Front page story in a newspaper the other week:
In America the average life expectancy is going down, while in other first world countries people are living longer.
Actual causes of earlier deaths in the United States: opioid overdoses, suicide, illnesses brought on by lack of self-care, or bad diet, or bad diet because a good diet is unaffordable or unavailable, or illness left untreated because medical care is unaffordable or unavailable.
The person speaking in the article said that what this trend toward early death came down to was despair and hopelessness, not being able to see a future in which life could be improved with a job, a home, reliable food availability, reliable healthcare.
It was a grim assessment of how tough it is for so many American people now, and how many of them cannot find the resources to prevail against the odds.
On page three of the same newspaper was an article about our President pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey. He joked about impeachment and finished up by saying he was so happy about the new prosperity in the country and the new spirit blowing across the land.
After reading these two pieces, one after the other, I thought, there it is in a nutshell, the dichotomy between what we see – people dying from despair – and what we’re told to see – prosperity! A new spirit!
You know, there have been a lot of things I did not expect to see in my lifetime. I did not expect to see the Berlin Wall come down, and the Soviet Union to collapse. I did not expect to see marijuana become legal. I did not expect to see us have a black president. I did not expect to see us have a woman president.
Seriously, folks, I did not expect to see my country go down the road that Germany went down in the twentieth century. I grew up being taught, and believing, that we were better than that. We were the good guys who fought to defeat that.
In 2007, the last year of George W. Bush’s second term, I read that Germans who had fled Germany in the 1930s and 40s were saying that it was already too late to flee the United States. They saw what was coming. They had seen it before.
A young population has grown up without knowing survivors of World War II, or survivors of the death camps, or people whose families in Europe were wiped out. Young people have not grown up hearing those stories, or stories from their fathers or uncles or grandfathers, the vets who liberated the camps – not that those vets wanted to talk about it. They wanted their nightmares to go away: the sights, the smells, the discovery of what one group of human beings did to other human beings.
So now we have a country where we have people who think Hitler was a pretty cool guy, and white racial purity is a thing much to be desired, and they cheer for a guy who is incapable of putting together a simple declarative sentence.
Now we have thugs in the military who have no respect for the rules of engagement. Oh, there has always been rape and murder and torture and pillage in war, but there hasn’t always been a President who gave it his blessing.
Don’t forget, though, Donald Trump is not the cause of what is happening. He is an end stage symptom of a disease which has been building in this country for a long time. Since the founding of the nation, really, but in this virulent form since the nineteen-seventies.
Millions of Americans think he is ducking peachy, and that the Republicans are doing a great job of running the country, channeling all the wealth to a few people and not caring much about the rest of us.
One could despair, and many people do.
And yet – I see our native people rising and speaking out, demanding to be recognized as human beings with rights and dignity, more than ever before.
I see our children saying they are fed up with being gunned down in their classrooms, and it must stop.
I see people responding to hate crimes with grace and righteousness, and people surrounding them with love and support.
I see people devoting their lives working to prevent mass extinction on our planet from climate change, even if they suspect their work might be hopeless because it is too late.
Yeah, climate change might make everything else fade into irrelevance. Didn’t expect to see that in my lifetime, either.
Sometimes it takes something like that to make everyone realize we’re all in this together.