The 1980s was a triumphant decade for America.

It was the height of hope and optimism. Ronald Reagan brought pride to all except the most partisan. We won the Cold War and defeated communism. Media and politics were professional and cordial.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

Never could we have foreseen what America would become just a generation later. In 2020, we have become more cynical, more skeptical and more jaded.

We have perpetual outrage and sensational news on social media, radio and TV. We’d be bored by the stoic newscasts of yesteryear.

We have musicians like Billie Eilish, who mope around like jaded, affluenza-inflicted zombies.

We have national politicians who can’t hide their hate for each other.

Being calloused, close-minded and self-interested is cool. Being friendly, open-minded and others-centric is considered weird.

It makes one wonder if common decency and empathy are notions of a bygone era. I know they aren’t because I see much decency during the course of my day, but I don’t see much of it in our political or thought leaders.

Last week was a tough one for decency. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore President Trump’s State of the Union speech in plain view. He is accused of not shaking her hand beforehand. (He didn’t shake V.P. Pence’s hand either, it should be noted.)

Then, what really irked me, was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s jaded criticism of conservative icon Rush Limbaugh.

Rush, who’s shouted from every rooftop’s antenna the beautiful attributes of American liberty for more than three decades, was given the President Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union speech and came under heavy criticism from the left immediately afterward.

In an online video posted the day after, Cortez, a New York Democrat, said Rush knew he was going to receive the medal and feigned surprise while the cameras rolled. For a moment I believed Cortez and was deflated and disappointed in my conservative hero for faking the scene, which I stayed up to watch.

But, as it turned out, Cortez was doing what she always does: assuming the worst about a political rival, revealing her ignorance and twisting the truth to fit her own anti-conservative narrative.

Yes, Cortez was correct that Rush knew he was going to receive the medal, but he didn’t know it was to be given live during Trump’s speech. He thought it would happen in the Oval Office in two or three weeks’ time.

Cortez should be ashamed. Of course she’ll never apologize to Rush, who tragically has advanced lung cancer and is probably going to die, but she should. She’s a tangible example of the rot taking place in our political discourse.

If our political and media leaders are ever to regain their honor and our respect, then cynicism and assuming the worst about their political foes must be replaced by the better angels of simply debating the issues and refraining from personal attacks.

People have flaws. Trump’s is that he is sometimes crude and too much of a ham to realize he should refrain from adolescent humor. But his rivals’ behavior is just as bad, if not worse. They attack Trump unrelentingly with little attempt to understand his underlying concerns.

If leaders in media and politics showed some empathy toward each other, they’d set an example the rest of the country could follow. A transformation of Washington, D.C., would do much to return America to the path of common decency and bipartisanship we had in the 1980s and all of us want for the 2020s.

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