I’ve been hiding under the covers, figuratively not literally, since the election. As a friend of mine told me, “I haven’t felt this way since my mother died.”
The name for what many of us are feeling can only be described as grief – sheer, unvarnished grief. I’ve had hints of it before, but I have never felt it so deeply, so disturbingly, so unrelentingly.
I’m afraid we’re in for a world of hurt. It’s as if many of our fellow Americans were hurting so badly they wanted the rest of us to be clear about what they were going through. They wanted us, in other words, to feel what they felt. It makes sense in a way – to bring us together in the same calamity. I know I’m supposed to call for a wait-and-see attitude, but I can’t. I’ve entered this world of hurt.
It’s not like I thought things were going so swimmingly well. Anyone who has experienced how our system of market operations has worked since the advent of the computer, never mind globalization, has stories to tell of frustration, disbelief, downright outrage.
Our businesses have engaged in too many faceless, nameless, impersonal practices unresponsive to human needs. Winning at all costs has become the norm. Corporate entities suffer little when carrying out activities that put our society at risk in terms of safety, financial health and fairness. Although our new president-elect engages in what many consider to be the worst of such business and political practices, he clearly is smart enough to give a human name to his enterprises – his own name.
I certainly have felt powerless in the face of unyielding insurance companies, overreaching pharmaceutical giants, deadlocked government and those high-flying CEOs whose workers have suffered continued indignities, from reduced benefits to layoffs. There’s nothing, for instance, that can frustrate me like an unending phone tree, with no live person to speak with eventually. This isn’t just about the working class, either. Some may be in a better financial situation, but none of us is free from such practices.
Fewer and fewer, in fact, can claim the necessary financial means to forge ahead, much less gracefully, although a slice of us has enough to live like princes and an even smaller slice to live like sultans. The gap between the rich, or the nearly so, and the rest of us grows daily. Money has become all consuming. Not surprisingly, resentment and bitterness creep in. For those relatively untouched, there can be a removal from the wider reality and at a distance what looks like a certain smugness.
So we’re facing rapid technological change in a time of globalization where the whole world is interconnected through trade and treaty alliances but also instantaneous computer connections, whether related to financial markets or the social fabric. It’s not surprising our new president-elect is the Twitter king.
Of course, old prejudices and injustices in a new guise are rearing again, from racial discrimination to female opprobrium to fears being whipped up to the installation of a high sheriff to take care of those who disagree.
Years ago when I was in college during the Vietnam War and after Kent State, the students in my school decided to shut down the place in protest. One popular professor, a historian of modern art, stood before the hundreds of us assembled and spoke against our plans. He sympathized with the cause but leveled this warning: The people at the top had been kept in check by a code of ethics, known as Western Civilization, shared by those who were holding power and by those who possessed “the gold.” What would happen if we tore that down? Who would restrain those at the top? I often think about his speech.
We, as baby boomers, many of us, have tried to build what we considered to be a more just, inclusive society – one based not on color or creed or religion or sex or class or ethnicity or war-making or environmental harm or unrealistic strictures. We defied the good old boys’ club, but in our striving, we may have given cause and license to the destruction of the very mores that kept the wolves at bay.
My daughter inquired of me what we could do now. The same thing we’ve always done, I said, even in our grief: Pick ourselves up and fight for what we believe in.
Linda Haac lives in Carrboro. You can reach her at email@example.com