The Pinnacle of American Greatness

Posted on August 23, 2019 by Robert Ringer


Last week I wrote a two-part article about Woodstock and the events leading up to it, and it got me to thinking about my years growing up in the Midwest.  For space reasons, I did not include these thoughts in my Woodstock article, but I’d like to share some of them with you today.

I consider myself to be blessed to have lived in America when it was a symbol of stability and freedom to people throughout the world.  Now, as America continues its sociological transformation downward, I find myself increasingly saddened by the fact that none of my children will ever have the opportunity to experience the America of my youth.

There is no question that computers, smartphones, and all the other space-age technology we take for granted today are wonderful tools.  They make life so much easier and so much more entertaining.  However, as with everything in life, there’s a tradeoff.  Actually, there are many tradeoffs, but the most glaring one is the loss of innocence.

I’ve long maintained that the 1950s were the pinnacle of American greatness — not militarily, but sociologically.  And today, looking at it more objectively, I believe a big part of that innocence was made possible by ignorance — blissful, mind-numbing ignorance.

Of course, there were many people who didn’t share all of my wonderful experiences.  For example, not all minorities had the opportunities they enjoy today.  Obviously, that was a bad thing.  But hardworking, resourceful people of all races, religions, and ethnicities found a way to achieve success even then.

To be clear, this article isn’t about minorities, justice, or politics.  Millions of words have been written about all those things, and with good reason.  So much so that fighting injustice has been at the forefront of American objectives for decades.   The race baiters and race charlatans are still around, but to most people they are nothing more than a clown show in post-racial America.

That said, this article is about life as viewed through the eyes of a semi-privileged white kid who believed that Columbus, Ohio was the center of the universe and that both life and youth were eternal.  In the 1950s, everything stood still and every day was predictable.  My parents, my siblings, my friends, my house, my school, Ohio State football — nothing was ever going to change.  Life was static and therefore predictable.

It would be impossible for today’s youth to imagine, or understand, the innocence of the 1950s.  As far as I knew, drugs didn’t exist in my little corner of the world.  Nor was there such a thing as political correctness.  And as to homosexuality, the only time I ever recall hearing the word gay was in the verse “Don we now our gay apparel” in the Christmas song “Deck the Halls.”

Girls?  I guess there were a few who were a bit on the risqué side, but the vast majority of them could fit comfortably into a Dick Clark audience — well groomed, prim, and proper.  In retrospect, they were, like all people in all times, conformists.  They wore the traditional uniform of all-American suburban girls — cashmere sweaters, saddle shoes, and short, sculptured hairstyles featuring soft curls and waves.  It was wonderful.

Had a girl come to school with an earring attached to any part of her body other than one of her ears, she would have been expelled from school.  Pregnancy?  The thought never occurred to me until a sophomore girl got pregnant and created one of the biggest scandals in our school’s history.  Her expulsion was swift, and it was a one-time event.

Finally, along came Elvis, who laid the foundation for the sexual and cultural revolution that was to explode onto the scene in the sixties, culminating in Woodstock in 1969, and things have never been the same since.  But those of us who were raised in proper homes and went to proper schools tended to ignore the steadily increasing base behavior of the hippies, because we were focused on getting ahead in life.

Then, in the eighties and most of the nineties, there seemed to be a slowdown in America’s cultural disintegration as the hotshots — led by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — became the rock stars of a new generation.  In the new century, however, American youths became so overprivileged that they took the good life for granted and became bored.  So bored that they became true believers in every half-baked social cause, and every law, every institution, and every certitude became a protest target.

Which leads us to the 21st century, a time when the number-one product America produces is grievance.  And its greatest collective demand is for more and more “diversity.”  These are the two phenomena that most separate the protected little fantasy world I grew up in from today’s unstable, angry, entitlement-based world.

Diversity is a commodity that was in short supply in the fifties, and, as a result, America was a pretty peaceful place.  Whether an American was born in Italy, Ireland, Haiti, China, or India, he assimilated into American culture because he wanted to be an authentic American.

Now, I can just hear some readers saying, “But doesn’t a lack of diversity make life boring?  Why would you want everyone to think alike?”  I’m not advocating that people think alike.  I’m just saying that when a large majority of a population believes in a generally accepted code of conduct, it results in a more peaceful, more civilized, happier society.  That’s a self-evident reality.

By the same token, within a society’s generally accepted code of conduct, it’s fine for everyone to think their own thoughts and have their own opinions.  But back in the day, the foundation of most thoughts and opinions was a broad-based consensus on American values and the Western concept of right and wrong.

That said, as much as I love the life-saving benefits of modern medicine, as much as I love computers and smartphones, as much as I love the instant knowledge at my fingertips via the Internet, I am obliged to admit that I’d give it all up if I could climb into a time capsule and go back to the fifties ─ and most people I’ve talked to from that era have expressed similar sentiments.

The people I feel most sorry for are those who never had the opportunity to experience America’s Golden Age of Innocence.  Perhaps someday the United States will rise from the ashes and make a comeback that will take it through a similar period all over again.  And perhaps our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be the beneficiaries.

After all, stranger things have happened … I think?  In any event, that day is a very long way off.  In the meantime, it behooves us all to do whatever we can to keep the barbarians at bay.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

11 responses to “The Pinnacle of American Greatness”

  1. Ivan says:

    When I watch the morning news here in So Cal, everyday there is something going down. I watch the car chases, shootouts, bomb threats, large shipments of drugs being confiscated, cops being shot at, even at their station (Lancaster, Ca) yesterday, parents killing their offspring and vice versa. Even the era 20 years ago, doesn’t seem that bad. The 50’s sounds like paradise.

  2. MacyK25 says:

    People were GOOD then! We were not threatened and exposed to constant threats and negativity — because we lived in a positive environment. The sleaze factor had not emerged. People looked out for one another. It was nice!

  3. patg2 says:

    I started high school in 1958, and I definitely relate to what you have written. We knew a few kids were sleeping around, but it wasn't something people bragged about. A very pretty girl won the biology division in the Science Fair, for the city, if I recall correctly. She had an excellent entry. And then she had a baby out of wedlock. I don't know about anybody else, but I was shocked. Abortion was virtually unheard-of; it was something evil people did. It didn't become an issue until 1969.

    I would not seek to go back to those days. The internet is a priceless resource. Smartphone? Don't have one, don't intend to buy one.

    One of our sons said the only regret he has about having children is what they will have to face. I get all weak kneed just thinking about it. Makes me sick.

    Will we reclaim what we once had? Time will tell. No guarantees.

  4. JurassicRick says:

    I remember growing up as a kid back in the late fifties and early sixties as a time when people seemed less stressed and less stretched. They had no computers, no internet, no smartphones to stress them out or bankrupt them. Most of the time you would pay with cash and not a credit card. And no such thing as "identity theft". They did not have to be afraid of what they said, because there was no political correctness. And speaking of politics, none of this bitter, vicious fighting between liberals and conservatives. "Communism" was a feared and bad word, not some new social experiment we would ever want to adopt and use. Candy bars were one size, five cents, no king size bars, There was loads of different kinds of penny candy. And if we were given a dollar, we would bring home a sack of penny candy, one hundred pieces. The Mister Softee ice cream truck would come through the neighborhood everyday around 4 pm. Large milk shakes were thirty cents, and a large chocolate malt was thirty five cents. Popsicles were a nickel and drumsticks were a dime. Potato chips were, five, ten, and twenty cents for a bag. A pack of cigarettes was twenty-five cents, and if a neighbor wanted a pack, they would send me to the store with a handwritten note for the store clerk to sell me a pack, and I needed no ID! Nicotine addiction and lung cancer from smoking were practically unheard of. Drug addiction was not a major social problem..Gasoline for your car was available as either Regular or Ethyl, no Plus and Premium, and no nonsense talk about air pollution, global warming, or Green New Deal. Oh how simple, easy, and uncomplicated life was at that time! How I wish I could go back!

  5. Reality_Seeker says:

    Times have changed our beloved American culture, and not for the better, e.g., soon Spanish speakers will outnumber English speakers. And in case it has escaped your notice, Spanish speakers have a much different culture; not as bad as the Muhammadians who are overrunning Euroland, but, nevertheless, different. How you like "diversity" now?

    I remember RJR back in the 1980s writing about how public school had changed from the era when he came of age. "Chewing gum in class, making noise and not putting paper in wastebaskets" where the kind of problems in public schools back in the day. Just look at us now: abortion on demand, sex change on demand and free shit on demand. That's what kids are taught. And look at the results: a F"%ked-up freak show. Sorry, but there is no other way to put it.

    The big city where I currently live used to be populated with white men wearing cowboy hats who supported President Eisenhower's "Operation Wetback" when millions of illegals where rounded up and had their asses kicked out… Just look at the city now. No cowboy hats and fewer and fewer white men every day. For every 1 white person moving to Texas there are 9 Latinos. How do you like ""diversity" now? Personally, I'd choose "Operation Wetback" and I'd vote for President Eisenhower. But, hey, that is just me.

    Somewhere along the way America stopped being a melting pot wherein persons moving here had to become a part of a belief system which built and maintained Western Civilization. Not anymore. Nowadays, anything goes. And the big city that used to be populated with White Men in cowboy hats has become The Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah and Babylon the Great all rolled into one… How do you like it now?

    Across the Pacific is an emerging Dragon: a race of over a billion people with a 5000 year-old history, a homogeneous culture, a uniform language, an average IQ of 105, a real work ethic and a belief system that places its own people and culture as superior to all others including Western Civilization. The Dragon is rising. And by the looks of things, Asian Civilization, lead by China, is going to challenge Western Civilization. And if I had to choose, I'd bet on Asian Civilization. I wouldn't completely count out Western Civilization, but I won't bet on Western Civilization. The Chinese are smart, they don't hand out citizenship to other races. They understand how important is a homogeneous nation.

    • Ivan says:

      Fine examples of illegal immigration. I can’t imagine a no borders policy, freebies and crime are already out of control. Immigration law in the 1950’s, was where one had to prove themselves with their intentions, skills and then wait and see. I think those laws still exist, just not applied today. Diversity was for those striving for education and hard work with an appreciative and a assimilative attitude towards the U.S. Results were a more innocent and peaceful time. Of course, we’ve had other influences that changed America since then.
      I believe Trump’s policy is to protect our nation and its citizens. I agree round em up and haul off the
      undesirables. Then we could deal with some of the citizens here to be more productive.

    • JurassicRick says:

      Yes, this whole country is changing and definitely moving in the wrong direction for sure. I dread to see what will eventually happen when President Trump leaves the White House down the road. Hopefully, I won't be around then to see.

  6. larajf says:

    I was thinking the other day that when we say we miss the rule of law and respect and how we miss some of the good things of the 50s, the Progressives immediately say "Oh you want to bring back segregation and wife beating!" It's sad that we threw the baby out with the bathwater. I'd like to bring back the respect of the family unit, the strength of the middle class, respect for workers rather than just saying people have to go to college to be useful. I want to see more people getting engaged in politics instead of leaving it up to a political ruling class. I could go on but I suspect I'm preaching to the choir.

    • JurassicRick says:

      There were many good things about the 50's and not so good things as well back in those days. You have to remember, larajf, there is no pleasing Radic-Lib Regressives. For them, it is their way, and for the rest of us the highway if we don't like it. Even if the 50's were perfect, they would still find something else to whine and cry about. I, myself, am Old School all the way and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And the rock groups and music of the 50's (and early 60's), were some of the best we had. That is why there is still a wide listening audience for plenty of radio stations around the country, including those in the Greater Cincinnati area where I live, that still play those classics that so many people know and love so well.

      • larajf says:

        You're right, I do forget that nothing is enough. Ever. And the point is not what they complain about but that they won't be happy until they have it all…and then they'll look to see if they can take anything more.

  7. 1911Kimber says:

    I was born in 1951, so, a few years behind RR. I remember a couple of events that I instinctively knew would make America tilt towards moral decay. The first was the celebration of the sit com "All in the family" by Norman Lear the second was the kick off of political correctness in the early 90's. I got a letter from the National Association of Realtors telling me what language could be used in real estate advertising. I am a little taken aback by the rapid acceleration of the American society swirling around the drain.