During these days leading up to the November elections, we’re talking about voter anger—a lot. Each day we’re treated to more news stories about how we’re so, so angry—and we’re not going to take it anymore. However, few seem to discern just why we’re actually angry. It is not, I think, that we truly believe Medicare is unconstitutional, health care reform will put our elders to death, or we are interested in teaching Ptolemy to our children.
It seems to me that what is really driving our dizzy rage is the sense that we’ve been had: by our political leaders, our financial wizards, and our own belief that hard work and honesty are inevitably rewarded in both the marketplace and our daily lives. Too many of us seem to feel like yokels who have had their pockets picked at the carnival; we were so busy watching the colorful wheel of fortune spin and listening to the beguiling call of the barker we somehow failed to notice that stealthy hand stealing both our wallets and—in too many cases—our futures.
Think back to what we were told only a short time ago. Tax cuts for the wealthiest will create jobs galore—and have no negative consequence for our nation’s finances because the tax cuts will more than pay for themselves. We have “defeated” the normal business cycle, and we can look forward to lives of unending prosperity driven by both the skyrocketing stock market and the handy wealth created by the inevitably rising value of our real estate; moreover, “relaxed” lending standards will allow more Americans to own homes, and the resulting “ownership society” will usher in a golden era of political, economic, and social stability. Most importantly, thanks to our courageous leaders who forthrightly have ditched Depression-era financial regulations that prohibit banks from taking on risky investments, our nation’s financial system is now poised for explosive growth and record-shattering profitability for all time to come.
And, of course, those who attempt to argue caution, that we are blithely putting ourselves on the path to eventual economic ruin, are nothing but nanny-state socialists who want to control our lives with their fears.
It now seems like a faraway world from another time we have to squint hard to recognize. Today we work—if we are lucky—to pay the taxes that allow us to make interest payments to those who loan us the money to run our government. If the wealthiest and most powerful happen to make horrendously stupid decisions, we continue to pour our tax money on them so as to avoid further crippling our economy. After bailing them out with our hard-earned dollars, our nation’s leading banks now have been kind enough to continually obstruct any effort to restructure our mortgages so we can stay in our homes—while at the same time paying us close to no interest on whatever money we still manage to have on deposit in their “too big to fail” institutions. In addition, thanks to a combination of political myopia, weakened regulatory oversight, and our misguided faith in the cleverness of our financial legerdemain, we are facing a ticking pension bomb that will likely make all our previous problems seem like the smallest of potatoes.
I know that some are worried our grim rage will lead us down a path that will cause even more harm because we will turn to those who shout the loudest and lay blame the most effectively—whether or not their ideas make any sense. In addition, there is the concern that we will elect leaders who will twist our anger to suit their own political and social agendas and cause grave damage to the traditions of tolerance we have worked so hard for so many generations to make a part of our daily social fabric. Perhaps there is the very slimmest of risks that a demagogue will take us down the path of darkness, but I do not believe that, when all the poll-driven shouting is done, we will ever wake up to tyranny—we have far too much common sense imbedded in the souls our citizens to allow such a thing to happen.
I suspect the largest danger is that we will lose whatever hope we still somehow possess—and be left with only silence as even the angry voices disappear. Right now we are energized to act, and it would be a shame if all this energy winds down to dull silence and acquiescence because those who benefit from today’s broken systems somehow manage to frustrate our will for honest and clearheaded change. No matter how messy and annoying it may seem at times, we need to keep up the volume, ask impolite questions of our political, educational, and business leaders, and demand that those who are unable to effectively lead step aside and let others take charge. All politics may be local, but our nation can—and I’m sure will—gaze upon our problems with eyes that see the broad national scope of both the needs and the dreams that need be fulfilled if we are to continue to realize our nation’s many promises to both our own people and the fragile world we help to lead.