ME < US

by Steve Clem on November 9, 2013

Cornucopia_-_EmptyI hate being that guy. The one who talks about how things were so much better back in the day. The one who had to walk ten miles to school, uphill both ways. The one who yells at the kids to get off his lawn (actually, I grew up next door to a family that was anal-rententive about their lawn, so I will never be THAT particular guy).

But damn, has this country ever lost itself. And I don’t mean in the apple-pie-traditional-values-wrap-yourself-in-the-flag way that the current generation of Republicans has fixated on.

The problems with this country are not Democrat/Republican, Blue State/Red State, Liberal/Conservative problems. The problems with this country come from consumption and greed having taken over our collective brains. Keeping up with the Joneseseses is our focus in life.

We used to trust that if we worked hard in school and early in our careers, we’d be treated well by our employers, and they’d do what they could to keep us happy. There was loyalty — both ways. It has disappeared now — again, both ways. I’m old-school, so I tend to be loyal to employers long after I know they aren’t loyal to me. I do the same with women, but that’s another story.

We used to think less about our political views and more about our commonalities. We didn’t spend time playing political chicken; we worked to find out what we could agree upon. This too is a thing of the past. Now we just bicker, point fingers, and let the shit hit the fan rather than work the shit out. The heroes in today’s political arena are not moderates.

We used to proudly but humbly take care of our neighbors in need. Now we villainize them as moochers. Lazy. Taking what is ours. Commies. Welfare moms who get free cell phones and food stamps while they sport fancy nails and designer jeans. We overlook things . . . like facts. One fact, for example, is that there are far more white people on welfare than people of other races, and another fact is that the majority of the recipients of food stamps are children. Last time I checked, we overruled kids working for a living back when the labor unions were also fighting for the 40-hour work week (which for many people now means, “we’ll pay you for 40 hours, and you’ll work more”).

We used to chastize those who took advantage of the poor. Now we look the other way as those people create a bigger welfare drain than any single parents with kids could do. And worse, we side with them. Stay off our corporations, government! Let them be! Yet the money corporations suck from the government through loopholes far exceeds the money spent to help the aforementioned poor folk.

When we turned on the television to watch the evening news, we didn’t wonder which spin the anchors were going to take. There was no “liberal media bias.” There was no Fox News. There were men giving us reports on what was happening in our country, and to a lesser extent, the world. But we didn’t question their motives. We didn’t worry about which media source people got their news from. The biggest media debate of the time was whether you watched The Today Show or Good Morning America, Jane Pauley or Diane Sawyer.

And now I’m going to come off as the Grumpy Old Man. We didn’t put on headsets and stare at a TV playing “Army” or “Battle” or “Grand Theft Auto.” We were outside in a field playing “Army” or “Battle.” And perhaps some of us were in a parking lot playing “Grand Theft Auto.” Not me. I did steal a Matchbox car from my neighbor when I was six. He had it coming.

The only thing I can say to my sons’ generation is this: don’t expect anyone to look out for you. Despite what you hear, our government isn’t actually going to pay you to mooch off society, and if it did, I’d be making you move away. You’re undoubtedly moving into a time of greater accountability, hopefully at both the corporate and individual levels.

Stay strong. Work hard. It may not do what it used to do, but it is still better than letting others demonize you.

And to the demonizers: try to think for a moment about how you would want to be treated if you were hitting bottom.

What’s wrong with us? Me > Us. That’s what. Call yourself patriotic all you want, but that’s not what our founding fathers had in mind.

* * * *

Steve Clem is a divorced dad, a recovering Republican, and a Prisoner in the Tundra. He is in The Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest Hokey Pokey of all time. He was the founding editor of the Iowa City weekly The ICON and is a contributing editor of The Spleen.

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