In 1980, I thought it was weird that a movie actor could be elected President of the United States. I dutifully protested, but it was no use - we Americans love our celebrities and Ronnie was only the beginning of a trend that would see celebrities transmogrify into politicians, and conversely saw the rise of artists staying artists, but becoming more political, and the worse the country got, the more political they seemed to get. It's not always with relish that I remember the Bush II years, but who can remember the Dixie Chicks getting slimed by the Republican Party and the howling conservative punditry whine and moan that a country act could actually be against a war. What I thought were strange days in 1980 when a middling B-movie actor rose up from the Hollywood walk of fame to the White House and changed the way that my generation viewed economics, politics and money, not that the latter two are separable, for it's accepted wisdom, no secret, that campaign funds and their contributors don't always give money to a political candidate for wholly altruistic reasons.
Barack Obama has, in the first half of his presidency, done more to alter the course of history - the final results are unknown at this point - than any President since Reagan and in all honesty, as a 19 year old during the 1980 primary season and election, I didn't really understand the impact of his brand of conservatism until after my catastrophic surgery, or, more accurately, the catastrophic combination of a poor economy coupled with being a sole practitioner lawyer coupled with an infected incision from my fourth major abdominal surgery since I was 17 years old that resulted in being attached to a wound vacuum for 6 months, most of that time flat on my back with a gash in the middle of my abdomen. Today, I have a beautiful abdominal hernia as a constant reminder of the harsh reality of not only the paper-thin fragility of my health but the extent to which the course of history was changing, a course for which I was utterly unprepared. My generation, children of the 70s, was a little too giddy with the notions of richness to which we were all deluded into thinking, without much thought, we were all entitled by virtue of our Americaness. Our Americanity.
We scoffed at our grandparents who knew the hardships of world war, of depression, and of incurable illnesses that we now take for granted can be cured or at least have death delayed. But the pain for those who lived is just now coming home to roost like Reverend Wright's chickens in the form of a reshaping of our lives and expectations for not only ourselves, but of our children, who are growing up in a world that is changing so rapidly, so inexorably, as it always has, just not at the speed of light with the help of silicon chips in combination with natural curiosity and evil, all of which has spread throughout a world in which those speaking for boundaries that do not correspond with ethnicities and religions which find a harder sell to the public, at least without force, as in the case of the so-called People's Republic of China, Myanmar, Chechnya and too many other places where old nation-states, formed as the result of wars in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, mean less than ever.
Where Reagan spoke of the power of the individual, we have seen what too much individuality has cost the USA: a loss of focus on the necessity of community, of the collective, of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. A government that gets completely out of the way of individuals to carry on naturally results in the few being able to create systems of government that work for them, for the privileged few at the expense of and on the backs of ordinary people who are unable to recognize, nevermind being able to game, the systems that they had no part in creating and in fact which are completely against their interests, despite advertisements that convince them, us, that wealth would eventually trickle down to quench the thirst of the middle class for success as they have had it defined for them. And what is left? A country and a people lost, at the beginning of a fork in a road that no-one knows the route of. Displacement. Devastation. Educations that served only to continue a system that for too many people no longer exists.
If these diffuse thoughts seem confused, it's only because they are. I have to admit that I've never been more confused about life than now. What is the meaning of money for me? I haven't come to a firm conclusion, but it's way different today than it was 10 years ago. Going hungry for awhile, forced to eat only two meals a day, and learning to love the variety of Lean Cuisine meals, losing my apartment, my car and everything that I used to own that was in storage (sold out from under me without my knowledge last Tuesday, July 9, 2010) will do that. Hard times and lived suffering, as opposed to reading about it or seeing it on television causes life to be whittled down to its bare essentials. I know what's important in this life. But even that knowledge sometimes isn't enough to explain what has happened to our collective consciences.
Beaten up. Body decaying. Religion meaningless. Is God Listening? Are we talking loud enough? Can we understand finally what our grandparents were speaking about from their tales of the 1930s? Thank God for Studs Terkel, but _Hard Times_ could only be appreciated, sadly, if you've lived it yourself. Reading and being are definitely not the same. Just ask me.