Double bubble, toil and trouble. Anger, maybe even rage, disbelief, uncertainty, anxiety — there’s a potent brew boiling around our country today, and I want to understand it.
From what I’ve gathered, the question is: If you run a multi-billion dollar company into the ground, and threaten the financial well-being of the entire global community, should you be given multi-million dollar bonuses?
Or, maybe the question is: Why should people who live within their means have to foot the bill for people who spent money they didn’t have on stuff they didn’t need?
Or could be the question really be: Are we all in this together, or what?
Back in 2004, I had the opportunity to organize President Reagan’s State Funeral. As the funeral procession snaked its way from the hilltop National Cathedral through the city to Andrews Air Force Base, I saw people of all colors and stripes thronging the streets. Hands over hearts, paying respects — didn’t matter if they wore a pin-striped suit up in Northwest DC, or cutoffs and tube tops down in Southeast — people turned out that summer day to honor a man some of them never even agreed with.
I distinctly remember thinking: people wanted to belong to something.
We had felt it before, on September 12, 2001. Remember that day? After the immediate shock and horror and loss, people were really nice to one another. We made eye contact. We held doors open. We talked with strangers. We even let people go in front of us in traffic. We were experiencing something big, and scary, and unexpected — but we were experiencing it together.
For a period of time our country really was a kinder, gentler place.
My seventh grade daughter is studying World War II in social studies. She asked, “What was the war like for our family?” I told her about all my uncles that served, and how five of her great-grandmother’s brothers had served at the same time. I told her about Gold Star Mothers. I told her how people saved bacon grease and salvaged scrap metal to help the war effort. I told her about rationing and about Rosie the Riveter.
I told her how everyone worked together, united in common purpose to make it through a very difficult time.
How to describe the feeling when the light bulb goes off? Pop! – it hit me: the problem today is that some of us are sacrificing — we’ve made cuts in our spending, we’re living below our means, we’re responsible with our lives — and some are not. The bonus-paying bankrupt companies and the bonus-receiving misguided executives? The foreclosure flippers? Doesn’t appear that they are sacrificing, or are making plans any time soon to change their frame of reference.
It’s a scary time and we’re simply not in this together. And that bothers us.
Because when times are tough, the American people want to belong to something bigger than themselves, like the war effort in World War II. We want our sacrifices to be worth something. We want to share the uncertainty and worry. We want to save bacon grease and send it where it can best be used. We will use ration cards.
But we want rationing to be fair. And we want to save our bacon grease for a purpose, not just to serve some public relations ploy designed by politicians and spinmeisters.
Let me tell you, the politician who taps into this national zeitgeist will find himself, or herself, riding the crest of a new wave of American political life.
But until that Mayor or Senator or Governor or Congressman wakes up and sees that business-as-usual is no longer the way business is being done; until that politician realizes that greed is no longer the driver of anything worth having; until that politican understands that the American people are smarter and more resilient than they’re given credit for — there’s only one thing for you and me to do.
We’ll do it ourselves. We will lead our leaders. We’ll say no to pork-barrel spending and yes to spending that creates jobs and opportunities, or helps the most vulnerable among us. We will create our own sense of purpose and involve our community, by simple things like having potluck suppers with the neighbors, or cleaning up a local creek, or working in a community kitchen, or donating to micro-finance efforts to help people start businesses.
If belonging is what we want, belonging is what we will create. We’ll be in this together. And when we step up and show the way, believe me, our leaders will just have one choice to make: follow, or get out of the way.
That’s what I understand. How about you?