“The Rising Waters” is even more salient now than when Carl Hassmann drew it in 1906. Then, as now, American society was in a desperate state, thanks to decades of the rich getting richer and leaving everyone else behind. The Gilded Age had created vast industrial wealth while consigning millions to exploitative working conditions and poverty. Landed security became more elusive as labor-saving machinery displaced rural folk and opportunities to homestead shrank with the “closing” of the American frontier. Cities became clogged with Americans seeking the respectability and comfort that came with new white-collar jobs. Continue reading
Tag Archives: ordinary people
The Trump Years: Day 56
Ordinary Americans will soon learn how they are to figure in the grand story of the future the GOP is always telling. It’s a story that sees America and Americans as trammeled by rules that bug them and taxes so onerous they can’t sleep at night, that sees happiness as a precipitate left over after “school choice” causes public schools to evaporate. The Republican narrative promises to rescue Americans from a tyrannical government and recent policy “disasters.” Long-term security will grow rather than decrease once the nation is liberated from the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and the tangible health benefits it guarantees.
This rhetoric is about to collide with physical reality. Will a Republican-led Congress be so vain and rash as to abandon health guarantees that an entire nation has grown accustomed to? Yes, Congress should act to constrain premium increases and restore competitive insurance options where they are lacking, but why deprive the nation of the happy consciousness that we’re all in it together, which is, at bottom, the signal benefit of Obamacare? This is precisely what Republicans are most eager to destroy.
Under the present system, some well-off Americans are obliged to spend more for insurance than they would like; however, millions of Americans are newly insured, and hundreds of thousands are addressing health problems that have afflicted them for years. Knowing that we are achieving something so gloriously humane makes the hassle and collective sacrifice worthwhile. If Congress were wise, it would aim at enhancing this precious peace of mind.
Image: 80,000 miners listening to Theodore Roosevelt
(1905 daguerreotype by Underwood & Underwood),
from this source.
Know Your Fears
My husband told me he plans to write out a list of what he fears from a Trump presidency. It makes sense, given how much fear is in the air. Until each of us gets a bead on the nature of our fears, chances are it won’t matter much what we do.
We are exhausted from a long and tortuous election season. Our nerves are wracked, our moral compasses are twitching. Our guts are writhing from a roller-coaster ride that isn’t over but barely beginning.
The presidential contest was close, but it was more than that: it was polarizing, salacious, and unedifying. It was omnipresent and momentous, hauling us all in together in a stinking net of civic obligation. Then it ended with an ugly surprise, revealing that the nation’s ‘leading citizens’ don’t deserve their reputation as a leading class. Today, American minds are still traumatized and reeling. People are depressed, resentful, angry, disapproving. Most of us sense further calamity brewing.
Who likes the feeling of powerlessness that sets in after ‘the people have spoken’? We, the electorate (yes, we’ll all complicit) have tipped the political order upside-down.
So, instead of bringing relief, the outcome of the election brings a new host of worries. Americans must continue to be attentive and mitigate the various forms of damage Trump’s presidency may cause. Fissures have opened up in both political parties; they, too, are divided and dangerously weakened. The next few years will see ongoing tumult and crisis, making it all the more urgent to clarify goals and conserve energies.
American politics requires stamina and organization. No one person or organization can fight every battle. So know your fears; name the nature of the danger as exactly as you can. Let the list you write define the wisest course to pursue.
Feel free to state what you fear most from a Trump presidency
and what you think people who share your fear should be doing.
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The Grief and Anguish After Dallas
What more is there to offer amid the voluble discourse of this sad week, when violence took the place of order and justice? The United States: will the terrorism of Charleston and Orlando diminish them? Will we descend to the habit of a shrug when children are murdered in our schools, when movie-goers are gunned down in a theater, when a cafeteria worker is shot to death in the middle of a routine traffic stop, when a sniper decides to channel his anger into killing police officers?
Sadly, we may grow indifferent if the spiral of unjustified violence continues much longer. We may shun the news for fear of having to look at the latest, outrageous use of quick-murdering guns. We may all cease to bat an eye at the latest victims, the latest place when guns were used to sort out human conflicts that deserved to be aired in the courts. And when that happens, we will have lost the semblance of unity that has kept us going until now. We will be just another war-torn country, with battle-lines too subtle to stay on the right side of.
Congress, endlessly preoccupied with the 2nd Amendment, has forgotten the larger purposes that, according to the Constitution, justify our federal government, particularly its charge to ‘insure domestic Tranquility’ and ‘promote the general Welfare.’ Will Congress act, in whatever ways it sees fit, to promote the internal peace and safety that Americans of all races crave, and that, by right, we are all entitled to expect? Or will Congress forget its obligation to the nation, its members cravenly priding themselves on dedication to some lesser cause or party?
Changes in law are needed, but America also needs something more that’s harder. Americans need to look into their hearts and examine whether they are living up to the potentialities of our civic culture, a culture that has allowed us to dwell with one another in a relatively open and unfettered way. Americans need to recall the great civil tradition that has inspired generations to grow into a society where people who differ from one another nonetheless co-exist, enjoying ‘the blessings of Liberty’ and fitfully recognizing in one another our mutual humanity. We have striven according to an Americanness that is deeper than either religion or skin. This cultural effort will be imperfect always, but without it we will be condemned to grieve forever, anguishing over the most precious republican virtue lost.
Image: from this source.
Ours Is a Sympathetic Service
Russell Lee photograph, taken on Chicago’s South Side in April, 1941.
Image from this source.