was, in fact, a no-brainer. Racism was stupid. It was costing everyone so much. And Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive then, inspiring us all daily. Even Lyndon Johnson, a man I came to despise ("Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?") had managed to get the Civil Rights Bill passed, and the nation as a whole seemed horrified and ashamed of Selma, of George Wallace, and the death of those four little girls in Birmingham. So my promise to my baby didn't seem extravagant.

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Here we are, a half century later. The Voting Rights Act is under siege, police brutality seems to be on the rise, and our worst nightmare in in the White House.

But here we are, a half century later. The Voting Rights Act is under siege, police brutality seems to be on the rise, and our worst nightmare in in the White House, a man and his crew, all of them antithetical to everything people like me have opposed since long before I showed up on this planet. We have this villain from central casting talking smack to the Boy Scouts, for Christ's sake, a cartoonish villain who could have played parts, could have been the bad guy in an array of historical dramas from the Spanish Inquisition to the Third Reich, or any number of dismal tales of colonial oppression, or ruthless exploitation of the serfs under feudalism. Our planetary home is further imperiled by an international kleptocracy that makes the reign of Al Capone in Chicago seem like petty crime, almost benign in comparison.

And all those fights we fought, those boycotts and marches and manifestoes--for migrant workers, for unions, for public safety, for education, for women's rights, gay rights, environmental protections, equal justice under the law, and for democracy itself are now under assault on every front. We live in an ugly country now, a place where poverty is more widespread and more visible on a daily basis than I remember it being when I was young. The homeless are everywhere, in cities large and small, pushing their shopping carts, sleeping under freeway overpasses, shitting in public parks, found dead in the shrubbery by boys at play, or joggers listening through ear buds to music to stumble over dead people by. The hatred and intolerance has emerged from the shadows once more, nurtured by the environment provided by Fox, Breitbart, and the bully pulpit Trump uses to sow discord, pettiness, entitlement, and racism.

And here we are, after all those decades, all those words written and read, all those fights large and small, all those fears and hopes—nuclear winter, the doomsday clock, Reagan's opening salvos in the war on the middle class, Nixon's "Southern strategy," the drip-drip-drip of news about the warming of the planet, the resistance to all attempts to slow that looming catastrophe, the hole in the ozone, the constant hints of a coming pandemic when our antibiotics fail us, the loss of the rain forests, the collapse of the world's fisheries, the epidemic of autism, the ballooning of our numbers, the extinction of one species after another, the loss of habitat, the dumbing down of our educational system, the lingering death of print media, the uglification of our culture, the emergence of racism back to the bleak light of day in a new century, terrorism and the spread of barbarous Islamic fundamentalism, the always-fractious left expending more energy on internecine squabbling than any substantive attempts to present a unified front against fascism (echoes of the Spanish Civil War), our oceans filling up with plastic castoffs, and the obscene reality of a world in which a few hundred people possess as much of the world's wealth as nearly eight billion of their fellow human beings.

The dream of leaving a better world for my daughters has been supplanted by the nightmare of Donald Trump. Now it can only be hoped that my daughters' generation and the kids they produced have the will and have been given the tools to fix all that is broken. It will take a lot of will, and a lot of tools, I'm afraid.

And I am afraid for them, alas, disappointed in having left them such a mess. Was I merely naïve when I held that baby and envisioned a better world for her? Was it youthful idealism, and nothing more? Do young parents still look into the eyes of their mewling babies , still capable of dreaming of a bright future? Does hope truly spring eternal?

jaime oneill

I surely hope so because, at this bleak moment in human history, hope may be all we have.

Jaime O'Neill