Today I am packing the pictures away; back into containers and bound for storage in the garage along with the letters between my wife and I written while I was in Eritrea. There they will stay for my grandson to read and wonder.
America is a young country. I have lived almost a third of this nation’s history, born in Franklin Roosevelt’s third term , months before Stalingrad and the great war which shaped my post-war world growing up.
Much has changed; some, but not all of it for the better.
Segregation was the law of this land once upon a time. My grandparents did not have social security and depended on their children for survival. Medicare did not exist for the elderly until the 1960s. Nor did Medicaid for the poor and disabled. It was not that long ago that I was asked to leave a restaurant because other patrons found my son in his wheelchair “disturbing.” There was a time when Republicans like Everett Dirksen led the fight for the Civil Rights Act.
And yet….Steinbeck’s words now resonate more than ever.
“Failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow . . . . And the smell of rot fills the country . . . . There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success . . . . And, in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is the growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
“In the gloomy, metastatic malignancy of a Trump presidency, do not Steinbeck’s hallowed words resonate every bit as much, if not terrifyingly more? Do they not poignantly describe the heartbreak and fear of so many?
The words and oeuvres of John Steinbeck are more relevant today than ever for compassionate, big-hearted folks. Folks who abhor racism, torture, oppression, unequal justice under law and war.”
Sinatra sang “Regrets. I have a few. But then again, too few to mention”
I am saddened and regret that we have not left a better country for my grandson. Too many have too little time to struggle for a better America because they are overburdened by the struggle to survive. Time is a disaster for them, especially in a society that suffers from what Dr. Stephen Grosz has called a “catastrophe of indifference.” The ghost of a savage capitalism haunts today’s health care debate and American politics in general.
A major shift that has taken place in the United States since the late 1970s. That shift is organized around a new kind of politics, one in which entire populations are considered disposable, refuse, excess, dust under foot and consigned to fend for themselves.
Evidence of such expulsions and social homelessness, whether referring to poor African-Americans, Mexican immigrants, Muslims or Syrian refugees, constitute a new and accelerated level of oppression under casino capitalism. A hyper-market-driven appeal to a radical individualism, a distrust of all social bonds, a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, and a willingness to separate economic activity from social costs results in public services which are underfunded, bad schools become the norm, health care as a social provision is abandoned, child care is viewed as an individual responsibility and social assistance is viewed with disdain. Evil now appears not merely in the overt oppression of the state but as a widespread refusal on the part of many Americans to react to the suffering of others, which is all too often viewed as self-inflicted.
Once the “disposable” become the “expelled”, they become invisible.
What does freedom mean in a country dominated by corporations, a military-industrial machine, Wall Street and the 1%? It translates into lower taxes for the rich and deregulation. The new definition of “freedom” is a radical cowboy individualism. You are on your own. No more will there be “freedom from want.”. “We are witnessing the destruction of the social contract and those ideas which came to the fore during the Reagan years are now proliferating with a gleefulness I have never witnessed.”
“A wide range of groups are now considered redundant — young people, poor people of color, immigrants, refugees, religious minorities, the elderly and others.” Yesterday Trump added the LGBTQ community. All are now disposable, invisible to the right and have been transformed into the living dead.
What can one do but keep one’s head down and try to survive in this new America?
I was a lucky man. I always had good health insurance provided through my employer. I went to a free college – albeit at night. I earned enough to provide for a family and our children had a stay at home mother. I have an adequate pension to live on for the remainder of my days. My father pushed a wheel barrow on a construction site but he was a union man so we always had the bare necessities of life.
On the other hand I was a front line witness to unbridled capitalism. It required moving to new cities just to stay employed. Acquisition meant sell the house, pack the boxes and start all over in a new city. Lay offs after 5 years or so became the norm in city after city as the regional banks were gobbled up for the profit of others. Many of my colleagues had to dramatically redefine their lives. Thank you deregulation.
The Communists of my youth told us that capitalists will take it all from you and leave you in rags. We didn’t believe them.
Today my children and their spouses all work all the time on the tread mill of unbridled capitalism. They do it with out the benefits I enjoyed as a young working man. There is no end in sight and it will probably get worse. How many of you still expect your children to be able to do better than you did? Not many I expect.
And I fear for the future of my grandson realizing, of course there is little I can do about it.
I carry the wounds of life. Spiritual wounds, which like physical wounds can sometimes be fatal and sometime heal but always ache, shrinking from an irritating touch. When the wounds of loss were still open I carefully guarded them lest there be pain during that period when any thought of the future seemed like an insult to memory.
But life intrudes. There was work needing doing, bills to be paid, arrangements to be made, children to console. I was the arbiter of my own fate and would have to prove to all those who cared for me that I could live on my own. As a planted tree, I would have to grow where I was planted.
And while I no longer recognize my country, I have survived and grown. Wounds have healed though remaining tender to the touch. I want for nothing and have no enemies of whom I know. MIy brothers in law and I have not exchanged an unkind word in over half a century. My daughters visit regularly and call me everyday. I never got rich but I made it so far.
I have lived a very full life. I have hurt no one and tried to do good where I could. And we raised two strong, compassionate decent women.
I wish the same for my children and grandson.
And now I’m hungry and will have a bowl of Rice Krispies with a sliced banana.