Is the past really the past we think we remember?

Every day it seems, we make references, or hear references, to “the good ol’ days.” But when baby boomers look back, really, how good were they? As he watched the first presidential debate, that’s what BoomerCafé’s co-founder and publisher David Henderson started asking himself: was everything really all that much better in the good ol’ days?

For as long as I could tolerate it, I watched the first so-called “Presidential Debate” between former Vice President Joe Biden and current President Donald Trump… and, then, I switched it off. I wondered how many other Americans had done the same. It was not a debate about challenges confronting America but rather, bullying of the darkest kind.

I found the televised insults to be too jarring to my sense of hope, too offensive to my sense of who I am and how I want to live in the United States of America. And, I thought of bygone times… at least, in my mind… when things were more peaceful, less confrontational, less shrill and angry. But on deeper reflection, were they?

David Henderson

I’ve always liked the word “halcyon”— a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful. Memory is a tricky thing and not always truthful, certainly not always accurate (or even close). That’s why “halcyon” is seldom what it seems to be.

As a kid growing up in the Washington D.C. area, I remember summer evenings when fog would roll in to create a somewhat dreamlike world of memories, at least in my neighborhood. I lived on a treelined street in a place called Arlington Forest. My sister could see the Washington Monument from her bedroom window. It was a peaceful, safe, and quiet time. It was years before the ravages of partisan greed and crime, driven by drugs, came to my hometown. Or, was it?

I had relatives who worked on Capitol Hill, and I felt such a tingling feeling of pride and honor to visit, to walk freely through the Capitol Building and sit in the Visitors’ Galleries to hear the quiet murmur of debate. I remember that being a “Republican” or “Democrat” seemed to be about a sharing of goals and ideas, constructive debate, and collaboration to achieve something for America.

Even through my young eyes I knew that being a Senator or Representative was not a permanent career but rather, it meant serving for a few terms, then returning to their respective states and hometowns to resume running banks, car dealerships, farms, or the jobs that grownups did back in those days.

That core dynamic of serving the country has changed dramatically… and not for the better.

Video taken a moment before President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, November, 1963.

But, then, things changed. Life changed. And, I began to learn there was no such thing as halcyon in a real world. For me, my world changed most profoundly when President John F. Kennedy was murdered in November, 1963… by an assassin, as we would be told, who may have been trained in Russia.

Dr. Martin Luther King was shot down in Memphis in April, 1968, just as Americans were learning the truth and reality of life for African-Americans. We still have much to learn.

August 28, 1963 — Dr. Martin Luther King delivered “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and America started to wake up to race relations.

Then, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was murdered while campaigning for President in Los Angeles in June, 1968.  I wonder… have we come to grips, those of us who remember those times, with the murders of the brightest and most promising leaders in that period of American history? 

Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly, himself a baby boomer, captured this famous image of Robert Kennedy arriving in Los Angeles during the Presidential campaign in 1968. Kennerly recalls, “Everybody could get close, everybody wanted to.”
(Photo used by personal permission of David Hume Kennerly.

School friends, who had parents working at the CIA or other intelligence services, spoke… almost braggingly… of unrest in the world that was fomented by the U.S. From offices in Washington, regime change was coordinated and manipulated in places like Cuba and Iran and Vietnam. Once I got into journalism, the late Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky told me that Vietnam was perpetuated by the lobbying efforts of Texas-based Bell Helicopters.

Weapons were being shipped to places I’d never heard of. Heck, there were warehouses in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from my home, called Interarms. They brokered and fulfilled global arms transactions. Kids whispered among themselves at school that if you had a friend with a contact there, you might even be able to buy a pistol. I wondered, why?

When I began writing this piece, I was trying to remember a time before little kids packed guns to school… a time before AIDS, global warming, consumerism, and the cruel illusion of a “trickle-down economics” which led to the birth of pure avarice driven by “artifice, brutality, and innocence,” as Joni Mitchell warned us. I want to remember a time before the Trump-Biden debate.

But, it was only a dream…




  1. What a brave piece! So many truths here that are not often said and need to be said, like the real role of arms merchants in fomenting and prolonging wars: Human death and destruction is all to their benefit! Yes, they are indeed behind every war, including the on-going one between Armenia and Azerbaijan that just started last Sunday. As to the so-called “debate” – more a screaming session than a debate – I guess we all deserve this: If people keep voting for bullies and nincompoops, there’s no end in sight for many more screaming and yelling sessions. Civilized times, good-bye! Democracy, RIP!

  2. Absolutely in agreement with the sentiments and opinions expressed in the article. Claude’s comments are equally valid and relevant.
    There is a harking back to a happy time that only existed in our minds. It’s the syndrome of old people nodding together over their coffee cups, agreeing that times were so much better when they were young. We don’t look back in anger we look back with nostalgia. Britain’s Brexit is a manifestation of the same pathology.

  3. Evil will always be with us together with its friends greed, jealousy, lust, megalomania and the rest of their clan. There never were any ‘good old days’ and, I’m sorry to say this, there never will be despite the best efforts of good people. For example we may eulogise about the Kennedys but I wouldn’t dig too deep. All we can do is to try to recognise evil and keep it bay.

  4. What a great article! So important to recognize the false notion of the good ‘ol days… I know that we can turn this around, but only when we work together for justice will we find unity! I pray we can do this, before our country is unrecognizable… sadly it seems to take a tragedy before we change… like we don’t stop smoking until we developed lung cancer… seems that is the path we are on…

  5. Tremendous piece, David. We do tend to airbrush our memories and remember the good and conveniently forge the bad. I do think things were simpler before the age of instant communication and social media, but you are right to say the dynamics of the human experience have remained stable, and not always for the good.

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