Something has gone awry with the American Dream.
The signs are all around us. Drug addiction, alcoholism, disenfranchisement, disgruntlement, high anxiety and low self-esteem.
Being the news junky that I am, I think I have a pretty good perspective on what is happening around the world. Barrel bombings and beheadings in the Middle East, religious and political intolerance in so many places, subjugation of women, exploitation of children, hunger and disease commonplace in so many parts of the globe.
Yet instead of expressing gratitude for the incredible good fortune we have to live in a free society with lots of toys, we are seeing many signs of disenchantment. We are in the midst of an election cycle in which traditional supporters of both major parties are begging for change.
Both the Trump phenomenon and the Sanders phenomenon are signals that many people are opting out of politics and policies that they can’t identify with.
But there are other signs as well. Addiction to heroin and prescription drugs is now epidemic and the demographics of drug abuse are becoming much more democratic: they are touching all of our communities, rich and poor, black and brown and white.
Let’s not forget another great societal ill, one that doesn’t get much publicity any more but is still extremely prevalent: alcoholism. I have met so many people in my little corner of the Northwest whose lives have been touched by a family member or members whose lives were destroyed by alcohol.
It may not be as sexy as talking about opiate addiction and even marijuana use, but alcohol is the granddaddy of home wreckers. Lately I have heard story after story about drunken parents, siblings, spouses and, needless to say, ex-spouses and the resulting child abuse, violence and depression that follow.
The fact that as a society we have stopped talking about alcoholism is great hypocrisy. Any one who says they are against legalizing marijuana better also be in favor of restoring prohibition, otherwise that person is a total hypocrite. I’m no more excited about the idea of smoking too much marijuana than I am about getting shit-faced all day and night, but so far I haven’t heard one story about someone smoking too much weed and then abusing a child or smacking around a spouse.
Personal health is another bellwether of the social storms we are facing. A recent study reported that the life expectancy for white women DECREASED in the last year. That is a shocking trend that has caused social scientists to scratch their collective heads to come up with an explanation for that anomaly.
Theories abound, starting with a general perception that many older women are finding that their lives haven’t panned out the way they expected. Divorce, financial challenges of living longer on a fixed income, the stresses of having to balance housekeeping, parenting and career challenges.
Again, alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, and even obesity are contributing factors both as causes and effects. Next time you are in a major airport, do an anecdotal study and I’m sure you’ll notice how many people are anywhere from ten pounds to many pounds overweight and that exacerbates diabetes and heart disease and those are major killers.
All of those dangerous trends are being driven by frustration and disappointment. The widening gap between rich and poor is no longer a dirty little secret. Wealth is now flaunted and greed goes unchallenged and the modern ethos is to accumulate as many toys as you can.
The problem with this is a monetary construct that requires a very expensive buy-in. We have a financial system that takes money to make money and in many cases produces nothing but more wealth.
It’s got to be a tough pill to swallow if you’re sitting on the sidelines while Wall Street and the Auto Industry get bailed out and then you and your kids can’t afford to buy a house in your neighborhood anymore because the one-percenters are driving up prices.
Talk about hypocrisy. It’s illegal to bet on a football game but the Wall Street casino keeps rolling along, able to use its great wealth to buy a seat at the head of the table at the White House.
I’m guessing Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders won’t win the battle of outsiders in this election cycle, but I’m hoping that Washington insiders are paying attention and realizing the the Times They Are A Changing and they better start paying a lot more attention to the everyday challenges and disappointments of their electorate.