Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’ doesn’t hold together

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By Alex Galbraith |

Ah, the ’50s. Squeaky-clean, patriotic American men came home to find their pipe and slippers set out by their dutiful and doting wives. Their 2.5 children would be in the “parlor” working hard on today’s batch of homework and making themselves some Ovaltine, labels out. Monday morning brought the grind and Sunday morning brought church. We were, in short, a country made up of Cleavers.

Fast forward 60 years, children are increasingly being born out of wedlock, marriage and employment rates are down and people are far more likely to report having no religious affiliation. Egads! Light the sky with the stuffy, old white man signal! We need someone to show us the error of our ways, for we have become a nation of rascally Eddie Haskells!

Charles Murray has heard our cries and has released a manifesto upon us soulless heathens. His new book “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010” claims that Americans have lost track of what it truly means to be American. He claims that the generation that has turned Father’s Day into Confusion Sunday has no sense of civic duty, work ethic or pride. “We are nothing but shiftless layabouts and degenerates,” Murray shouts from his rocking chair, the smell of cough drops wafting on his breath. “And the country is in shambles because of it.”

Well, I would like to offer a counterpoint to Murray’s “Leave it to Beaver” diatribe, a little piece I like to call “The ‘Murphy Brown’ defense”. It goes thusly: American culture is not degenerating. No, like the television sitcom, it is merely evolving. As simple plot structures and greyscale imagery gave way to story arcs and vibrant lines of color, the culture of American gained more depth.

Newer generations recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. Single parents are no longer shunned or shamed; many young women don’t feel the need to go into hiding if they have to buy teething rings before wedding rings. God may or may not be there, and for most people, that’s ok. In a fast-paced, Technicolor world the ethical issues of old are no longer so…well, black and white. Definitions have shifted and we are better for it.

Before the conservative critics go spouting that all of this heathenism and willy-nilly baby-making will erode the foundations of our society, consider this: The children of Ward Cleaver grew into the young adults of the first Great Recession in the 1970s. During that time, crime skyrocketed and continued upwards through the ’80s as they grew into full-fledged adults.

Now, a generation of bastards is sitting on the cusp of adulthood and staring down a years-long recession, much the same way the boom babies were. But here is the interesting thing, the crime rates have continued their decades-long descent that began in the early ’90s, in spite of the economic downturn. Why, it’s almost as if there is a stronger sense of civic pride and right-and-wrong instilled in these doe-eyed brats!

I hate to break it to you Mr. Murray, but nothing bad has happened to American culture. Being an American has simply become more complex. This makes being an American more interesting in the same way that watching Murphy Brown (an unwed mother herself) go through her daily grind is loads more exciting than seeing Beaver Cleaver fret over stealing some bubblegum.

To put it simply, life in America, like Thursday night television, is only getting better. And boy, oh boy is it fun to watch.

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