Tom Joad, was for all of you, who may not remember, a character from the classic, John Steinback, novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” He has returned.
During the last several Presidential campaigns I have noticed a shocking development, the callous disregard of the plight of some of our fellow citizens. Whether it was the scene at a Social Security Office, in, I believe Kentucky, or during presidential debates, the anger displayed against our most unfortunate sons and daughters that barely live among us has been astonishing.
A man was slowly walking towards the Social Security office, when a demonstrator yelled out to him, “What’s wrong with you are you blind?”, as the man laboriously walked on. The man finally turned towards the voice and responded by saying,” Yes, I am blind!”
My town, Claremont, the small city of trees and Phd”s, has found itself home to an increasing amount of homeless people. People who have been down in their luck or in some cases, people with mental illnesses.
Most people, turn their eyes away from the homeless, to make sure that they do not see who is in front of them or under their feet. People walk over them as they lie on the sidewalk. Our fellow citizens have on TV been heard to say, “Die,” when the conversation turned to food stamps.
But for the grace of God, most of us could lose it all. What is it to be human, other than to care for those who can not care for themselves?
The 1930’s saw a wealth of misery. You could have easily found yourself riding the rails from place to place trying to find work, any work. You might have been one of the Okies, traveling in-car caravans from Oklahoma to California, carrying with you as many of your meager belongings as you could. You might have been in a hobo camp, having a hard time making a fire, with your clothes torn and your body bloodied, beaten for what little you had. Your face like the boxer, beaten and swollen, sharing what food you had, with another man, out of luck and dirty.
We’ve had good, no, great times for the well to do. They are isolated and insulated from the rest of us, living in gated communities feeling safe, immune, really, from the real world. We’ve had at least two jobless recoveries, with very little if any improvement in the lives of the average American.
History has a habit of repeating itself. Greed will find a way to reassert itself and bring ruin to many of us. Maybe there will be a day when derivatives crash and we have another Market Crash, as great as the 1929 debacle.
When will we ever learn that we human beings are part of a family, a town, a community, a state and a nation larger than ourselves. The idea that a rugged individualist can make it on his or her own is a fiction, We are dependent on each other. We need each other, whether you are the person hiring or the person who makes the good that is for sale to the person who buys it. Our lives and our society would collapse if no one had the money to buy what is made and if the worker did not have enough money to buy the goods that are produced. Henry Ford recognized the need for his workers to make enough money to buy the cars that they made.
Meanwhile the average Joe or Josephine is getting to be like Tom Joad, wandering about trying to find their way. Their shoulders are growing ever more hunched from the weight of stress and fatigue. Children grow hungry their stomachs distended
What has happened to some of us to the point that we do not care about our fellow-man? Like a team you are only as strong as the weakest among us. Americans are known to be generous. Has that in large part disappeared from our civil society? A lot of people claim to be Ayn Rand followers and Christians at the same time. Wow! What a contradiction in values.
Some Americans cringe at even talking about the poor and poverty or even seriously helping the middle class, as if the economic status of most of us won’t have an effect on all of us at some point.
Some Americans scoff at the notion that we should be more like Iceland and Scandinavia where poverty is but a memory, because God forbid, Socialism is involved. Get over it America, we are no longer number one at much. People who live in Norway work and they are quite happy with their Social Democracy.
But no, they would rather turn their backs on the ghosts of Tom Joad. They think it can’t happen to them.
They keep the boxcars locked now. Day laborers do what the Oakies did in the past. We live in a dust bowl, of filth and cruelty, pretending to care but shielded by an armor of indifference. The American dream might be working for a few of us, but it needs to work for more of us. As Shakespeare might say, no one is immune from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.