Deborah G. Hankins
The United States has become a nation of angry people. Everywhere we look, there’s anger. It has happened because, at a very basic level, we’re afraid. We’re afraid because we’re observing an uncontrollable erosion of our lifestyle, and we have little control over it.
When a person is frightened their first reaction is anger. Think about the last time you were frightened. Most likely, you can remember a flash of anger which immediately followed. Someone cut you off in traffic, and you narrowly avoided an accident. You had a flash of anger. Your child escaped your grasp and dashed onto the street. You became angry. That anger was a vestige of the basic fight-or- flight response which was intended to protect us.
Today, the fear is less immediate and obvious, but it’s a constant in our lives. We work hard and each year that hard work is less rewarding. The bills get bigger and the paycheck no longer keeps up.
In the past, we expected our children to accomplish greater things than we did. My grandfather quit going to school in the seventh grade and became a bank vice-president. My grandmother was the child of a poor factory worker in Richmond, Virginia and plucked (literally) from the street by a group of well-meaning wealthy matrons and subsequently given up by that same group for adoption. My mother graduated from nursing school. I graduated from college and eventually got a Master’s degree. This wasn’t unusual. People expected more opportunities for their children and grandchildren than were available to them.
This has changed radically. Rather than offering a ladder to success, a college degree burdens young people with crippling debt. It’s impossible to save enough money to ensure a comfortable retirement, and there’s great doubt whether Social Security will benefit those who are currently middle-aged.
Now, a minimum wage job neither supports a family nor leaves anything for savings. Company pensions are a thing of the past and good-paying factory jobs are rare.
Our lives are characterized by uncertainty–not optimism.
In the midst of this, we hear of a small minority of individuals and families who are so incredibly wealthy that they have enough “left over” to literally buy national elections.
What’s our reaction to the fear? Anger. What indicators do we see of this anger? In my small city, grown men toting pistols in restaurants. People so deeply divided over political ideologies that civil discourse is rarely possible. Young men with easy access to deadly weapons seeking fame by taking innocent lives. Governing bodies believing the message of heavily-edited video tapes defunding Planned Parenthood, the only easy access to healthcare for millions of struggling women.
This isn’t the America we envisioned fifty, twenty or even ten years ago. I’m not sure I want to live here anymore.