You can understand something intellectually, but that doesn’t mean that you fully grasp the import of its meaning. It’s this difference that shifts an issue from sterile discussion to true debate, as those who feel it in their gut push the envelope and make their points in ever more forceful tones. This comprehension shift happened to me this past weekend as the ongoing erosion of the American Middle Class took on a far more personal and visceral meaning.
My most important job as a father is to teach my children about the great wide world and help prepare them to survive in it. Doing that means that I also have to pay attention to what’s going on around us and how these things impact the world in which my children will live. The rise of the corporate society and the official preference of the uber-rich at the cost of the middle class has clearly shaped what and how I teach my children about the adult world. We’ve taught the kids that an education is essential for economic survival and have done what we can to see that it’s obtained with as little debt as possible. But spend a lot of time around kids and teens and you begin to think of many of them as your own; you watch them grow from small children and fill out, physically at first and then in terms of mind, emotion and character. When this happens, you begin to worry about the kids who aren’t being given much guidance and support and it can be painful.
The case in point occurred when I was speaking with Eldest about one of her close, a young man who’s shown significant character and maturity. He’d already graduated from high school and was working and our questions – my wife and I – pertained to what was happening with his plans for community college to get the higher ed ball rolling again. As I spoke with my daughter, I reiterated my well-rehearsed commentary on the need for the education but then simply stated if he doesn’t get things moving while he’s young, he’s going to spend his life on the other side of the great divide. It struck me as an odd phrase at the time and when I reflected back on it later, my reaction was far more visceral than it had been previously.
…The Great Divide…
Economic and political policies, as well as long-standing social habits, are eating away at the middle class and if changes aren’t made, future America – our children’s America – will consist of two groups on either side of a chasm. There was once ground which permitted both groups to live together but the existent policies will continue to undermine this until it collapses into an unbridgeable gap. Once this happens, separating the small group on one side from the large group on the other, then there will be nothing to bind them together and our nation will devolve into a state of nightmarish proportions as the larger group struggles to survive and the smaller one fights desperately to maintain its advantage in resources and opportunities.
While I want this young man to succeed, I’m ashamed that my great divide remark was so contained to one person. I’ve come into contact with so many children and teens and it’s unacceptable that a handful gain the one side while the rest are stranded on the other; each should be responsible as adults for their own movement forward, but permitting the presence of the divide robs the mass of even the opportunity to move. If our Constitution states that each has the right to pursue happiness, the chasm’s existence is inherently unconstitutional as it robs the many of that right. Many will be bound, despite their efforts, to a life without the opportunity to advance themselves beyond their present station and our nation is at a loss for it.
There are no simple, cookie-cutter responses to this erosion and things will change neither easily or quickly. But there are some basic things to remember and adopt.
- Begin to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Question what you read and hear in the main stream media and when you hear a pundit, ask yourself what that person and his or her sponsor has to gain. Then share with your family and friends and spread the word.
- Teach your children not to believe what they hear and see in the media. You cannot have it all and will have to make choices. The newest product model or version won’t make you happy or satisfied. You cannot expect to live on support but will have to hustle to make your way in the world. The old economic model of spend, spend and spend is no longer operative. And yes, you’re going to have to study and above all, think.
- Amend your buying habits so that you don’t automatically purchase the lowest cost item, which will probably be made in China or elsewhere in the world. Think about where an item originates and whether your purchase supports your fellow citizens.
- Likewise, buy local when and where you can. As I age, my buying priorities are becoming local first, domestic second and finally, foreign if necessary. This way, I’m putting my own kids and their peers to work first and supporting their livelihoods.
- Pay greater attention to the electoral process and what the candidates are doing instead of saying. Skepticism is a healthy thing and ask whether they’re consistent in their beliefs; if necessary, turn off the main stream media and shift to the internet. You’ll have to work harder to skim the wheat from the chaff, but it’s worthwhile.
- Finally, remember that our country has been here before, in the post-Civil War era of the Railroad Tycoons and Robber Barons, when a very few took dominion over our nation’s wealth and resources. Our ancestors dealt with it then and we can deal with it as well.
But remember also that it took the work of many to elect men such as Theodore Roosevelt and his peers. And many, many votes.