Gary Horton | In 2020, Be Excellent to Each Other!

The year, 2020:

Back when I was a kid in the early ’60s in elementary school, I couldn’t imagine living to the year 2000, let alone 2020! It seemed all so very far away back then.

It turns out that time flies and those 50-something years were just a fleeting moment. And while those years flew by like nothing – technology brought us to places far, far away from where we were. In the ’60s, had you pulled an iPhone out of your pocket, you’d have either been arrested as a Russian spy or been burnt at the stake as a witch. Heck, TVs back then were generally the 19-inch black-and-white variety – and nowadays, stores all but give away 55-inch 4k flat screens as loss leaders…

We’ve got rockets landing on their butts — three at a time even! We’ve got electric cars going zero to 60 at speeds faster than full-on drag racers ever did. We’ve got stores overflowing with more stuff than we can ever use, consume, or eat – and if that wasn’t enough, we’ve got this thing called Amazon that delivers even more stuff than we can imagine from just a few clicks on our previously unimaginable magic phones and laptop computers…

Oh, the miracles of 2020!

Yet, amidst all this previously unimaginable plenty, we’ve also got entire streets — effectual small cities full of homeless folks, broken folks, addicted folks, forgotten folks, living in full-on squalor, right in the middle of us. We’ve got our own version of untouchables – fully destitute, living shoulder to shoulder with great wealth. 

We didn’t have that in the ’60s. We had hobos. We had some panhandlers. But we didn’t have this explosion of destitution and human degradation right in our faces, all across the nation. Coast to coast and in between, tens and hundreds of thousands of Americans are broken and falling fast – living in tents, under bridges, in riverbeds, in squalor. All this, in the advanced year of 2020. 

Unimaginable. Certainly, unimaginable back in the ’60s.

And we’ve got a president who tweets venomous insults, lies, accusations and trash about his fellow Americans – day in, day out, every day, since 2016. This continuous caustic communication has polluted American social constructs and contracts to the point where Washington in 2019 isn’t much more than a mud-wrestling match, with civility fully discarded, and where all of America has been cleaved in two. 

We’ve always had parties and we’ve always had discord, disagreement, and fights – but not this. Not this vulgarity and gutter-ness.

In the ’60s, I heard not tweets of continuous division and offense. Rather, I heard these presidential words, “United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do — for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.” 

And these, too I heard: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” 

Such was presidential leadership back then. What a world away we are, today.

In so many areas we’ve come so very far so very fast – and yet have descended in others maybe faster still. 

Something’s got to give, and many things have to change. 

Core to our present success has been our societal cooperation. From family to education, to public investment, to support of enterprise, together, as a society, we’ve built the formally unimaginable successes we see all around us.

Yet core to our present shocking shortcomings is a jarring lack of the same cooperation and connection and caring. A half a million Americans living in tents should jar our consciousness into national action – yet the problem persists with solutions only working around the edges. Politicians being openly vulgar, openly lying, openly destroying our civility, should repulse and shock us into demanding better behavior – all around, in all parties. Yet plainly, a large group of Americans are entertained and dancing at the destruction of our community and civility.

So, what to do? We’ve come so far and yet, fallen far, too.

New Year’s Day is often the time of resolutions. Of commitment to change, to do better, to improve.

Humorously and seriously, too – something comes to mind from the silliest of old movies, which is yet perhaps the best advice for a New Year’s resolution today. In the 1989 comedy, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” a person no less revered and no timelier to hear from than President Abraham Lincoln addresses a high school auditorium with this super-timely, much-needed advice: 

Said the man with the stove top hat, “Be excellent to each other.”

Indeed. In 2020, let’s agree to do just that. Commit to, “Be excellent to each other.” Be our best version of ourselves to one another. Be kind to one another. Be caring of one another. Be polite to one another. Sacrifice of ourselves more for one another. Hold one another up to high standards of excellence and good behavior. 

Don’t just “be in it for ourselves,” but rather, be in it for our country, be in it for each other – as President John Kennedy exhorted.

Lastly, it is New Year’s Day, and there is this new year celebration thing. In “Bill and Ted’s,” President Lincoln closes out his “Excellence” speech with these parting words, and so will I:

“Party on, dudes!”

Let’s build and have a great and excellent 2020!

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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