I was born in South Carolina in July, 1968. That makes me… uh…
muttering: carry the one, divide by 16, add 0, subtract 43…
well, that makes me older. I’m older now than I’ve ever been before. Also, Mathing is hard.
I was born a little more than 100 years after the Civil War ended. That seemed like ancient history when I was a kid, but now, with the wisdom that comes with age, I realize now that means that when I was born, I had some very old neighbors who remembered the stories their parents told them about surviving the war between the states. Very, very old neighbors, but yes, this wasn’t ancient history to them. The parents of my oldest neighbors bought us a moral victory against acquiescence to the enslavement of human beings with the currency of their blood. And in my schoolrooms, that’s what we learned. We were taught that slavery was evil, and that all people deserved better than that.
It was also only 23 years after the end of World War II. This seems astonishing to me from the perspective of 49yrs old. WWII ended 72 years ago. As a kid, this wasn’t all that long ago. Looking back now, it’s eons. But I remember as a child being taught that we, as a nation, decided that Nazi’s are bad and that Americans were the good guys who fought the good fight for freedom and decency and an end to oppression.
My grandfather served on a US Navy ship in WWII. He enlisted so that his children and his grandchildren could live in a world free from Nazi Fascism. He didn’t do it so that his children’s children could pick up Nazi flags, shout in praise of Hitler and march with TiKi torches intended to intimidate the very people his generation literally signed up to risk their lives to protect.
My generation fought a war, too, not an actual, literal war, but a conflict with a marketing slogan that included the word “War”, in the name of freedom and moral clarity and anti-authoritarianism. We were caught up in the Cold War, fighting against the communist USSR, and the perils of the overarching state thwarting the freedoms that our grandfather’s protected in their war. And we won our war when Ronald Reagan said “Mr Gorbachev, tear down that wall,” and the world celebrated our moral victory of freedom over tyranny right along with us. In the 70’s and ’80’s, we worried about the possibility of nuclear war. In the 90’s, we didn’t.
Growing up in the South, even just 120 years or so after the civil war, I never experienced any moral ambiguity about the justness of the Union cause in my classrooms at Hillcrest Senior High School. We were taught that Nazis were evil, slavery was wrong, fascism was Anti-American, and that what made America great was that we were willing to stand up and fight against that shit. Were there bigots? Absolutely. Was there injustice and racism? Yes, there definitely was. But it was, at least, at a bare minimum, labeled “Wrong.” We were so very, very far from perfect. But we were facing, if not always moving, in the right direction. Of course, this was before Fox News came along. Now, with Charlottesville and Nazi Alt-right fuckers and the Trump Administration taking Putin’s denials over the agreement of our own intelligence community regarding Russian interference in US elections, it seems that there are those among us who think that we weren’t fighting the good fight after all. And I am afraid for my country, that we have won the war, and lost our way.
One more thing.
150 years after the end of the civil war, 70 years after the fall of fascism, and 30 years after the Cold War, we’re fighting a new war, one waged against our own minority and poverty-stricken citizens, with centers of internment no less concentrated than the Warsaw Ghetto. It’s a war, for all that its undeclared, that makes the most of the classic psychological weapons of terror, hopelessness, depression and segregation. Opportunity is stymied for all but the most exceptional. Then the exceptional are held up to demonstrate just how much opportunity’s laying around all over the place for everyone to find and if you didn’t find some, then fuck you and fuck your children, you’re a worthless piece of crap.
If you don’t think poverty in America is pretty much inescapable, you haven’t tried supporting your family without access to reliable transportation and affordable healthcare in the shadow of addiction and the barrage of social media judgment based on your skin color and/or your possession of both a smartphone and an EBT card. You’ve never faced the choice of paying rent or buying your kids’ food.
If the opportunity to escape poverty is so accessible in the US, why aren’t most poor people doing it? Nobody WANTS to be poor. Nobody says I wanna go without health insurance, and have a shoddy, unreliable car (if I get one at all) when I grow up, and nobody,
at least NOBODY over the age of 23,
eats Ramen noodles every day because they taste just so fucking good. We don’t aspire to reside in jails, or to raise children in violent, drug-riddled subsidized housing, or to occasionally (or not occasionally) rely on homeless shelters. This isn’t the dream, Cupcake. We all want a house in the burbs and a car and an X-Box, and to know where our next meal’s coming from and that we can make it financially if our beloved kiddo should happen to break his arm playing baseball. We all want that.
Nobody wants to grocery shop at the dollar store.
There are many factors that contribute to abject poverty in the US, but ultimately there are only two ways you get there: you’re born into it, or you stumbled and fell into it, and either way its unlikely you’ll have the gumption or the social support, to get yourself out of it once you’re there. Once you’re there, the statistics say you’ll stay there til the day your family starts a Go-Fund-Me for your funeral expenses. And every single conservative blowhard in the country is going to say you wanted your life to go that way or else you’d have pulled yourself up by your bootstraps.
Bootstraps. Funny thing to ask someone to pull themselves up with, when you support policies that make it harder to buy a fucking pair of boots to begin with.