These are strange times, both for the world, our country and me personally. And no doubt for many of you.
In 1998, when I was unable to continue practicing law because of my autoimmune disorder we were supposedly living in the post-historical era. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States that had shaped so many lives and events had ended in the collapse of the Russian Empire. Capitalism was triumphant. Democracy was on the march. No longer did we need to worry about an imminent nuclear apocalypse.
The economy in the 90's was roaring as the internet "dot com boom" was all the rage. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party held essentially the same pro-business, pro-Wall Street policy positions with only minor differences in emphasis. Things were so bad that the only thing they could argue about were social issues. Well that and impeaching a President over blow jobs he received from a young female intern. Sure, the political rhetoric was rancorous, but the policies adopted on a bi-partisan basis(free trade agreements, de-regulation of various industries, welfare reform, etc.) had the support of majorities in both parties. The federal budget deficits, which had bloated to unimaginable amounts (unimaginable at the time) thanks to Ronald Reagan's tax cuts and increased military spending had been eliminated, and during President Clinton's final two years in office the feds ran a budget surplus.
Sure, the Clinton administration occasionally warned us about the growth of Islamic fundamentalist groups bent on the use of terror to achieve radical political change in the Mideast, and we had our own little nasty home grown terrorist incidents, both unexpected and tragic in equal measure. Yes, hatred of minorities and "liberals" was on the rise, spurred on by the dominance of right wing talk show hosts led by Rush Limbaugh, a college drop-out with talent on loan from God and the ability to blame everything that was wrong with America on liberals, feminazis, gays, baby-killing abortionists, greedy black people, big government entitlements and the Clintons (whther Bill, Hillary, Chelsea or as a collective entity of evil). Still, for many people, at least those living comfortable upper middle class lives, the 90's were the halcyon days. America was pre-eminent around the globe, politically, economically and culturally.
Then as we all know, George w. Bush was elected President by the US Supreme Court, planes were flown into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon. Two overseas wars were started, one based primarily on lies that cost us hundreds of billions of dollars if not trillions. Taxes were cut despite the wartime footing the economy was on, and these tax cuts heavily benefited the largest corporations and wealthiest individuals in America at the expense of everyone else. Health Care costs, long a concern rose dramatically, Wall Street went wild in the absence of effective government oversight, and before we knew it our government budgets were back in the red, and our economy was nearly destroyed when the house of cards created by Big Banks and Brokerage firms, with their array of collateralized debt obligations and the housing bubble on which it fed, collapsed, leaving millions without homes and requiring the largest bailout of our financial industry in the history of the United States. To a large extent we have yet to recover from those "mistakes" that it is fair to say were allowed to happen by the leadership of both political parties.
And this fails to mention the devastating effects of human-made global warming and climate change we have witnessed over the last two decades, now universally recognized by everyone as a real and present danger to humankind except for the fossil fuel industries, the "experts" they finance to deny the science and the media outlets that depend on advertising dollars from Exxon and BP and Shell, etc. Catastrophic storms, heat waves, wild fires, floods and other "extreme weather events" are now the new normal.
Yes, much has changed since history ended, and most of it for most people on earth has been for the worse. Many of you have lost your jobs at some point, or taken jobs that pay less. Many of our younger readers are burdened by intolerable student debts, debts that cannot be eliminated in bankruptcy. Many of you may have gone bankrupt as a result of medical bills, or the collapse of the housing market. Some of you may be among the millions of people about to lose their unemployment benefits. Others struggle to make ends meet, juggling jobs and education, unable to save money for the future, unable to believe in the future.
Older workers have seen their pensions stolen by greedy rapacious vulture capitalists like the firm Bain Capital once headed up by Mitt Romney. Our expectations for the future are less than ever before as income inequality slowly eats away at the fabric of our society, threatening not only economic collapse but societal chaos. Our politicians, here and overseas, seem locked into a system bent on destroying the social contracts that countries first established in the 19th Century - social security for retirees, medical care for all (or at least most people), care for the disabled, access to advanced educational opportunities for all young people regardless of class or ability to pay. Around the globe, right wing parties that promote hatred, extreme nationalism, and yes, even fascist ideologies are on the rise.
Sounds pretty grim, I admit. I am 57 years old, and I cannot remember a time when the prospect of my future and the future of my children, and my nieces and nephews, and all those I care about, has appeared bleaker. Not even during the height of the Cold War. But I am growing old, and my declining powers - physical and intellectual - lead me naturally to view the state of the world in a pessimistic light.
If I know anything at all, however, it is that I am no prognosticator and my beliefs about the future, based on the mistakes I've witnessed in our collective past should not be trusted. Many younger people, such as my daughter, are not content to sit back and accept the inevitable decline of our nation and our world. They are not willing to abandon hope for a better future. Many of them are working hard even as I write to change the "facts on the ground" that have led me to view humanity's prospects for future with a jaundiced eye. For it will be their world, their time, their efforts that matter. They must overcome the burdens placed upon them by my generation and my parents' generation. They must overcome the obstacles we, in our blindness and ignorance and stupidity and greed have placed in their path.
I see much to admire in so many of them. They work hard. They are idealistic. They don't know enough to know when something they want to accomplish is impossible. They are stubborn. Most of all they still have hope. And whatever hope I still carry with me I have taken from them. Let us all wish them well in the days and years to come.