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Op-Ed: America’s Best Days Are Ahead – Art, Life, and America’s Resurgence

By AMAC, Robert B. Charles

Jul 8, 2022

Art can reflect – sometimes foreshadow – life. It has before, it may again. In 1976, America was low, next few years tough. A governor named Ronald Reagan ran for the Republican presidential nomination, lost to incumbent Gerald Ford, who lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter – who delivered double digit inflation, interest rates, and unemployment. But the Big Wheel…was starting to turn.

America was tired of the 1960s and early 1970s self-hate, unruly riots, unconstitutional violence, then Carter’s default to a long sigh in baby-blue cardigan, “malaise” or “crisis of confidence” speech. Carter felt America’s greatest days were behind us.

Reagan had a different view, held with unblinking clarity: Our best days were ahead of us. Where Carter saw unending recession, uncontrollable inflation, perpetual Soviet advances, unstoppable communism, energy woes for as far as the eye could see – Reagan saw the reverse, prosperity, stability, energy independence, the end of Soviet rule, vanquishing of an evil empire.

Democrats thought Reagan was crazy, or worse, a war monger. He was, of course, neither. He was a visionary, who never lost his convictions, compass, or commitment to the future he envisioned.

Funny thing is, America was ready for Reagan – ready to be done with the doldrums. Movies – which catered to popular taste – turned from celebrating dysfunction, dystopia, and disaffection for America’s traditions, history, and heroic character – to the reverse.

In 1976, a character called “Rocky” showed up – got beaten like Reagan in 1976 but came back. Rocky landed winning punches in sequels 2, 3, and 4, in 1979, 1982, and 1985. In 1985, the fictional can-do boxer took down his Soviet counterpart.

Like Rocky, Reagan won with resolve, becoming President in 1980, was reelected in the 1984 landslide realigning “Blue Collar Democrats” behind his goals – smaller government, lower taxes, national security, respect for history, good moral compass, ending abortion, remembering the power of courage.

Six years later, pressed by a visionary Democrats called crazy and aggressive, the Soviet Union – which Reagan called an “evil empire” – vanished, fell, was no more. Perhaps not coincidentally, 1977, 1980, and 1983 saw a resurgence of heroism – in the Star Wars series, pitting valor against cosmic tyranny.

At the same time, popular culture celebrated a return of courage, can-do, heroism, victory against odds, never-say-never, and damn-the-torpedoes in movies like Star Trek series in 1979 1982, 1986, and 1989, Indiana Jones movies in 1981, 1984, and 1989, Superman movies in 1978, 1980, 1983, and 1987.

Arguably, the most iconic movie – with direct connect to the US Navy, celebrating individual courage, teamwork, patriotism practiced with precision – was Top Gun, debuting in 1986. Expected to be a ho-hum film, viewership shot through the roof, up 45 percent four weeks after release. It grossed $357 million on a production budget of $15 million.

Notably, several years ago, the Library of Congress placed the film in the pantheon of the National Film registry, as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” Who knew? Actually, the American People knew, that is who.

And that is the point. Sometimes the people do as people should, lead the process, forsake the political narrative, dump the doldrums, force the country to come ‘round into the wind, press the nation forward – as in every troubled era, surmounting every “crisis of confidence.”

Betting on courage, history, and freedom’s triumph, Americans go through cycles where they indulge negativity and nonsense, then lift their heads, shake off calls to give up, give in to “malaise.” They refocus, reorient their compass, resolve not to be undone, and get on with the program, rebuilding the great American economy, from energy to empathy, resolving that honor and history do matter.

And here is the funny part. After a down cycle, time in that dark troth of self-doubt, we tend to roar back, and in those moments find confidence few knew we had – except for us. Somewhere deep, Americans know – we can surmount the challenge, rally to the fight, beat the odds, win the day.

One sign that we are on that path is the art we celebrate, the books, scripts, themes, and movies we create, which draw us toward the light, lift us to our full potential, remind us of who we are.

Perhaps no coincidence, then, that for the first time since the 1980s, a second “Top Gun” film was released this year. In a few short weeks, it has grossed more than one billion dollars, a record for this year and for that timeframe.

Why? Because we are ready, once again, to be done with negativity and nonsense, high inflation, interest and unemployment, withdrawal from world leadership, diffidence and stumbling at home, done with deference to communism and Marxism in our schools, done with those who dump on courage, who undermine the military, police, border security, science, and common sense. We are done.

Here is the kicker – watch out for America when we decide, as a nation of historically courageous, unstoppable, tightly focused patriots, that we are “done.” The Big Wheel turns. We press forward again, to a higher altitude, refreshed and convinced – in Reagan’s words – that our “best days are ahead.” Art reflects – and sometimes foreshadows – life. It does both now. Our best days are ahead.

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