Is This Post Potentially Illegal?

Who is happy this 4th of July? Maybe its me, but I feel the nation has taken a turn, and it isn’t a good one. This isn’t about the Left or Right, Hillary or Trump, but something more. It could quite likely be the election, one of the darkest in our history, but I don’t think that’s it, entirely. The United States has undergone a monumental upheaval in the last several years, politically, socially, religiously, economically and morally. let me back track a bit and offer a glimpse at a bygone America. That’s often a foolhardy proposition, as usually the person who invokes the charms of yesteryear all too often glosses over the not so charming parts.

I graduated high school in 1980. My first job was bagging groceries  at 16 at a small town supermarket outside of Chicago. On the 4th, because even at 16 I was in the union, we were paid time and a half. What was even better, the stores, all of the stores, closed by 3pm. Not just in our little town, but everywhere. Jobs weren’t more plentiful necessarily, but they paid a decent living wage. My father supported a family of 5 working in a aluminum facory. Insurance and a retirement went along with loyalty and years of service. A worker could look forward to spending a life at a business, then enjoying retirement with a modest pension supplemented with social security. Pensions were part of the business plan and not considered a liability. Social security wasn’t a pejorative. It was earned over a lifetime then reciprocated.

The cost of a college education when I graduated was about $8000 for a good 4 year school. My dad, working at the factory and part-time as a fireman brought home close to $30k. My mom, working part time at the local newspaper added another $3000 or so. I was nearly fulltime, working to pay my way through junior college. All total a 4 year school would have accounted for  a quarter of the household income. The official national median household income that year was just under $20k, or 2 1/2 times the cost of college. In 2016  the median income is $53k while the cost of tuition-just tuition for college is $60k. Had the cost of tuition followed annual inflation that cost  would have remained at or below $22k, or a bit more than a third of a family’s annual income. An investment to be sure, but not financial, indeed generational, suicide.

There was bad back in 1980. There was lots of bad, like there is now, like there always was, but for the working class, black, white, or whoever you were, there was a common struggle and a common respect. We were coming to something from the chaos, heartbreak and tragedy of the Vietnam Era. We were finding a conversation about race relations and war and greed and religion. We could laugh at ourselves. That was the era of “All in the Family,” a program neither Left nor Right would tolerate today.  Exactly when that changed, who can say for sure? Everything is a process, and sometimes those processes are incidental, others purposeful, and often times a mix of both.

Today, 4th of July 2016, the malls are open. They only nominally close 1 day a year now. The grocery stores remain open regular hours. Workers jump from company to company, unsure when or if their skills are marketable in between. Retirement? Talking heads on FOX News and on talk radio promote raising the retirement age to 70 or 75, abolishing social security and rationalize market manipulations that decimate 401ks.

In 1980 we feared nuclear annihilation, but it was a shared fear. America is afraid now, but it is an isolating individual fear or losing healthcare, losing that nominally paying job, losing your 401k, Zika, Ebola, terrorists, madmen with guns, good guys with guns, growing old, not being pretty enough or young enough, of being caught in the state’s ever tightening legal web. If you are Black, you’re afraid of the police, if you are gay or transgender, you are afraid of being made illegal again. If you are Muslim or undocumented you fear a hateful Right and a flimsy Left. If you are white you fear the Mexicans coming to steal your job or get government welfare, or of Black rapists dating your daughter. If you are working class you fear the loss of things which once felt certain and unshakable, like a steady job, healthcare or retirement. The rich fear everyone else wants their stuff We are afraid of everything, but we are afraid alone.

Fear alone only leads to paranoia. We, each of us have grown paranoid of the slings and arrows of the world assailing us. they are great. They are monumental, those assaults. They are far too big for little individual us to battle alone, but around us everyone is encamped within their own fiercely defended fortress walls. Allies are nominal. Popular culture, movies, TV, OJ Simpson teaches us again and again to trust no one. The neighbor next door might be a terrorist, a communist or a an employee of the IRS. So we bunker against the world alone and afraid. We fight the enemies we can reach, family, friends, lovers, neighbors. We’ll kill the lout that just cut us off in traffic but retreat like sheep from the corporate heads that erased our retirement fund to their own benefit, or the bank foreclosing on neighbors or the government who treats us like sheep.

And so we came back to the original question. Who is happy this 4th? Are we thankful for the waste and uncertainty of two long wars that netted the nation nothing and only cost it dearly? Do we celebrate the wholesale looting of our economy which was condoned and protected by the same elected officials who were supposed to protect us? Perhaps its Climate Change, which should be a scientific question but is instead become a political volleyball. Maybe we are celebrating freedom of religion, except that they have been turned into spiteful and deadly team sports wholly disconnected and disinterested in offering peace and sanctuary from that harsher world. Or do we celebrate America’s capitalism which exalts and uplifts tempered with a social conscience but which has been perverted for accumulation of abstract wealth or the flexing of individual once thought antithetical to our patriotic reason?

Happy this 4th? Really?!!?


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