There seems to be a chorus of voices all crying that these are the worst of times, I think there are reasons for that, which I will get to at the end of my post, but first I want to tell the story of my Grandfather.
Let’s say that on the surface, it might be his story that the Trumpeteers are thinking about when they say, “Make America Great Again.” With a modest education, a high school diploma my grandfather got a job with one of the biggest corporations in America, AT&T. He made enough money so that my grandmother could stay home with her four kids. He worked for AT&T for 40 years and retired with 80% of his pre-retirement salary as a pension. Three of his four kids went to college, and got advanced degrees. His fourth child wound up at IBM in a well paying position. The American dream, right? It would seem so, but let’s take a look at the details of the story as well.
My grandfather was born in 1911, so was graduating from high school in, do the math, 1929. Yes, he came out of school looking into the maw of the Great Depression. You think we have it bad, how about that? Now, yes, he was very lucky in getting his job with AT&T in 1932. I have no idea how. He got married that same year and bought a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. And basically did the same job for the next 40 years. Second shift. Whoo hoo. Sound like your ideal career?
Although he was lucky to be employed, the scars of the depression lingered. In his retirement he paid all his bills immediately because he was afraid “they would come and take the house.” He lived in the same house for more than 40 years, it had been paid for for years. But those memories obviously remained.
After my grandmother had her first three kids, they faced the abyss again. The rise of Hitler in Europe, blitzkrieg in Poland and France and finally Pearl Harbor. Again, he was lucky and got to stay on the homefront, but once again, life must not have been a bowl of cherries. Rationing, shortages, complete uncertainty.
Finally, the war was over and America entered its golden age. Well, except for McCarthy seeing commies under every desk. The anxiety of the nuclear age. The rise of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. Their fourth child was born in 1950, perhaps adding a bit of uncertainty to their lives personally. But perhaps the 1950s were about as sanguine as their lives held. Little did they know that all hell was about to break loose.
My mother and her sister got ready to leave home as the 1960s dawned. I am sure my parents looked ahead with optimism as they got married in 1959. Just a few years later, they thought it might be all over as the Cuban Missile Crisis loomed. All around them the civil rights movement and the southern backlash was tearing the country apart in what must have looked like the second coming of the Civil War. Just when it looked like it might be resolved peacefully in 1963, next thing you knew, the president was assassinated. Johnson wins reelection in a landslide, but all hell breaks loose again as Viet Nam bursts into our consciousness and the anti-war movement joins the Civil Rights movement on the streets.
Bobby Kennedy is killed. Martin Luther King is killed. Cities erupt with riots, fires and shootings. Casualties mount in Viet Nam. My uncles join the military. At any one of these points, the country probably looked as though it was going to come apart at the seams.
Finally, as his retirement approached and things looked like they might be calming down, Watergate bubbled up the surface. Just two years after he retired the country was hit by the twin shocks of the oil embargo and Nixon resigning.
Any of this sound like a piece of cake? Something you would like to go back to? And my grandfather, was extraordinarily lucky across all those years. But wait, there was a couple of more issues he needed to face.
Just ten years into his retirement, AT&T was declared a monopoly and ordered broken up. This must have caused just a bit of anxiety as “stagflation” was the economic worry of the time. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away soon after AT&T was broken up and just a few years later he finally moved out of the house where he had lived since 1932 — into a nursing home to deal with Parkinson’s disease, which finally claimed him in 1992.
And none of this mentions some of the other lovely features of the “golden age” he lived through. Smoking rates of close to 50% among adults. An epidemic of heart disease, especially among middle aged males (which took my other grandfather at the age of 52). How about the Cuyahoga river catching fire, Lake Erie dying, smog and deindustrialization.
Of course there were many good things that happened in those years and I am sure if you asked him, he would have insisted that he had a great life. And yes he did. But it was not easy, it was not golden by any means.
There is a lot that is wrong with our world (perhaps more on that in later posts), but there is very little chance that 2017 is going to be anywhere as near as bad as a few years I can think of for my grandparents. The coming year cannot be as bad as 1933. Or 1963. Or 1968. Or 1941. And so on.
It is my opinion that the “powers that be” want to convince us that these are, in fact the worst of times. Trump made it explicit in his acceptance speech, essentially, these are the worst of times and only I can save you. Perhaps you have noticed that many churches are the same way, “The end times are near and only Jesus (and the priest, his representative) can save us.
So, don’t believe the hype. Are there going to be tough times. Of course there will be. But theses are nowhere near the worst of times. If what my grandparents lived through can now be considered a golden age, image how rosy our current times will look in the rearview mirror.