Living in Interesting Times
Little did I anticipate just how interesting the times would become when I chose this title for my Chicago Now blog, many years ago. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined a time when: the better angels of our nature would be lost in a sea of racial and religious intolerance; a megalomaniacal misogynist would command the approval of a large segment of the population in a bid for his party's presidential nomination; our State would be mired in a seemingly unresolvable budget crisis resulting in a legislative stalemate and a diminution of essential services to needy citizens; police and citizens would be pitted against each other over the shooting of unarmed, young black men; protesting citizens would be demanding the resignation of top city officials; public schools would be facing a shut down due to lack of funding and a breakdown in communications between the teachers' union and the Board of Education; and revelations of sexual misconduct would destroy the reputation of a once-revered comedian and television actor. No, I did not imagine these times.
What did I imagine? Well, I envisioned huge advances in technology that would revolutionize the way we communicate, receive, and record data. That came to pass. Pencil and paper have pretty much been replaced by I pads. I phones have nearly relegated land lines to the dust heap of history. Computers and their search engines have replaced libraries as our go-to information sources. Most cinematographers have traded their film cameras for digital equipment. Cds and their players have lost favor to downloading music from the "cloud” to hand-held devices on request.
I did not, indeed could not, foresee the vast social and political changes that would come about in this brave new world. As a teacher and a student of history, I believed certain fundamental institutions, practices, and assumptions would endure. I believed that our two-party system of government would always operate in the best interests of all citizens, and that our elected representatives would put the good of the country above personal gain. I was naive. We now live in a time when most politicians worship the great god money and accede to the lure of the lobbyists rather than the will of the electorate. I believed that power would always be vested in the people. Wrong again. Power has become an end in itself for many “lawmakers”, and respect for the institutions of government has vanished. I am appalled at the blatant disrespect for the office of the presidency and at the unreasonable hatred for our current President. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that this hatred is based less on his policies and accomplishments than his race. I believed that, while we personally might hold one set of political and religious beliefs, we could still respect that others could hold differing beliefs that had meaning and merit for them. Yet, the national stage is being commanded by a man who vilifies immigrants, proposes to keep people of other religions out of our country, and promises to build a wall between "them" and "us."
This individual and the other "nattering nabobs of negativism" (William Saffire's phrase, not mine) rant constantly about everything they will tear down. They will repeal an Affordable Care Act that has made it possible for thousands of previously uninsured individuals to have health care—focusing only on its flaws and not its possibilities. They will pass laws banning Muslims, not only from entering the country, but from gathering in their places of worship. They will make it difficult, if not impossible, for certain segments of the population to exercise the right to vote. They will refuse sanctuary for those displaced from their countries by devastating civil wars. They will deny passage of minimum wage laws. They will obstruct any attempts to increase background checks on gun ownership. It’s all NO, NO, NO. What do we have to do, I wonder, to get to YES!
I never envisioned a group of so called “patriots” occupying a remote federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and promising to stay there for years to come until the government cedes federal land back to the people—which the people already own. Not only is this crazy group, led by Ammon Bundy—son of the infamous Cliven Bundy who led a 2014 armed standoff against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management rangers—planning to hunker down for the long term, they have invited other “patriots” from all over the country to support them by sending arms and snacks. They claim to be supporting local ranchers who were sent to prison for burning federal land, but those ranchers want nothing to do with them. Even hard-core Tea Party stalwarts have told them to “back off.” But, those admonishments have fallen on deaf ears.
In 1966, Robert Kennedy made this comment on his times: There is a Chinese curse which says 'May he live in interesting times.' Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. (It should be noted that scholars question whether the saying is old, Chinese, or a curse--but it makes a good reference.)
Today, we, too, live in interesting times. But then, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, all times are interesting--if we but know what to do with them.
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