It’s taken us a while to understand what’s going on in the US of A. We read and listen and try to understand, but nothing seems to change, happen beneficially, make people happy.
This week we tuned in to hear the President on the infrastructure situation. The short of it is we are in deep trouble. We need billions of dollars to improve bridges, roads, and safety. Apparently, the only way we can raise that amount of money (54 billion dollars, estimated) is to raid “the general fund,” which means grabbing it from other sources, as yet unspecified.
The President reports that he cannot get Congress during an election year to raise gasoline taxes (already at a federal level of more than eighteen cents per gallon.) Nor does he imagine a trade-off, a compromise, offering Republicans something like a raise in gas taxes along with a decrease in his drive to raise the minimum wage.
The country needs to raise money for infrastructure work. The country needs to raise the incomes of millions so that they can work and stay above the poverty line. The COUNTRY needs….but no one is willing respond to the country’s needs because to do so would somehow impugn one politician or another’s sworn oath against both the minimum wage increase and a new tax.
We tried to imagine who benefits from making at least an effort along these same lines. The one per cent who in theory already pay a decent amount in taxes also are reputedly the “job creators” who would be hit with the rise in minimum wage. A gasoline tax which is not indexed (and cannot be) would increase that one per cent’s cost of doing business BUT it would also increase the efficiency and profit of that same one per cent if roads, railroads, bridges, airports were improved to the extent that their deliveries of goods and services (on which in theory they make their money) increased their incomes. It goes without saying that this same one per cent would be only slightly damaged by having to pay a living wage to millions who need it, and who indeed might be working on the infrastructure projects the President listed.
The millions who work on these projects also benefit but differently. These are not white collar workers who work on site, at home or in an office. These are men and women who need to travel get to their jobs, and in doing so would ordinarily use more gasoline (and more of the nation’s infrastructure) day by day than the one per cent who are busy texting, playing the markets, investing. For these workers, men and women working with their hands and backs and brains, an increase in the minimum wage is perhaps the best and fastest way to be able to pay an increase in gasoline taxes. Not to mention an increase in their living standards.
What matters here is that these two groups of workers are not at war with one another. They are, rather, two components of a national effort to improve life in these United States.
Our real distress emerges from the realization that both groups are isolated from each other, and that neither seems to understand what’s at stake in our national effort.
WHEN, we ask, will workers of all political stripes understand that we are, theoretically at least, in this thing, this American life, together?
This infrastructure conversation unmasks once and for all the astonishing self-involvement of our citizens. The country is in need and faces severe problems, economic ones and others that will form the future. But rather than concentrate on saving the United States from second-rate status around the world, or even third, citizenry from the top to the bottom is frantically protecting what they have, hanging on by their fingernails to what they hope to keep, or hungrily hoping somehow to move vertically in the great scheme of things into another class altogether. Not a thought to the future of our nation, or to solving its problems.
Politicians cannot be bothered with worrying about any future but their own this autumn. Nonpoliticians are focused exclusively on staying afloat. Neither seems to care about the nation as an entity worth salvaging.
What is the Ghost Story? It involves all those people snagged in the middle, unable to move upwards and terrified of sinking lower. People running two or three jobs, paying child care, not traveling, not able any longer to be part of the great consumer society so painstakingly built in the last decades. This group, in fact, is disappearing, but not into the one per cent. Hanging on by those fingernails and peering into the abyss, is it any wonder that so many of them have stopped looking for employment and advancement? Looking down over your shoulder and being unable to see even the possibility of life improvement is hard work.
And no one is going to help you. You are rapidly becoming invisible, unnecessary. The top has its fortunes and its workers (the bottom) and the bottom has its dreams and miserable jobs.
SO what is the US of A doing about any of this? Throwing up its hands in order to focus more pointedly on politics, abortion, Benghazi, marriage equality, inequity mandated from nine judges in Washington who live in a bubble.
What, we ask, are infrastructure, national defense, international threats, manufacturing systems that pollute and poison us all, up against the entertainment value of zombies, off-the-wall political debates, and Donald Sterling?
Which brings to mind that old, old question: “But how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”