Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night from a recurring nightmare that my high school senior class has taken over the country.
Then I realize: It actually has.
It’s difficult to sleep after that.
For many years, my high school was widely recognized for standout athletics and academics, a regional powerhouse in sports with one of the highest rates of college admissions in the nation.
My senior class trashed that storied “team” tradition and instead excelled at smoking pot, partying and personal gratification. Our parents and older siblings who’d upheld the legacy of collective excellence for a generation were aghast. Dazed and confused, my senior class couldn’t have cared less.
Fort Hunt High was located in the comfortable suburbs of Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Washington, where my dad was stationed at NASA headquarters. It was autumn 1974, the Vietnam War was nearly wound down and President Nixon had, indeed, proved to be a crook.
Watergate scandal reverberating, the nation’s trust in government decaying, all manner of post-WWII traditions were falling away, including the Beach Boys’ call to “Be True to Your School.”
Fort Hunt, just upriver from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, competed fiercely with T.C. Williams High School, a large, urban monolith in nearby Alexandria—now renowned from the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” a true story in which Denzel Washington plays a football coach struggling to integrate the team in 1971.
We’d fared well against “T.C.,” especially in rowing. We always smoked them on the water. Many transplanted surfers – Navy brats mainly, and me – chose rowing over football because there were usually no head injuries.
But football was the marquee showcase, where boys became men in victory and were emasculated in defeat. The team my senior year chose emasculation, losing nearly every game, because they cared little about anything except where to find parties after games.
Administering the coup de grace, T.C. didn’t just beat us, they disgraced us, running up the score so high referees considered calling the game after the third quarter. The massacre continued unabated only because refs couldn’t figure out how to invoke the Slaughter Rule.
Days later, someone smashed the trophy display in the gym lobby. The bestrewn trophies – representing a generation of athletic glory – evinced clear contempt for tradition and, some said, a rare exhibition of shame.
They were just sports trophies. The real loss was our psychic sense of collective betterment, supplanted by a new, raw culture of individual self indulgence. There was no longer group pride in “us,” only satisfaction in “self” and personal aggrandizement. The operating attitude of my senior class thereafter was “everybody for themselves.”
Some years later, somebody burned down Fort Hunt High. Fittingly, the school district didn’t rebuild.
We didn’t know it then, but my senior class was perp-walking the precipice of a budding national “it’s-all-about-me” ethos that eventually displaced the Greatest Generation’s “all-for-one, one-for-all” outlook.
Today, we’re a nation that leaves its shopping carts strewn about the parking lot, an attitude personified by our current president and, to some degree, a few locally elected officials.
I won’t recount the ways Donald Trump is all about himself. His malignant self regard is well chronicled.
So consider our local narcissists. From “what’s best for us” to “what’s best for me,” selfishness is starkly illustrated weekly by San Luis Obispo County supervisors Lynn Compton, Debbie Arnold and John Peschong.
Their votes exemplify the conceit of their ideology: They’re “conservative” so they must oppose dust control, taxes for local roads (supported by 66.3 percent of voters), a marine sanctuary and most policies benefiting public and environmental wellbeing.
Seemingly, they vote according to the likelihood of payback for personal favors, or to facilitate re-election.
Compton in particular is fond of tapping the General Fund for friends: lopping 50 percent off a developer’s fees for a proposed Nipomo sheriff’s substation; spreading groundwater management costs to county taxpayers, rather than users; steering all available park money to Nipomo – her voting base – leaving nothing for rural Arroyo Grande, Oceano or other areas like beleaguered Pirate’s Cove.
They’re like a high school clique: Peschong wants the board chair out of turn? He’s in the club – no problemo. Compton wants all the park money? Done. Everyone pay for their friends’ water management? You bet.
What’s best for the community? Whatever.
Compton, Arnold and Peschong have trashed SLO County’s “what’s-best-for-us” tradition. “What’s-in-it-for-me-ism” now controls county government, just as “it’s-all-about-me-ism” rules federal government.
My senior class at Fort Hunt High would be proud.
Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.