Why America is Stuck: Part Three

Getty Images, NPR UNITED STATES – JANUARY 12: Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., make their way to the House floor for President Obama’s State of the Union address, January 12, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

What if this is the turning point? What if this is the moment when we decide if Mitch McConnell and the currently sidelined Trump represent the way we want to be governed, or if Biden and Harris represent the way we want to be governed? 

Maybe the moment will not happen right now. Perhaps that moment is still ahead of us. But Americans need to think about how they see their government. 

Is it the job of the federal government to simply collect taxes, fight wars, conduct relations with foreign nations and manage international trade period. Is oiling the wheels of those who seem to keep the economy moving (and the money flowing into their pockets), and stopping attacks on the homeland what government should be about? 

Or is our government also important as a kind of social referee preventing abuse of citizens by big corporations, big pharma, for profit medicine, tiny germs, employers, wealth hoarders, those who reject science because it hurts their bottom line. If we want to have some referees then it affects the kinds of people we elect. 

What do you imagine our lives will be like if workers have no support from the federal government and no unions so that they can band together in numbers similar to corporate lobbyists? 

Would you want to work 40 or more hours a week for the rest of your life with perhaps a two-week vacation, and just maybe a few paid sick days? And I do mean for the rest of your life. If you wanted to retire you would be on your own. You would have to have your own plan. You could dabble in the market through an app like Stash or you could check out Robinhood. 

If you did not make enough in your minimum wage job to feed your family or even just yourself, and pay rents that are too high without any subsidy from the government, it would be up to you to improve your lot in life, take night classes, find an apprenticeship if you could. You would have to work 40 hours a week, take care of your family and take some classes and do it all again the next day and the next. 

Even in the event that you could keep up this pace, or put off getting married or having a family, which would be difficult with no birth control, you would still have to find a new job and work at that job every day year after year. Abstinence would become an important word if you had ambitions.

You could go into business, work on a business plan, find an investor and make a good marketing plan, or start from scratch in your kitchen, or your basement, or your garage, and/or online. You might get wealthy. You might fall into debt.

I’m not predicting this life for Boomers. We’re already retired. This is what life would be like for Millennials and GenXers, etc. if Republicans had their way. America would be a society of workers and work would never end. Social Security checks would be a thing of the past. TAP and Pell grants to help with tuition would be up to the states, or just unavailable.

Republicans are Capitalists, corporatists who think if you do not work every day of your long life (or your short life) you are a deadbeat. They despise programs funded by the federal government to benefit workers. They want private businesses to offer whatever safety net programs people might be willing to pay for. And private businesses need to make a profit, a big profit, so whatever you decide to buy will be expensive. 

What will the government do with our tax dollars. That has not been made clear. Some citizens have hoarded millions and billions and they will not be pitching in, so the government will not be able to afford any of the things we have come to expect like public schools, and health care plans. Republicans describe passing laws that allow for a more equal distribution of wealth with a ‘dirty’ word, “redistribution’ (which actually doesn’t sound so bad) — until they tell us that it is ‘gasp’ socialism.

We sold the world on an empathetic society, a society that backs up its citizens with safety net programs. Many foreign countries have offerings that have come to surpass ours. Now we want to change the way we define society. We want to ditch the safety net because, hypothetically, it makes people want to stop working. 

We want the whole idea of society and government to operate under new parameters. All these big ideas about health care and a living wage, and unemployment insurance came about because unions accepted these things instead of pay raises, say the Republicans. Then the unions forced nonmembers to pay dues because they also benefited from these fringe benefits. 

So Republicans have been passing something they call ‘right to work’ laws to make charging dues to nonmembers illegal. Of course, all this actually does is take away bargaining power from unions so they can no longer lobby on behalf of workers effectively. That way businesses can set wages and offer few or no benefits, and workers have no recourse. Unions also back Democrats and that multiplied the power of the party. Shafting unions helps Republicans get elected. At the same time it helps reduce the size of the federal government if they put education, health and welfare programs up for bids from private businesses. If no one wants to provide the service, too bad.

Republicans argue that when our government offers benefits we lose freedom. They should know because they made sure accepting benefits would be onerous. Would we be freer without food stamps? Isn’t it possible some of us would just be hungrier. Perhaps we do need to carefully consider what programs would offer the most help to workers who don’t make enough money to live. Set some priorities with climate and environmental concerns among them.

So, voters, it’s up to us to decide. What is our idea of a society and government? If Millennials and GenXers, etc. let Boomers know what they prefer, then Boomers might help make it so.  Do we want a social contract that agrees we should take care of each other, and that cooperation and caring will make America a stronger nation. Or will business, profits, consumerism, and hard work with nothing to look forward to, no end to working, no such thing as retirement (unless you happen to have a plan for investing that works and nothing happens to ruin that plan), offer the most people the greatest amount of freedom and consistently comfortable lives. If we limit federal government will private companies and foundations fill the gaps? What disadvantages might such a system have?

Those who work in Artificial Intelligence seem to be working towards a time when there will be fewer jobs for humans. And yet Republicans are telling us that we need to work constantly from graduation to death. Retirees don’t always want to give up working, but what if you didn’t have a choice? What if your back went out, or your partner died and left you alone to raise the children, or any of the many disasters that fragile flesh is heir to came into your life and there was no backup? Would we go back to extended families if we had them?

I would think that everyone would rather fight now for paid day care, and senior care, better health care, cheaper drugs, free community college or training past high school as Biden’s plan proposes than choose that rather minimalist and hopeless nonplan backed by the Republicans. We are stuck because Republicans cannot imagine a better future for our nation and our people and because with Joe Manchin voting with the Republicans the Senate is tied, even with the vote of the VP, Kamala Harris. 

I am saying that you probably do not want to put Trump back in the White House in 2024 and you probably do want to give us more Democratic Senators in 2022 if you are not a fan of a minimalist government, a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic, and an ‘illiberal democracy’ which is actually a dictatorship. Vote wisely because we are stuck with what the majority votes for.

Note to Millennials

From a Google image Search – Medium.com

Now I think I have heard Millennials say that the way the world does Capitalism is a tad bit arrogant, excessive, rapacious, and exclusionary. It’s possible that Millennials are impatient to get on with saving the planet, a goal that seems to retreat with every reactionary act aging politicians pass, with every oil or gas well horizontally drilled in the random pristine spaces left to us. Millennials tend to be progressive. They know that there is no time to waste on fat cats who have been stockpiling wealth. They know you can’t eat money or gold and that even rich dudes eventually die. The trouble is that the Greatest Generation was made up of some very long-lived people, toughened up in a World War and a Great Depression. And the Boomers, the self-indulgent Boomers, some who also went to war, are not that old yet, and there are a lot of them. Waiting for these people to let go of power, waiting for them to die, waiting to inherit power to do what must be done, finds Millennials getting older and perhaps losing that idealism that drives change. Getting into the ‘capitalist games’ may be looking like a necessity these day.

Well, except for the dying part, I think we, the Boomers, ought to go off on a tour of all the national parks, or form one of those RV parks out in the desert under the stars, or in the UK go explore the northern reaches, and let the Millennials try their hands at running the country. In the meantime, it might be good to found a Millennial Think Tank, meet on Zoom, and lay your plans. Boomers are not any happier than you are that everyone is sort of tanking the economy on their behalf,  and, yes, you are getting gypped again. Maybe the fault is in the stars (are those words now under copyright). You all could start coming up with your priorities for saving our democracies, planning healthy economies with built-in opportunities for you and your children, and for saving the planet. The ‘old guard’ cannot offer us a plan that is progressive enough (except Bernie, who can be your guru) So please feel free to find a way to relieve the old folks of the power they have abused so badly. They won’t give it to you, you will have to take it. Peacefully if you can.

If you want a simpler, less competitive, less consumption-oriented reality, this moment with the economy in a virally suspended state, is a moment when it might be possible to invent a new future for all of us, less work ethic, more bucolic. You are like a force that has been suppressed by tradition, greed, and history, which could be released with all the momentum that has been stored up during your years of obstruction; like a energetic river held back by a long unopened dam. Think it through, find your leaders, don’t be too radical, but rock the world.

Are Democrats as Bad as Republicans?


generation-gap-The Happy Quilter

Are Democrats as bad as Republicans? It seems to depend on who’s talking. I hear people, mostly young people, saying that those at the top of both parties favor capitalism and this is making them greedy. Powerful members of both political groups take money from lobbyists and special interests. Senior members of both parties have stock-piled wealth, 20-somethings point out. This makes them indebted to and vulnerable to the those who are looting the middle class and ignoring the poorest Americans. If those in power control the capitalists they hurt their own bottom line.

Voters still matter for now it seems, because parties continue to conduct expensive campaigns to get elected. Given enough time and power parties may find ways to turn voting into an empty gesture. Some feel we are already there. For now what trickles down to voters in terms of policies depends on which power broker goes to Washington to represent us. Neither party has championed workers and the environment as they should have.  I expect nothing from the GOP as they have actively stripped workers of benefits and power; and because they are avowed climate change deniers who seem determined to plunder the planet until every drop of fossil fuel has been burned. Perhaps Democrats, who have tried harder to help the fight against fossil fuels and the development of alternative energies, have made some progress, although not enough; but they have not done nearly enough for workers, especially workers who are parents.

It seems that the real contrast between what various people say about our political parties does tend to be generational (and yes, this is an over-generalization). We know that people of all ages nodded yes to Bernie Sanders’ progressive and worker-focused ideas. But, the children of the Boomers had heard their parents express liberal compassion and, it seems, these children became disillusioned by what Boomers actually accomplished. They looked to their parents and grandparents to be more authentic, to hold the greedy at bay.

Our children (who are hardly children any more) resent the Boomers, feel we “sold out”, abandoned our ideals, and traded them in for financial success and material comforts. Boomer parents and grandparents perhaps convinced themselves that they did what was required of mature people in America and that they did this for their children. They found that their education made them desirable employees and before they knew it they got seduced by big paychecks, promotions, investments, McMansions, vacation homes, power, and convinced themselves that they did this for their families and, of course, providing for our families was important. Perhaps they even convinced themselves that America had cleaned up its act. But it is also possible that conservatives and 60’s and 70’s activists fell for the Gordon Gekko “greed is good” mantra (1987 movie, Wall Street). Did we not see the handwriting on the wall, the empty factories, the workers who lost their pensions? Did we think these were isolated events in an otherwise healthy economy? Did we notice that wealth was being squirreled away by a few who became rabid protectors of unfettered capitalism? If we had not “sold out”, but had stuck to our activist roots would our economy be different now?

There were roughly three groups of Boomers. There were some who came from wealthy and conservative or liberal families, were educated at top schools, and followed in the footsteps of their families. They tend to make up the rich and powerful “class”; the owners and the CEO’s of businesses. These Americans are capitalists and actively malign socialism.

In the second group were the activists, the hippies, those who demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, and attended women’s liberation  consciousness raising groups, and wanted to fight poverty and racial prejudice and inequality. Many of this second group of Boomers had also been to college, although they may not have been from wealthy homes. Some may have risen to be CEO’s and some may have worked in government jobs and as teachers. This group is not quite as susceptible to fear mongering about socialism.

And in the third group there were the Boomers who went to work after high school and started families while they were quite young. They believed that they would have a great job in a factory for all of their lives (if they stayed healthy), that their pay would steadily increase, they might even be promoted, and that they would have benefits like health care for their families and good pensions when they retired. The third group of Boomers were most injured by a transitioning economy (manufacturing to service) and affirmative action (they say). Many have slipped from solidly middle class into the lower end of the middle class. And yet many of this third group voted for and still support Trump. They are the biggest fans of capitalism and the most frightened by the idea of socialism.

Could any of the Boomers have stopped the migration of manufacturing to nations with cheap labor and plentiful consumers? It seems to be a common understanding that high taxes and union demands for more money contributed to the flight of our factories. However, having China open up to capitalism was probably a far greater motivator. Our government did not really try to stem the exodus because those in our government stood to profit from these new markets.

Most middle class parents thought their children wanted the lives they (the parents) had. But after all the parental talk about “the establishment” and the “military-industrial complex”, the millennials and Gen Xer’s seemed to be angry because their parents did not see the dangers of unregulated capitalism and find ways to rein in the most ardent capitalists who were aligned with the military (such good customers).

Young people are idealistic. They easily feel betrayed by what they see as hypocrisy—the failure of their elders to honor stated values. Many young people see capitalism as a pernicious economic system that hoards wealth and sees people with less money merely as “workers”, rather than people with responsibilities and interests. Union busting has been pursued systematically and successfully by the powerful and wealthy. Small wonder young people are hunting around for another economic system. They also see where greed has gotten us in terms of some scary climate change realities and the frightening possibilities recently predicted. Younger people are aware of the unwillingness on the part of those in power to help us switch to energies that are cleaner than the fossil fuels we have relied on. Younger people accept that fossil fuels have created the global warming that is changing climates and biomes.

These same young people seem embarrassed by materialism. They do not seem to believe in hoarding. They do not subscribe to the doctrine of perpetual growth—that an economy must always offer more—higher prices, higher wages, higher profits, more and better stuff. Where does the constant drive to grow take us? Will a nation fail if it cruises once in a while instead of always going full throttle? (You can almost hear the old capitalists saying, “sacrilege”.)

Millennials and Gen Xers find imperialism despicable—a crime against the humans whose lives are changed by a land and power grab. Annexing territory, now that the earth has been everywhere carved up into nations, has pretty much gone out of fashion, although heavily populated nations may have eyes for more territory eventually. These young Americans (20 and 30 somethings) are not proud of America’s sins, which is how they think of things like regime change and proxy wars, or persistent racism, or acting as missionaries to spread democracy/capitalism (and perhaps even Christianity). In these matters they blame Democrats who did not fight against these policies as much as they blame Republicans who insisted on them.

Our offspring are the future of America and the world. The things they don’t like that they see in the parental generations may determine what America (and the world) will be like in the future. Unless corporations win; and then they will be serfs. It is one thing to choose an organic and low-demand lifestyle for yourself. It is another thing altogether to have a low-income life thrust upon you.

Sadly, since the flaws in economic systems reside in us, rather than in the systems themselves it doesn’t matter if we become socialists, communists, or remain capitalists. It is the messages human minds hear and channel that need work. These message determine the laws we make, which in turn determines the level of corruption those at the top can indulge in. What we used to call the “puritan ethic” or the “protestant ethic” should be replaced with an economic code more suited to the post-industrial age. There may not be enough consumer demand to justify three shifts and long work weeks. Robotic workers which take the place of human workers may provide the leisure hours we once imagined were coming. The idea of “manifest destiny” suited the promise of an almost empty continent and the white supremacist entitlement felt by even our poorest colonists. Now, unless we go to space, there are no new lands to populate. We could change our goals so that we pay attention to the quality of our lives rather than producing endless quantities of unnecessary and unaffordable goods. If we consider all of this, a progressive agenda makes good sense. Short of revolution can it be accomplished?

I am speaking for younger generations I do not belong to and I am sorry about that. I may not have this right, but I am trying to understand an age that could either bring exciting and life-changing developments, or could put us in a new dark age, with capitalists and CEO’s as our “aristocratic masters” for decades. I recently read America: The Farewell Tourby Chris Hedges which inspired some of my thoughts, as he has no great love of capitalism and no great fear of socialism. He is the child of a calm and confirmed pair of activists, though they are not boomers and he is not as young as most Americans who hold similar views. His book has left me with food for thought. This is what books do for us. They send us off into ideas and analyses that continue to occupy our minds. He agrees with younger Americans that the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. I am not there yet and whether or not I get there depends on what the Democrats do next.

This is a view from the cheap seats.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Happy Quilters