I got back to the US on Sunday after living in Chile for the past six months and one of the first things I noticed was the tension in the air. People seem on edge, ready to jump at the smallest things. People are scared. We’re living in an era of extreme change, taking place at an unprecedented pace. Most Americans have not experienced hard times. Yes, there have been recessions, but nothing that compares to the confluence of events that has caused our current predicament. We’re in the biggest era of change since the industrial revolution. The recession started almost three years ago, but the mood of the country seems to have soured noticeably in the past six months.
I can see it on Facebook and Twitter in the status updates of my friends and network. I can see it in the moods of my friends without jobs or stuck in dead en jobs. I can see it in the blogosphere, cable news, the looks on people’s faces walking around town and how people are treating each other. I saw it in the airport security line in NYC as the TSA employees and passengers struggled to interact civally. I saw it on my flight to Milwaukee when two women got in a fight over a reclining seat. It’s especially evident in Wisconsin with the current administration and counter protesters. The anger, tension and fear is there.
Beyond the recession, our political climate is toxic and people feel powerless to make their lives better. It used to be that if you worked hard, got a good education, you’d get a good job and be able to support yourself and live well. Both the left and the right are getting more extreme and the center is increasinly empty, silent or powerless. The reasonable center is afraid to speak up, or believes they can’t do anything. In order to be heard, the reasobable center is moving to the margins and becoming more extreme, or just checking out entirely.
Our politicians are not willing to do what is actually best for the country, they are simply trying to win political points and get reelected. There are hundreds of policies that both sides could likely agree on, but will never get voted on because they do not win political points. Both sides are cultivating the us vs. them narrative and becoming more extreme. Reasonable political discussions are almost impossible. You risk getting your head bitten off.
Democrats are playing the class card, but doing it poorly. There’s a difference between a rich small business owner or entrepreneur and the finance guys who are just moving money around. Republicans are attempting to cut social programs, while keeping taxes low for the rich and demonizing the people who are not finding success in this economy. Many on the right are anti intellectual, under the guise of anti elitism.
Well intentioned guys like President Obama and Representative Paul Ryan have never had a private meeting, even though they are trying to fix the same problems. Although they don’t agree, leaders should be talking. But they don’t. Both sides look for outlandish claims to punish new thinking. President Obama equated Ryan’s plan with murdering old people and the Republicans have come with all sorts of nonsense to attack the President. Nothing will get done if we keep going down this path.
People have a feeling that the game is rigged, but they don’t think they can do anything about it. Every week, there’s another scandal, but people dont seem to react. People know they are getting fucked by the banks, their government, insurance companies and other lobbying groups, but they don’t have any idea how to fix the situation. They feel powerless and this leads to tension, anger and the current mood of the country.
It was really jarring to come back to the US and feel the tension. The reasonable center needs to start speaking up, challenging both sides and demanding compromise. We need to stop dealing in half true soundbites and start actually talking. We need to demand more from ourselves and our politicians. We can’t keep going on this way.