With all due respect, the fantasy of a friendlier America before we began “bowling alone” is a myth (“The White House bowling alley is a symbol of what’s wrong with US politics,” Opinion, Sept. 28). In those halcyon days of “civility” and bowling together, Catholics still bowled with Catholics, Episcopalians with Episcopalians, and Blacks and Jews bowled by themselves. Yes, we had civility, because bigotry flourished.
We punish ourselves in the futile search for a civility and community that will never return, because that bigoted world of so-called civility is gone forever in a much more accessible and open America. That world of the 1930s and 1940s represented stability, permanence, community, and, to a considerable degree, mediocrity, because it excluded everyone who didn’t fit. We taught eugenics, kept out immigrants, continued lynching people. Charles Lindbergh was America’s most popular figure before World War II and would never have to bowl alone. He might have beaten FDR if he had run against him in 1940.
That America was familiar, comfortable, and intellectually limited. College students were deferential, faculty respectful, administrations paternalistic. People liked each other, because they only knew “each other.” It was recognizable. Everyone got along.
It was soon going to change, and Harry Truman helped when he integrated the military services after the war. But first FDR listened to Einstein, we built the Bomb, won the war, opened the doors to immigration, and eventually Jackie Robinson arrived in Brooklyn. You can’t have diversity and tranquility.