Reflections on election themes

Years ago, I heard a patient say to a female physician, “You are such a nice nurse!” To which the doctor, clearly perturbed, hissed, “I’m not a nurse, I’m a doctor!”

I explained to the doc that the patient was in fact complimenting her.

She looked at me like I was a Martian.

It’s progress that more women can become physicians these days than in years past. What’s unfortunate is that once some people “make it,” they easily forget where they came from and even who they are. Combatting stereotypes is important but not at the expense of denigrating our roots or certain essential characteristics that make us what we are.

The fact that women tend to be sensitive to peoples’ needs used to be seen as a sign of weakness. Today, many people still view sensitivity as a feeble quality and being tough and even harsh as a sign of strength. One need only look at the popularity Donald Trump has generated by being rough, tough and even nasty. Why is this?

Feeling “cheated”

When people are unhappy and powerless, even though they work hard and “follow the rules,” they feel inherently cheated. Understanding the dynamics of who is cheating us is not simple; there are many layers to wade through to discover this. It is much easier to drown our miseries in electronic distractions, fantasy games, television, a variety of addictions: alcohol, drugs, food, consumerism and forever trying to “improve” upon our own physical appearance (which is never good enough, especially for women).

But these addictions/distractions don’t ease the pain of powerlessness. This requires an object to blame for our miseries. Many of us blame ourselves and live with sub-clinical depression. How convenient to find a politician who provides us with assorted scapegoats and has the audacity to express such animosity in the public arena! It makes us feel empowered, exonerated… and brings out the so-called “dark side” we often suppress.

When victims become predators, we need to worry. Think of Lord of the Flies, or the behavior, sometimes, of first or second-generation immigrants who dump on the latest (“different”) group of newcomers. The conservatism that dominated right-wing politics for years was dependent upon the belief among folks that there was always someone worse off than they were. This is what prevented poor white folks, particularly in the South, from questioning their own exploitation. At least they were white, they were told, and were spared the worst.

But now there is a revolt in the Republican Party. People are afraid of the future — they are not happy with things as they are. They are nostalgic about the age of prosperity in this nation and wish to bring back “the good old days.” They want a simple explanation as to why things are so rotten and a “quick fix” for America.

Revolt in the ranks

In fact, understanding what has happened to this country over the past 40 years is not so difficult but it does require some analysis. There is a revolt among voters in the Democratic Party as well, as many of their leaders have also supported some of the legislation that has caused a deterioration in the standard of living of the so-called middle class, or working class of this nation.

Dramatic changes in tax codes that disproportionately benefit the super-rich have resulted in budgetary shortfalls. Deregulation has allowed mega-mergers and monopolies to proliferate, as well as the increase in the poisoning of our environment. Privatization denies public oversight of corporate behavior. Free trade agreements have moved industry — and millions of decent jobs — off shore. Successful attacks against unions have led to a downward spiral of low wages, the loss of pensions, the reduction of health benefits and the terrors associated with unstable employment.

An opportunity for real dialogue

“Election fever” has generated debates among families, friends, neighbors and coworkers. There is great value when a window is opened that promotes dialogue about the very serious social issues of our times. But dialogue implies listening to one another and trying to carefully sift through the words we use to truly understand the concepts that are being expressed.

Most of us want the same things: meaningful and satisfying work, stability in basic human needs, loving relationships, time to enjoy the wonders around us, a sense of safety and a secure belief that our children will inherit a better world. Creating such a world requires educating ourselves, seeking out alternative sources of information and committing ourselves to action.

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