Talk about a state of the union. I’ve passed through many states in the course of my recent travels with Black 47. How are things going out there in the country? Well, as ever, you’re hit with the sheer irrepressible sense of energy and optimism that Americans have always had in abundance; yet, these ineffable characteristics are curried with a deep anger, a brooding sense of anxiety and a revulsion towards politicians and the shadowy mix of financiers and speculators who many feel have sucked the life-blood out of the country.
In short, there’s almost a palpable sense of betrayal abroad. Most people feel that they’ve worked hard, done their part and deserve better. Some may have stretched to buy the home that was a bit beyond their means or overcharged their credit cards, but even they don’t want or expect handouts from the government, and they’re perfectly willing to work that extra job to get things back on the straight and narrow. The problem is: the ground is being pulled from beneath their feet as many face unemployment in tandem with rising health care and education costs.
Most are aghast at the wars and excesses of the last eight years, yet they hardly had time to celebrate the lifting cloud before the new president was swamped by a deluge of problems. The more financially secure feel that it’s the inevitable case of the chickens coming home to roost, while those who have already lost their jobs - or fear for them - are just plain frightened.
Everyone wishes to get the country back on track again. But, unlike the mobilization of World War Two, the enemy is not tangible. This time it’s not the Germans or the Japanese that are being confronted – it’s a basic lack of trust. The social contract that unified us was dismantled brick by brick in the recent go-go years of narcissism and “looking out for number one.”
And in the background there’s the endless chatter of cable TV, instant Internet news, partisan blogs and twitters that vilify and predict by the second, then recalibrate their opinions, nail a new victim and predict all over again.
Many people are disoriented because they must come to terms with the fact that the America they knew has changed. Where once we were a great manufacturing nation, now we have become a service society that gets paid to look after and entertain each other. Look at the glass darkly and it could seem that the US risks becoming a big Ronald McDonald, minimum-wage franchise.
Great ideas put into practice, however, can and will elevate the country. The next Apple or Google is even now being conceived in someone’s bedroom or garage. The keys, as ever, are education and innovation. While more and more people cannot afford the former, I saw no lack of the latter out there in the middle of America. In fact, many are already reeducating and reinventing themselves to meet what they fear is a coming meltdown.
They despise both Democratic and Republican poseurs and naysayers. They don’t trust the media and regard all the talking heads as mere pawns who will jump through any hoop to boost their ratings. They want positive change and they’re willing to pay for it, but they’re leery of spending their children’s heritage in parcels of “trust us” trillion dollar schemes that they have not been consulted about.
They are crying out for affordable health care and back the President’s as yet unannounced plans because they recognize that costs must be brought under control. None has a kind word to say for their current insurers and yet all are deathly afraid of losing their coverage.
Many are amazed that they trust this new President so deeply, including some who are borderline racists. They desperately want him to succeed and admire his quiet confidence. They will stick with him, though one gets the impression that time is tight and his political capital is finite.
In an age of bitter anxiety and dreams postponed, I was repeatedly struck by how much, and in such a short time, we have all come to depend upon President Barack Obama.