Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Two Views and a Parody of America

The view of America from afar offers a disparate perspective of the land of the free. It ranges from a tribute in South Korea of American courage 60 years ago and an op-ed in a British newspaper describing the demise of America’s middle class.

save-the-middle-class1Perhaps the two views aren’t so disparate after all, just views separated by the passage of time.

Earlier this year, the South Korean government hosted a ceremony for some of the families of 8,000 American MIAs in the Forgotten War, using the occasion to say thank you to a nation that sacrificed 33,000 young men to defend a far away foreign land from the threat of communist rule.

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsA war museum lists the names of U.S. military casualties, which became a wall of emotion for so-called “war orphans” who attended the ceremony. South Koreans used the moment to say thank you for their freedom – and for the aid that has helped their country become the 14th largest economy in the world.

The Korean Conflict has a special Oregon touchpoint. Harry and Bertha Holt of Eugene were so troubled by the specter of mixed race Korean orphans, they set up an organization to help those children find loving homes through adoption. The work of Holt International continues today and has expanded to other nations where children are stranded and at risk. Many Korean Americans landed into outstretched arms in Lane County.

The Greatest Generation of Americans who fought and won World War II and their younger brothers who fought on Pork Chop Hill in Korea reflect a nation capable of unified commitment to a world free of ideological authoritarianism.  Sixty years later, however, we find our nation staggered by a changing world that we helped create – and staggering under the realities that emerging world has created.

Daily Telegraph columnist Jeremy Warner points to the alarming increase in deaths among white Americans between the ages of  45 and 54 because of suicides, addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol-related diseases. He links it to the impending death of the American ideal of a prosperous, class-less society.

angus-deatonWarner’s assessment draws on conclusions from the work of Angus Deaton, a 2015 Nobel Prize winner who is a Princeton University economics professor. Deaton’s work has concentrated on the relationship between income and consumption at both macro and micro economic levels. Deaton also has traced patterns between the health and wealth of nations, the status of world poverty and growing income inequality in America.

“The political equality required by democracy is always under threat from economic inequality, and the more extreme the economic inequality, the greater threat to democracy,” Deaton wrote. “The very wealthy have little need for state-provided education or health care; they have every reason to support cuts in Medicare and to fight any increases in taxes. They have even less reason to support health insurance for everyone.”

As poverty around the world is declining, Warner points to statistics indicating that the American middle class is stuck in reverse. Whether or not the cause of economic stress or insecurity, Warner suggests many of the venerable members of the American middle class are effectively killing themselves with food, drugs and alcohol.

And for the next generation of Americans, who will need all the knowledge and savvy they can muster to succeed in a technology age where investments in robots trumps higher wages, they face marginalized public schools and skyrocketing college tuitions along their developmental pathway.

trump-snl-4-e1446962182492As the thought of this sharp contrast between our American past and potential future weighed heavily on my mind, I watched “Saturday Night Live” hosted by Donald Trump. It must have been an easy show to write because the gags were mostly lines Trump has actually used on the presidential campaign trail – insulting digs at Mexicans, vague blustering, gross exaggeration and oversimplification of world problems.

He will build a wall, act tough with foreign leaders, cut taxes and oversee a golden age of American economic revival. It will all work out, just trust him. He’s worth billions. He’s hosted a reality TV show. He went to a military boarding school. He grubstaked his start with a $1 million loan from his dad. He likes to win and call everyone else losers.

Trump’s SNL appearance was funny and possibly even good for his slightly sagging campaign. But what isn’t funny is the absence of a plan – or even a desire – by Trump to restore the unity of purpose America once had, as well as the hope Americans once held.

That third view of America is a sad parody.







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