John Colson: Hit and Run
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
This country has a problem with fantasy or, more precisely, differentiating between fact and fantasy.
Take the core fantasy that has a stranglehold on our national psyche, the American Dream – aptly named, but not really understood.
From childhood we are inundated with images promising that if we just work hard and apply ourselves, we can one day be President of the United States – or a CEO earning millions, or a movie star earning at the same level, or any number of highly touted professional achievements that purport to offer a way out of whatever backwater, dead end job or life we are actually living.
On an individual level, of course, the American Dream contains a kernel of truth. Hard work, which too often translates to a fanatical pursuit of money, can make one quite wealthy. That’s particularly true if one is lucky, aggressive, unscrupulous, corrupt or some combination thereof.
And there are the occasional examples of good people who, pursuing their hopes with dedication and integrity, make it to the top of one socio-economic ladder of success or another.
The basic trouble comes with the realization that not everyone can realize that “dream” – hence the term “dream,” which connotes something that is unreal, fantastic or wishful rather than practical.
One result of this, from the beginning of the American aspect of the Dream, has been the formation of a permanent underclass that slaves away at low wages, under despicable working conditions, and lives in ghettoes.
The labor struggles of the early 20th Century were aimed at improving those working conditions, raising those wages and in many ways diminishing the gap between rich and poor.
The upsurge of the Middle Class in America following World War II was a direct assault on what I will call the Wealth Gap. It was a time when the fantasy of the American Dream, at least to some, seemed ready to burst forth as a reality. For huge numbers of people, though certainly not all, better education could lead directly to better jobs and better lives.
The rich, of course, went along for the ride and generally got richer, but for a time it seemed as though the disparity between the uber-wealthy and the uber-poor was shrinking and becoming less emblematic of our national identity. The nation’s black population won civil rights gains after centuries of enslavement and impoverishment, women’s rights followed suit, and in many arenas things were looking up for our society.
But somewhere along the line, perhaps starting in the 1970s, the middle class began to unravel and corporations became more important than people. As our political landscape was torn by a growing absolutism, fueled by the divisive politics of racial exclusion, social extremism and religious self-righteousness, the elite class learned to selfishly exploit these divisions.
And so here we are in the 21st century, living on fantasy and fear at a national level.
We’ve elected our first black president, believing his message of hope and a social landscape based on common sense and fairness. But this came only after eight years of one of the most corrupt, incompetent governments this nation has ever known, thanks to the excesses of George W. Bush and Co.
Barack Obama’s promises, unfortunately, turned out to be just another fantasy, which soon ran headlong into the reality of politics as usual in Washington and around the country. Our national disappointment is severe.
Too much of our national conversation is dominated by distractions. Political positions are staked out based on ignorance and deceit. The ubiquitous influence of television has devolved into “reality shows,” which are nothing more than fatalistic voyeurism, episodes of idiocy that teach nothing, explore nothing, and dull our senses.
More fantasy, but of a meager and destructive type.
I don’t know where all this leads, and I doubt if anyone else does, either.
But with a presidential election looming, we need to decide whether we want leaders who see the nation as it really is and want to fix it, or leaders who simply continue wallowing in the same old fantasy.
Then, of course, we have to find him, or her, and win the election.
Tall order, I know.
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