Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This Too Shall Pass

“This too shall pass.”

This phrase, recognizing that everything changes over time, is usually uttered by people who look forward to the end of their present unpleasant conditions. They can find comfort in the anticipation that some day they will have a better life, although the phrase also tells them that the better time would in turn be destined to give way to something else. But for those who see their present situation as unbearable, who think that things can only get better, there is solace in the hope for a better future.

Sometimes, however, it can seem that one's problems will never yield their grip. Hopelessness can replace the optimism that normally gets people through even the most difficult days. When that happens, people can act in all sorts of ways, many of them destructive to themselves and others.

It has been a challenge for a lot of people to understand why people of very modest means would support Republican politicians whose policies are intended to favor the very rich. It seems irrational, and it is. But to people who do not believe that a better day is to come, the irrationality of their view does not matter.

The middle class in the U.S. has taken a severe beating. Millions of workers have lost the sense of economic security they once had. They have gone back to school to learn new skills, only to find that the new jobs they were promised had been sent overseas while they were training for them. They have lost their savings and their homes. Their children have been priced out of the market for higher education. In so many ways, they have been beaten down, to the point that they no longer believe that a better day will come.

Years ago, when inner-city minorities burned the ghettos that they felt trapped in, some asked why they would destroy their own homes. Part of the answer was that they did not feel that the buildings were theirs. The rest of the answer was that they felt hopeless. Irrationality was not an unreasonable reaction.

Many of today's tea-partiers would be surprised to think that they were acting the same way that the arsonists of yesterday acted, and for the same reason. Tea-partiers, ever railing against entitlements and those who claim them, do not think they have much in common with a bunch of minorities who lived in the 1960s. But their economic condition, and their lack of hope for the future, make them the direct descendants of the rioters of a generation ago.

Politicians in both political parties have been accusing each other of fomenting class warfare. But we have not yet seen that struggle. All we have seen so far is the frustration and anger of the middle class as it sinks lower and lower into a growing underclass. We have not yet seen that anger directed towards the upper class, which holds the power and the money. We have not even seen much awareness among the tea-partiers that they have become part of the suffering-class. When and if the multitudes recognize the commonality of their condition, then class warfare may begin. The politicians won't have to tell us that a war is going on. We'll be able to see the smoke.

1 comment:

  1. You make a surprising parallel between the Tea Partiers and the inner-city rioters of years past. But I think there is merit in that analogy. Why, indeed, do they support the upper class instead of their own interests? But I wonder how the class war will be fought, other than in words and on the Sunday talking-heads shows. I'm quite suspicious of the pundits who write books, appear on shows, and in other ways profit from our political mess. It's in their interest to stir up conflict between the classes -- it makes them more money!