When people say they want their country back, what, exactly, are they saying?
I ask because more than one news person has said that tonight’s State of the Union is an opportunity and a mandate for President Obama to offer a vision of the future; without such a vision, they say, people will lapse into yearning for the past.
What past are they yearning for?
One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard was said by author Karen Armstrong, who said that when too much is changing, too quickly, people yearn for the past; it is in those moments that fundamentalism becomes strongest. The lack of things familiar take people all the way out of their comfort zones and feed their fear and anxiety. The only safe thing to do is to yearn for that which they know, even if what they have known was not all that good.
We sit in transition period. The economy is improving, but is still horrendous; people who used to be middle class are now poor or at best, lower middle class. People who were comfortable, economically, are now immensely uncomfortable and have no sense of security when it comes to visualizing or imagining their future or the future of their children.
This economic debacle has been called a recession, but from all that I have read, it so resembles the Great Depression. The arguments about the distance between the very wealthy and the new poor are the same, and I would suppose that much of what a vast number of Americans are feeling now is not all that different from what the people in the 1930s felt.
It took a long time for the aftershocks of the fall of the stock market to stop coming; people were still in dire straits in the late 1930s. Even as late as 1938, money was scarce for most people, and they looked for pleasure in the tiniest things – but they yearned for the “good old days.”
That, apparently, is where Americans are now. Though it is totally unrealistic to expect that President Obama – or any president, for that matter – would be able to undo what took at least eight years to create, people cannot and will not resonate with that reality. Mitt Romney said that people who do not have money are envious of those who do…and he is probably right. None of us who are flailing and who are treading water want to be where we are.
And so we are in a bad place, we Americans. We want out. We want relief. Though many hate the idea of entitlements, many have survived because of those entitlements. But that’s not what we want. We want jobs. We want there to be not a diminishing middle class but a renewed and growing middle class. We want to be able to stop having to worry about making decisions on whether we will eat or buy extra gas for a week.
All of the politicians, including President Obama, are wealthy. They cannot feel our pain. They can imagine and they can exploit it, but they cannot feel it. They are so far removed from our places of angst, that their campaigns ring hollow and their blatant exploitation of our fears borders on the immoral and unethical.
The news people are right: if the present dilemma of the American people does not get better soon, Americans who ar prone to look back and yearn for a fantastical past will do just that. Those who have never been economically sound or comfortable will continue to yearn, ironically, for a reality they have never known.
The President has an enormous burden upon him. Unlike the politicians who are recklessly using the angst and anxiety of the American people for their own selfish gain, President Obama has to give a glimmer of hope to people who are on the brink of falling into permanent despair.
I, for one, hope he realizes that, and provides the light in darkness for so many who are truly walking in darkness.
A candid observation