I, AVT, voted for a third-party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein. I wanted to vote for Sanders, but the DNC chose to promote Hillary Clinton. And so it went.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Surprised voters yet today abound.
Some are flustered, breathless with agita, marching in protest that a cruel, inarticulate bigot actually won the right to add his gas to the Oval Office’s furniture for at least the next four years.
Some angry citizens are celebrating by acting out their inbred ugliness, as if to acknowledge that President Elect Trump gave them permission to yell obscenities at African-Americans, Mexicans, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims–or even at those people who, inside the viewers’ narrow peripheral visions, look like they might belong to a group they consider to be ruining an America they can almost remember, especially if they have Norman Rockwell prints hanging on their walls, or antique Marilyn Monroe calendars hanging near the kitchen cabinets that contain the Frosted Flakes and an extra pound of pure cane sugar for extra energy.
Still others suffer the ugly obscenities, threats and beatings at the hands of those same ignorant, immoral criminals. This is a sad, repeated and repulsive part of America’s history. A lot of the so-called social and cultural progress American citizens claim that we’ve made is true, but the putative melting pot needs re-melting every few decades, and melting demands heat.
Some citizens of all classes still sat at home, determined to remain ignorant of what Donald J. Trump’s ascendancy might mean for our nation’s future. To many of these folks, the wheels of government continue to turn at a rusty pace, whether or not they cast their votes. And so they did not cast their votes. And why should they? Of course, the oft-spoken answer to that question runs something like, “Well, if you don’t vote, then don’t complain about
your our government!”
I can give only partial credence to this line of thinking. I can explain only the part of the stay-at-home group that I understand from the experience of growing up with working-class people, in the way, way back, back when hard work earned continual rewards. Back when, as John Lennon reminded us, “A working-class hero is something to be.”
Of course, when Lennon published that song in 1971, many, many years after I was born, he was singing about working-class people being absorbed by the so-called middle class machine. Little boxes, all made out of ticky tacky. But that middle class today has shrunk almost to the point of invisibility. The working class in today’s America, what’s left of it, struggles to find all but non-existent work. They have become lower-class, unemployed or underemployed citizens.
The reality for these millions of Americans is, and has been for decades, that no matter whom they vote for, nothing much changes for them. And yes, whether or not one is willing to admit it, a lower class always has, and still exists in this home of the homeless or near homeless. The sad fact is that America’s lower class has grown in equal proportion to the shrinkage of the lost American Dream.
Lip-service speeches, crisis counselors, a few shelter beds available here and there, free turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, and a slight opening of Ebenezer’s heart and coal scuttle at Christmastime. These are a few of the gifts we offer the ever-growing lower class in America, just enough to show them that we care, at least some of the time. Much like attending church on Sunday, and forgetting the sermon a few hours later, our Federal politicians serve hot stew to the homeless when the cameras are rolling, then return to their overpriced Georgetown apartments for a bedtime shot or two of Glenfiddich 40-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
But let us visit for a while an underpaid waitress, Lila, living in Camden, NJ, sitting in front of her television, sipping a can of Schlitz, almost ready to cry her sore feet to sleep.
her our government will come to her rescue with a block of charity cheese and another six pack? Perhaps not. Not really. Most times, our elected representatives fail to represent the common folks. Instead, they cater first and foremost to those who lobby them and pay them: large corporations donate to our leaders’ reelection coffers; add the fossil fuel industry, wealthy–and invisible–individual donors who no doubt expect in return legislation favorable to their capitalist businesses and you’re now focused on the oligarchy that our government has become.
But this year, Lila the overworked waitress, along with a million other citizens who cannot afford computers, almost received the following government missive.
November 7, 2016
Subject: Last Attempt to Motivate You, the Lower-Class Slouches
Dear Lower-Class Common Folks,
Voting should make you feel as if you will now and forever have your say in how
your our government is run. So why are you lying in bed after a hard day’s effort to find work, or to obtain money by other means, drinking Schlitz to ease the pain of depression that comes of major loss? So what if your spouse left you when you lost your living-wage job and your house? Where’s your American Spirit? We’re sure you know the Life, Lemons, and Lemonade saccharin fairytale? Act on it!
Get up, move out, squeeze your limones, and vote your blues away! Otherwise, don’t complain if your unemployed and lonely circumstance continues for another four years. We told you so. We tried our best to use the corporate media, and the brainwashed population that loves to place faith in whatever we say, and now this last-ditch email hacked by Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. Yes, we tried our American best to tell you that this time, especially this time, your vote would not only count, but also reassemble your broken dream, if only you put in the effort.
But if you choose not to heed our advice to sober up, boot yourself in the butt and vote, then it’s your fault that you are inebriated on cheap beer and sinking fast into suds and despair, while we are sipping champagne in celebration of our soon to be even greater deeds of public service. Bubbly in hand, we flirt with the idea of rising in the ranks because of our expanding reputations for generosity.
Your Our Federal Government
If our representative Republic at the Federal level isn’t yet six feet under Washington, D.C., it is at least preoccupied with digging its own grave, or perhaps because the Federal government operates out of D.C., they’re busy building an expansive marble mausoleum, equipped with plenty of cocktail liquor, hair salons, and high credit-card limit ATMs.
A high enough dose of cheap Schlitz and endless poverty can oftentimes, as happened this year of 2016, yield what working-class people know as anger, and well-off people like to call apathy.
For the past few decades, working-class people, or blue-collar workers, or the supposedly uneducated masses–depending on how polite or rude you want to be when you describe them–have been fed up with being ignored by both the Republican and Democratic parties. Fed up as in spitting lunger onto the floor, stamping out a cigarette, and growling, “Fuck ’em. They’re all a bunch of crooks,” whenever the subject of politics crawls its way down the bar to upset a tired but once indifferent crowd of sweaty blue collars.
That’s a non-random sampling of non-voters in 2016. But if you’re interested enough to travel backward twenty years, try looking at that year’s American family income, adjust for inflation, and you’ll discover that median income is much lower in 2016 than it was in 1996. And the worst hit American citizens are what once was called the working class. You know, people like Lila of the sore feet and Schlitz temporary remedy.
I am intimately familiar with The American Dream That Disappeared. My father was a working-class laborer.
For many people, now mostly dead, and for a short while, that dream appeared each day with the sunrise, and as years’ worth of days wore on that dream came true. Work hard, save money, pay your taxes and your bills, and believe that the same American government that won World War II would reward your effort, just as it promised.
But not so gradually that promise began to crumble. I’m not an economist, but intelligent economists will vouch for the fact that by the 1970s the American dream lay on its deathbed. During the 1950s American corporations ceded the miniaturization market to the Japanese. The tag Made In Japan was a bad joke worthy of derision. Want to laugh today at Sony, Honda, Toyota, Panasonic products?
American capitalists settled on a wild ride with big automobiles with flashy but useless wings and bumper tits attached. This approach, along with a bustling housing industry, worked well for perhaps twenty years. People swarmed to buy the flashiest Chevys and Fords. Ransom Olds’ Curved Dash and its successors gained popularity.
But by the 1970s expenses in the United States outstripped incomes, automobiles began looking like rectangular tin boxes that shimmied with the wind, and working-class people’s incomes stagnated and then dropped as inflation raged. Paying off that mortgage became an impossibility for millions of Americans. We children of blue-collar workers ate more peas and red gravy over mashed potatoes and fewer plates of pork chops.
So yes, I am intimately familiar with the slow death of The American Dream. I am plenty old enough still to feel the shiver that ran through my family’s bones during the months–and sometimes years–when work dried up for my father and the bills kept arriving in the mail.
Dad survived World War II with a couple of perforated eardrums, a forever painful leg, a crude and crooked set of VA built false teeth to replace the ones he lost in battles he never talked about. Injuries and purple hearts aside, my father came out smiling. Smiling and working hard, six or seven days a week for most of his adult life. He loved Ike, and he trusted that the Dream was real.
His first stint once stateside was to follow other members of his Sicilian immigrant family into work on the railroad. Dad’s understanding of the English language was imprecise and fragmentary. No Bilingual Education in his day, so after eighth grade his failed to qualify for high school. Instead, the school authorities settled him into a vocational school where he studied carpentry. So the railroad took him on as part of a carpenters crew. Eight men lived inside a box car. They traveled from station to station making repairs to creosote-covered ties and painted buildings wherever necessary.
One man was assigned to be cook. He owned no more qualification than that he could boil wild spinach and broccoli rabe that grew beside the tracks. Dad called the cook Hoseapple. Many years later I discovered that his true name was Holzappful. Close enough. These guys loved each other. For years after the Interstates and trucks took over the job of carrying freight, and airplanes and cars replaced most of the rail lines’ passenger traffic, the crew would meet at our house. As a child, I would listen to them laugh at oft-repeated jokes, and watch the sun-reddened wrinkles on the backs of their necks quiver. I loved those men, too. They and their shared memories left my dad happy when they departed.
My mother was another story. She was flat out tired, tired from serving homemade Italian food to beer-tipsy men, and tired of hearing the same jokes. Still, our home’s atmosphere felt blanket warm to me.
At least until the beer haze wore off, the sun rose, and Dad once again realized that he had to look for work. The railroad’s layoffs and rehires had become too frequent to guarantee a steady income. Dad wanted to stick it out, so he could one day receive a pension, but there were four of us kids to clothe and feed, and in order to accept the final rehire offer, he would have had to travel fifty miles each way, each day, to meet his new assignment. The main road’s speed limit at that time was 35 MPH, and my hesitant dad reached an average high speed of 25.
Mother and Dad argued about this for what felt like weeks. Long weeks. Dad had the aroma of creosote permanently etched inside his nostrils, and he had worked hard to gain progress toward that promised pension.
Still, Mother’s fear and common sense won out. Dad shifted his line of work to that of a house painter. He worked five days per week for a non-union general contractor, joined the Republican Party thinking it would lead him toward future acceptance in the local painters’ union. As well, Dad worked six evenings per week canvassing neighborhoods, passing out cards–handwritten by me. He walked these routes on the weekends and during the summer season. From this effort he received various jobs by undercutting the local contractors’ prices. I knew Dad failed to realize that he was earning money he needed, but at the same time ruining his chances of being accepted into the union. Not my place to say so. Instead, I stayed busy earning as many A’s as I could in school, and working summertime evenings and weekends painting with my father.
At the time, I quietly bemoaned my fate. I wanted early on to play with my friends, and later on to flirt with girls, mostly with the pretty ones I knew were out of my reach. At that time, and in that place, dark, curly-haired Sicilian boys wearing paint-spattered clothes were not so popular as were fair-skinned, Beatle-haired boys wearing slacks and lots of Brut cologne.
So much for my love life until I went away to university, and the world opened up to rebellious anti-war protesters wearing bellbottom jeans and Afros.
But although I’ve lived here and now, lived there and then, and wandered far and wide, memories of growing up blue-collar remain hot inside my blood.
Dad and Mother were able to feed their family and just about make their monthly mortgage payments and utility bills. But they never managed to keep more than one hundred dollars in their savings account. They never managed to pay off their mortgage on a house whose original price was $10,500.
By the end of their lives, my Republican father, and my Democratic mother–once avid believers in the Dream and active voters–had reached the conclusion that politicians were all “a bunch of crooks.”
And I became a rebel against injustice.
So if you read this far, and you want to comment yea or nea, I’d be interested in your thoughts. I ask only that you not assume that all eligible voters who do not vote are apathetic losers who have no right to complain.