At last we get to bid farewell to a perfectly awful decade

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 29, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Somewhere, late on Thursday night, people will sadly note the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

People who met the loves of their lives, perhaps. Had children. Got their first jobs — and held on to them. Men and women who somehow will define the last 10 years largely by personal triumphs.

They, however, will be in the minority.

Most Americans will look back on the decade and say simply, "Good riddance."

Farewell to a decade that started in seeming peace and prosperity, saw America attacked and ended with the worst recession in more than 70 years. In between, the country lost a lot of the swagger that had defined the American Century, that glorious span from the defeat of fascism in the 1940s to victory over Soviet communism in the Cold War.

Stagnant — even declining — wages. Jobs in jeopardy or lost. Soaring prices for health care. Lost or shrunken pensions. More people working past retirement age. The U.S. auto industry — which built the middle class — collapsing. Robber barons in the corporate suite. China rising.

An American government at all levels unable to help its own citizens devastated by a hurricane. Temperatures rising, threatening flooding for more coastal cities. Soaring debt.

Thousands of fellow Americans killed by terrorists. Thousands more dead fighting against an enemy that hides in caves and waits to strike again. Fellow Americans taking up the cause of Islamic terrorism, gunning down soldiers in Texas or traveling abroad to fight Americans there.

There were good things, of course. More young Americans are finishing high school. People are living longer. Fewer people are dying from AIDS.

Technology made the world smaller: Laptop prices dropped, cell phones became commonplace and the Internet spread information — and misinformation — around the globe.

There were other changes that made some people happy, and others nervous or angry. Six states allowed gay marriage at the end of the decade; none allowed it at the start.

There also were shifts that happened gradually but marked a change in the American self-portrait. An African-American was elected to the White House. Hispanics surpassed African-Americans as the nation's largest minority. By decade's end, four states and the District of Columbia had more minorities than non-Hispanic whites.

Ultimately, America may shake off the dismal decade. It's certainly come back from worse decades, such as the 1890s, the 1930s and the 1970s. Those periods of unsettling change, economic calamity and social upheaval led to new political orders. Whether this era produces a similar change may not be known until the next decade.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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