Chaos Country 

I grew up a child of privilege. Not because my parents were rich — far from it — but because I faced so many fewer obstacles than young people today face. Life in my small Midwest town was pretty basic. Everybody — black, white, or brown, poor, middle-class, or rich — attended the same public schools. Everybody read the same newspaper and watched the same four basic television stations and cheered for the same teams. We all got along, at least, we seemed to, though I'm sure my black classmates certainly had experiences beyond what my clueless white teenage self could comprehend.

I found a bill the other day. My tuition at the University of Missouri in 1972 was $800 a semester for a full load of classes. Like many of my lower- and middle-class contemporaries, I was able to work my way through college doing various part-time jobs during the school year and full-time work during the summers. When I graduated — after leisurely cramming four years of college into six — I had no debt and no interest in a career. So I cruised around the country in an old GMC truck with a camper cover, settling for a time in New Mexico, and later in San Francisco for couple of years. My girlfriend and I worked menial jobs and easily paid the rent on a decent Haight Street apartment in the mid-1970s.

click to enlarge “So how do we change the country’s direction?”
  • “So how do we change the country’s direction?”

It didn't seem like it at the time, because I took it totally for granted — but, looking back, I realize it was the ultimate privilege: The freedom to spend years to figure out what direction you want your life to take, unsaddled by massive student loan debt or excessive rent. But that wave crested. That extraordinary level of freedom is now available only to the wealthy — a privilege for the already privileged.

Before I get too far into "You kids get off my lawn!" territory, let me say that I've done a lot of reading about the factors that have increased the cost of college. They include the many federal and state programs that have made higher learning available to millions more high school graduates; the country-clubbing of college facilities and campuses; the increased salaries for professors and administrators; inflationary pressures, etc. But what's often overlooked is the "fractionalization" of our society — the infinite multitude of news sources that puts us all into different information silos; the privatizing and "charterizing" of our education system to the detriment of public schools; a tax system that increasingly favors corporations and screws the middle- and working-class; the complete co-option of our political system by corporate money and influence.

George Washington said, "I cannot tell a lie." Jimmy Carter said, "I will never lie to you." President Donald Trump lies like he breathes, and one-third of Americans take it in like oxygen.

Our politics have become another reality show, a contest for power and influence, where the truth is as fluid as mercury, just another variable, useful at times, but mostly unnecessary. Your cable network of choice will provide you with outrage material all day long, while bots flood your social media with lies and misdirection tailored to reinforce your beliefs. "Flip-flopping" used to be an epithet that carried weight; now it's just a strategy, another three-card monte game to swing the news cycle. Truth is so 24-hours-ago.

So how do we change the country's direction if we can't even agree on what the truth is? If we can't even agree on what constitutes a bald-faced lie? If a bald-faced lie is okay, if it confirms your biases?

The Republican nomination process in 2016 was the perfect reflection of our fractured society. There were 17 candidates, none of whom could break through, except the man with the loudest voice and the simplest message: "I, alone, can fix this."

Now, the Democrats get their turn, and it looks like a re-run, with as many as 22 candidates making noises about getting into the race. None of them, alone, can fix this. It will take principled leaders in both parties, working together, to lift the country out of this turmoil — this incessant daily chaos being purveyed from the highest office in the land. Another six years of this madness, and America as we know it is done.

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