Now that Marmalade Mussolini has at least temporarily backed down on a calamity of his own making - i.e. holding Federal employees hostage to get his ridiculous wall (you know, the one that Mexico was supposed to pay for?) built - it occurs to me in the aftermath what the whole debacle really laid bare: we witnessed one of the most profoundly disturbing aspects of growing income inequality, which is the precarious financial situation so many of our dedicated public servants - indeed, the vast majority of Americans - find themselves in through no fault of their own. Whether it's the massive bite out of all our paychecks that now goes to an overpriced, for-profit (a phrase which should never be associated with medical care) healthcare system in which prescription medications or, God help us, unexpected emergencies can make the expenses crippling, or the burden of student debt that plagues so many of our best and brightest for decades (which included President and Mrs. Obama), or crushing rents/mortgages that have rapidly outpaced wage growth, most Americans live like hamsters on little wheels, working hard every day for dollars that have ever-shrinking buying power while being denied a fair share of the massive wealth of this nation that accrues only to stockholders, CEOs, the well-connected, and those who stalk the corridors of power.
My parents were solidly middle-class people. My dad fought his way out of working class roots in East Baltimore by getting an (affordable public) education at the University of Maryland, and my mom - who came from the middle class and perpetuated those values in her own family - similarly worked incredibly hard to carve out a successful career in the law. They could afford to send three children to the University of California and not struggle to pay tuition fees or have to take out a second mortgage to do so. This is no longer the case for most middle class families in the Golden State. UC is no longer the incredible "deal" it used to be (a first-class education for a steerage price), and real wages have stagnated for the past four decades while tuition, even at public universities, has skyrocketed. The federal shut-down of 2019 revealed the painfully stark truth that most families don't have "padding" in their bank accounts to live on for a few months because how the hell could they when they can barely afford the cost of living day to day?
I guess my long-winded point here is that we the people need to start demanding not just the crumbs that are thrown our way (aren't you grateful to be able to get back to the job we deprived you of for five weeks that doesn't entirely pay the bills anyway?) but the overhaul of what has become an unbalanced and corrupt system; to demand an economy that rewards hard work, not passive income; that gives employees a real share of ownership and profits (the Chobani model), not just a meager salary with limited (or zero) benefits and no long-term security; that has affordable healthcare options where no one - let me say that again, NO ONE - ever goes bankrupt because he or she had the temerity to get sick. Nothing fancy, really, just the basic fair deal that the middle class in this country used to be built on. And we will need to fight for it, ‘cause the ruling 1% that owns 50% of the world’s wealth is not about to voluntarily give up its staggering privilege and lopsided advantage. Human nature can be selfish and brutal, no doubt, but it can also be altruistic, compassionate, and generous. Which direction we take as a society and as a culture is up to us.
Here endeth the homily.