Two questions to ponder:
How is life in America significantly different than it was in 1957? How is it significantly the same?
First, a significant difference: our political climate in 2018 is hyper-polarized. Politicians and pundits pride themselves on their strongly-held views, whether liberal or conservative. They stress their unwillingness to compromise, seeing it as a matter of integrity and dedication to principle. Voters use litmus-test issues to guide their choice of candidates. Tendencies for media outlets to lean left or right have led to charges of “fake news” and growing distrust in reportage in general.
In 1957, President Eisenhower was serving his second term, having been elected in 1952 on a deliberately moderate ticket. He promised to “get things done” by working cooperatively with those in his party and across the aisle. Strong anti-Communist Richard Nixon was added to the ticket as Vice President in a token nod to the more conservative side of the Republican party. Eisenhower did not particularly like Nixon nor seek his input. The memory and record of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, was still widely respected by the public. Americans counted on the news – think Walter Cronkite – for fair and impartial information.
Next, a significant similarity: advances in technology were both eagerly welcomed and deeply feared. Today, new Apple products and other high-tech gear are embraced quickly. Brand loyalty and identification create communities of adherents. Social media, online banking, self-driving cars, drones, video-streaming, and fitness trackers all have a following. And yet, we are wary of what might happen with our digital footprint if bad actors gain access. How safe are we? Who is listening and watching and what will they do with what they learn?
In 1957, Americans were also eager adopters of new high-tech products. Food industry innovation responded to the consumer desire for convenience foods. New packaged products included Minute Rice, canned tuna, Jif peanut butter, and Tang. New cold-processing technology made frozen dinners, fruit and vegetables, waffles, and turkeys ready to purchase year-round. Developments in the space program were counting down to putting a man in orbit. Television broadcasting expanded into almost every living room and kitchens began humming with appliances. And yet, it was the Atomic Age of nuclear weapons – and there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. More powerful bombs were being developed and tested and stockpiles were growing. The Soviet Union was a direct Cold War threat, looming over the Artic pole. The potential for incoming ICBMs had everyone practicing “duck and cover”.
Would the Americans of 1957 be surprised that we haven’t found a way to better cooperate politically? Would they also be surprised that we still haven’t better resolved our love-fear relationship with science and technology?
Image Credits: Swanson; Apple