The last word in the title of this post comes from a slang word for divorce, coined – interestingly enough for Boomers – by none other than Mad Magazine in 1961. It comes to mind because, as indicated by last week’s post on Republicans and the other Republicans they hate, I have been thinking much about the election.
(Side note: speaking of ironic derivations, none other than Ronald Reagan – the hero of many of today’s conservatives – coined what he called the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.” It makes you wonder how many other commandments these bozos have jettisoned.)
Actually, I have not so much been thinking about the election, but the state of the country in anticipation of the election. I would say I’m dumbfounded and bewildered, but in reality, I am beyond that. I am bordering on scared.
Why? Because in my lifetime, and in all the decades before that I have studied as an avid reader of history and civics, I have never seen such bifurcation as I see today in America. And it’s not just one kind of bifurcation; it’s a hideous matrix of split sentiment. The closest we might have come to this was during the years leading up to the Civil War, when the abolitionists and the slave states banged their heads together again and again until they gave up on head butts and turned to gun butts.
In one corner, I see a group of highly dissatisfied people handing Trump the Republican nomination. I don’t understand them or the principles they live by at all. Nor do I understand the idea of Ted Cruz as an alternative, since he and Trump both seem to be devotedly anti-government and anti-civil liberties. As near as I can tell, they are dissatisfied with government because it’s too big and intrusive and should be doing less. This mystifies me, because the only way Congress could possibly be doing less is if it actually didn’t convene.
In the opposite corner, I see a group of highly dissatisfied but also highly principled people voting for Bernie Sanders. These are people who believe that government isn’t doing enough – isn’t funding enough education, enough infrastructure, enough opportunity, you name it. I applaud Sanders for speaking out on these issues; they’re all important. I don’t believe he can win either the nomination or the presidency, but that’s not the point here.
The split that’s exemplified by Trump on the one hand and Sanders on the other is bad enough. It’s almost as though neither side can understand how the other can be so passionate and so wrong-headed. Think about that: Americans have lost the ability to understand other Americans. That’s scary.
But sadly, that’s not the only split I see in America. There is an ever-widening split between the haves and have-nots. You’d think this split would overlay neatly on the Trump supporters and the Sanders supports, but it doesn’t. Overlay the different groups and you get a Venn diagram so bizarre as to induce headaches.
Interestingly, Howard Zinn notes in The People’s History of the United States that in colonial times, 10% of the population controlled 90% of the wealth. Today, the figure is only slightly better: according to an article in the Washington Post in 2015, based on Federal Reserve data, 10% of the population controls 76% of the wealth.
And yet, there are poor people who align with Republicans, just as there are rich people who think all their voluminous income is going to be taxed. And there are wealthy people who have no problem with the idea that they should contribute just a little bit more to the commonwealth (a word meaning the common well-being). They see, as Nick Carraway’s father said in The Great Gatsby, that not everyone had the same advantages that they did. They see that there are intractable roadblocks to upward mobility, something that was looked upon as sacrosanct in my childhood.
Let me just note one example from here in California. My parents invested in real estate here in California. They enjoyed massive run-ups in the value of their properties, while at the same time paying low property taxes thanks to Proposition 13, which limits property tax increases so that people won’t be priced out of their homes.
Because of innumerable exemptions in that law, parents can bequeath properties to children and they can retain those pre-Prop. 13 tax rates. Now, I’m not talking about the family home that one may want to retain. I’m not talking about a family farm that should perhaps be protected. I’m talking about rental properties, entities that contributed to the family wealth for years. Another exemption: the property tax rate stays the same if the property changes hands but the new owners each hold less than 50% of the property. So Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Marc Andreesen could have bought a $50 million office building together and still paid the lower tax rate. Talk about perpetuating income inequality.
So what is my point? I do have one. It’s that we seem to be devolving into a country of increasingly dissatisfied people. Call it class warfare, culture wars, religious wars, or something else, but I fear there is a depth of bitterness – and worse, powerlessness – that’s burbling throughout America. Each side thinks the other is out to destroy us. Whoever wins this election – Clinton, Trump, Cruz, the 100 senators and the 536 congresspeople, it doesn’t matter – are going to have a bigger problem on their hands than just the duties in their job description.
They’re going to have figure out how to address the fact that larger numbers of Americans are fundamentally disagreeing about more things than ever before. I fear the day is coming when we collectively forget that our motto – e pluribus unum – means “out of many, one,” and that after that, the name United States will no longer apply to America.