Sundin column: Hopelessness in America
As I See It
A strong feeling of hopelessness in the future has pervaded the faith of many Americans in the future of our democracy. This is evident from the flocking of support for the demagogue, Donald Trump, in the 2020 election. That was evidence of a loss in confidence in our government to recognize and respond to the needs and wishes of the American people.
Instead, our government has been taken over by moneyed interests — big corporations and the wealthy — to serve them instead of the rest of us. As Will Rogers put it, “We have the best government money can buy.”
When I was growing up during the Great Depression of the 1930s, many millions were unemployed, and nearly everyone was poor, but most did have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table, many with the aid of government welfare programs. Then World War II came along, with full employment and decent wages.
The three decades after the war were a remarkable period of prosperity, as returning veterans were able to purchase homes and get a college education (preparing them for well-paying jobs) under the GI Bill. The automobile industry was booming after a four-year interruption for war-materiel production. Nearly everyone had a well-paying job and was able to purchase luxury items in addition to necessities.
People were also able to afford a good college education for their children. My tuition at the University of Illinois was $160 per semester because I was not an Illinois resident. (Tuition for Illinois residents was $80 a semester). In-state tuition is now over $7,500 per semester, putting it well beyond the means of most families.
But how things have changed over the decades since then! Corporations have taken over the government for their wealthy executives and stockholders by stagnating wages and benefits in the face of rising housing, medical and education costs.
The housing market is escalating at an alarming rate, driven by the well-heeled who can afford it, but freezing younger people out of the market, forcing them to postpone marriage and having children, and to living with their parents. It is also forcing many to drive beat-up old cars – new cars and recent-vintage used cars are out of their ability to purchase.
All these conditions are combining to create a serious threat to the survival of our democracy. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, in Germany the public reaction to economic hardship led to the election of Adolf Hitler, and we know where that led — to the persecution and extermination of six million Jews. If you think that couldn’t possibly happen here in the U.S., you’ve got another thing coming!
The election of Trump in 2016 and his attempts to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, and his getting 74 million votes in that election by fanning racial fear and hatred of Blacks and Hispanic immigrants, is evidence of the threat he posed to our democracy.
This has been picked up and expanded into a mass movement through public media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and especially QAnon, which spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories, further fanning the flames of fear and hatred. Trump capitalized on the misinformation they spread, promoting fascism over democracy — whose success depends on a well-informed electorate.
This requires skepticism, questioning the validity of the messages people are receiving and the motivation of those who are distributing them. Far too many Americans are seeking only content that supports their prejudices — just the opposite of a well-informed public. Add to this the major decline of newspapers, whose mission is to publish factual information. But too many people have become too lazy to read, and are receiving misinformation by ear.
Proponents of the false but widely circulated conspiracy theory were campaigning for, and winning, elected-office positions. Nearly 100 candidates in 2020 have shared QAnon content or been open to conspiracy theories. Running up to the election, Trump’s Twitter account promoted QAnon content nearly 270 times.
Ironically, a current major issue is the distorted distribution of wages and wealth that has been increasingly taking over the U.S., but people seemed to ignore the fact that Trump’s policies have favored corporations and the wealthy. It is now up to Biden and his administration to put the country back onto a more equitable distribution of wages and wealth.
It is not too late to save our precious democracy, and it warrants our wholehearted support. Our children and grandchildren deserve the benefits we have enjoyed — we owe it to them.
“As I See It” appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”