Veterans, Soldiers and We the People

From a Google Image Search – Military.com

There are many important stories in the world. Today is Memorial Day for example and where would America be without our soldiers. I hate war but I admire the men and women who fight for our country. Even some of our soldiers may agree that saving our own Democracy from a Party that seems intent on destroying it is worth concentrating on, even on this sacred day. Our soldiers have always fought and even died for Democracy. Democracy needs them for a different kind of war now.

Michael Flynn, addressing a QAnon crowd, called for a Myanmar-style coup in America. Many Republicans are convinced that Democrats are an existential threat to our nation because of their progressive ideas. They don’t want to see America invest in America’s social structure along with other critical infrastructure. They don’t want to set a minimum wage that offers solvency for American families. They don’t want to see a government health insurance program that allows even the poorest Americans to have health care. 

They don’t like workers banding together in unions to keep employers from abusing our workers. They don’t like consumer protections. They don’t want to pay for young people to go to a community college, even given the gauntlet of poverty, violence and drugs young people must make it through to have successful lives. 

They don’t want to pay for child care so women can work. In fact, they think women should stay home with the children and have babies because our population is getting too old. They would get rid of contraception if they could. They don’t even want social security for those who have no other pension. They do want to tax people but only people who make less than $400,000 a year. No wonder they want ‘small government.’ The taxes of Americans who make less than that won’t pay for much. Since the party insists that only a big armed force and plenty of killer weapons can keep America safe from our enemies abroad that doesn’t leave much money for social matters. 

They say that forcing all Americans to pay for social programs is undemocratic. Well, in a sense, since each individual cannot choose whether to contribute to a federal program, or to not allow their tax dollars to go towards that priority, this does constitute a kind of mandate. 

Societies do not necessarily guarantee absolute individual freedom. In fact, some societies offer little individual freedom at all. This week the leader of Belarus pretended a plane had a bomb on board so they could get the pilot to land in Belarus so that a young journalist on the plane could be arrested for trying to speak freely. There is a certain authoritarian strain in American politics on the right that wants to use fascist means to insist that America do things their way. And we are back to Michael Flynn (and Donald Trump).

Societies do have social contracts with their members. Since FDR, social programs have been part of American governance and American life. Now Republicans tell us that this was a huge mistake and that they are absolutely certain that including social programs in federal governance will kill America. So they are trying to kill democracy because they are so certain that they are right.  They are trying to kill the Democratic Party because they insist that America only spend to encourage “makers” to come back and rescue the American economy. And that is clearly not what happens when you help corporations these day. Corporations plough the money back into their own operations and shower their stockholders with dividends because they own a lot of stock, and this increases their profits without expanding their operations or hiring more expensive workers. Our corporations, grown in America, could now care less if America continues to thrive. They are not actually Americans anymore; they are citizens of the world.

Republicans who still see themselves as Conservatives have decided that they and only they hold all the answers to how America can remain first among the nations of the world. They have made sure that Democrats are unable to help the middle classes and the poor through federal government programs. They have used creative voter strategies to keep power in Congress and they have used obstruction to have their way.

Republicans point to LBJ’s War on Poverty and argue that it was largely ineffective at solving stubborn poverty or prejudice. They deliberately undermined those programs and attached a stigma or set up tough requirements to make the programs unattractive. There is proof in the data, that although such programs did not end poverty, they were helping to make changes in the poorest neighborhoods and towns. That LBJ, and indeed, the Republicans did not foresee the ravages of opioids is a burden that rests on the pharmaceutical industry and, with the enormous profits they have made, they should tackle the addiction problem and end our sorrows at this waste of human lives. Even knowing the dangers of opioid addiction these meds are being used to treat our veterans today.

For one party to ‘take the wheel’ and decide that they know best how to steer the nation so that it will be successful in having the world’s best economy and be the dominant power on the globe is not the democracy/republic we all signed on for. 

There have always been factions in American politics. That is how political parties were formed. There has always been contention. We fought a Civil War because slave owners wanted to force America to accept slavery. That was a war, not a coup. 

But Republicans are apparently tired of contention. They want a government that doesn’t have to negotiate every issue. Of course, Democrats would like that too. But Republicans have used a set of strategies to change the dynamics of American politics and to prevent a two party system from operating as it should. They have interpreted constitutional powers in ways that allow them to use these powers against compromise and they have learned the power of fixing elections in seemingly legal ways, although, desperation seems to be driving them into more unseemly election practices such as the Big Lie, recounting settled votes, passing laws in red states that allow officials to overturn elections, along with what is happening in states like Florida, Texas, and Georgia right now. 

Republicans have learned how to hold onto the majority in Congress, or at least in the Senate, and they have learned the power of simply stubbornly saying no and not even allowing legislation to come to the floor. Even though Republicans have lost the majority in the Senate, the Democratic advantage is extremely slim. With the Republican Party so insistent that it knows what is best for America, and the filibuster still in place it may look like Democrats won in 2020, but the reality is that unless the Dems do some things they find unsavory, like passing bills with single party votes or getting rid of the filibuster, the Democrats are still being held at bay by a cult-like Republican party. 

Meanwhile America sinks further into a morass of poverty and violence, fueled by a belief that all will be well if we just bring manufacturing back home and build up an arsenal of ever more super weapons. When the factories come home all will turn around and America will be an engine of progress once more. But that is just another ‘big lie.’ You can’t recreate the past. 

You can move on into a future that deals with the economic realities we have now and builds on those strengths. Learning how to live in new and lighter ways on the planet offers the economic gains of the future and puts us on a path to sustainability rather than extinction. The Republican Party is wrong for these times. They made a deal with a devil but they had already sold their soul to hang on to imagined past glories. 

On this Memorial Day when Republicans offer themselves up as the true patriots who honor our soldiers far more than the ‘sorry’ Democrats, it is important to remember that warmongering is not a good future for our world’s continued existence and that promises to our soldiers have not been kept. We must remember which party is the one that is saying no to the needs of the people and that includes the needs of veterans. In the midterms please give the Democrats a chance to change the focus of the American government from the wealthy to ‘we the people’.

On Tuesday, June 1, 2021 Max Boot wrote this article in The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/01/republican-plot-steal-2024-election/

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder – Book

Apple Books

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder is an authentic piece of journalism about Americans fed up with our social systems which consistently rob middle-class Americans of things they felt were part of the ‘social contract.’ In a land where our Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights (life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness), we assume that our government would not legislate against our rights. 

Although governing is complicated it seems clear to most of us ‘bottom dwellers’ that our laws have been skewed to advantage the wealthy. When the wealthy play with the stock market and the economy to tweak it so they can get wealthier it hurts those whose finances are least secure. We are taught that consumption is good. We are dazzled by credit card offers that allow us to live well. 

But when the rich go too far and we land in the Great Depression or the Great Recession people at the bottom, perhaps those very folks who believed the promise of credit as a road to comfort, fall off the economic scale. 

They lose a job, they age out of the job market, they can’t pay their mortgage, they can’t afford health insurance and a major health crisis hits, their long time employer goes bankrupt and they lose their pension, or they are a widowed housewife who now has to live on the abbreviated Social Security they get from their dead husband’s account.

These are the people who sell their homes or lose their homes, who refuse to be homeless, who can find employment but not unless they travel to where employers are hiring. They buy a van or an RV, new or used depending on how much they were able to salvage from their previous life. 

They outfit their RV, or van, or bus, or even just their car using lots of advice from those who have set out on this journey before them. They make places to bed down, they deal with how they will get electricity and water if they end up at a campsite with no amenities, they add solar panels hiding them if possible because they are not allowed to have them in some places where they camp, and they figure out what to do about showers and wastes. 

There are websites for this. On Reddit there is a thread called ‘vandwellers’. There are searchable maps on a site like FreeCampsites.net, Allstays.com. There is a Wallydocking app. There are websites for Workampers who are seeking jobs to pay for their expenses, to possibly save up for a more comfortable van experience.

Jessica Bruger is a journalist, a writer. When she decided to write about this population she had a hard time getting vandwellers to speak to her. The media had not been kind; they tended to eventually get around to using the word ‘homeless’ which is offensive to vandwellers. These nomads tell the author that they have nothing against the ‘homeless,’ they are just not at all homeless. They have a home; it just is not anchored in one place. 

Because the National Park Service allows campers only fourteen days on a site, vandwellers have to move frequently. You can work as a camp host, cleaning bathrooms and campsites, checking in campers, stay for an entire season, and get paid, but these jobs are being eliminated. 

Amazon hires workampers at Christmastime but these jobs are difficult for seniors as they involve walking for many miles on the concrete warehouse floors, bending and rising, and hefting a weighty scanner that keeps track of your every move. Workampers consider the challenges worth the rewards, although some do not make it in these physically taxing jobs. 

Bruder makes friends with a camper named Linda May and she finally outfits a van of her own, which she names Halen, and joins Linda at sites vandwellers frequent, such as Quartzite, Arizona (The Gathering Place) and the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. She gets to listen to and learn from many vandwellers when she actually lives the life. Swankie Wheels is one of her sources, Bob Wells who started the website CheapRVLiving.com, Silvianne the astrologer, someone called Ghost Dancer. 

One of her sources tells her, “[w]e’re facing the first ever reversal in retirement security in modern US history. Starting with the baby boomer, each successive generation is now doing worse than previous generations in terms of their ability to retire without seeing a drop in living standards…” (pg. 62) Another source says, “[b[y moving into vans and other vehicles people could become conscientious objectors to the system that had failed them. They could be reborn into lives of freedom and adventure.” (pg. 75)

Bruder writes, “[w]hile it’s human nature to put on a good face in turbulent times — and to present that face to strangers – something else was also appearing among the nomads. The truth as I see it is that most people struggle and remain upbeat simultaneously, through even the most soul-testing of challenges. This doesn’t mean they’re in denial. Rather it testifies to the remarkable ability of humankind to adapt, to seek meaning, and kinship when confronted with adversity. In other words the nomads I’d been interviewing for months were neither powerless victims nor carefree adventurers” (pp. 164-5)

Linda May is an especially interesting and aware vandweller. Beset by adversity she still has a grand plan to build an “Earthship” of dirt-packed tires and to get off the grid on her own land. As Nomadland ends she sets foot on the property she has saved for, searched for and purchased, and she is getting ready to build. She has made friends along the way who have promised to help. 

The author finds it hard to leave the vandwellers and return to her own life to write the book she has researched and she concludes in this way:

“The most widely accepted measure for calculating income inequality is a century old formula called the Gini coefficient. It’s a gold standard for economists around the globe, along with the World Bank, the CIA, and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. What it reveals is startling. Today the United States has the most unequal society of all developed nations. America’s level of inequality is comparable to that of Russia, China, Argentina, and the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.” (pg. 247)

Obviously, I also have had some trouble leaving the vandwellers behind as I continue to digest the details of life on the road and the philosophies that maintain those whose lives have become nomadic. I worry that this could happen to me, or indeed, anyone I know. I have a friend who chooses to be nomadic for a portion of the year, but he and his wife own two expensive properties. Not the same thing at all.

The fact that women are safe and able to pursue this lifestyle if it becomes necessary helps lift my spirits a bit but the thought of 10-hour shifts at an Amazon warehouse to keep me in groceries has the opposite effect. It’s as if we are playing a game where colorful ‘peebles’ are lined up on a shelf and as new ‘peebles’ are added at the front end of the shelf, identical looking ‘peebles’ are falling off the shelf at the other end. Are you ready for Nomadland? Check out more of what Jessica Bruder learned and do a bit of soul-searching.