Recent news and media remind me of a famous novel by British author Charles Dickens. No, not the Christmas story with Scrooge learning important lessons, but rather “A Tale of Two Cities.” The book was required reading in my seventh-grade class.
The beginning lines of the classic book are “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” If one didn’t know better, we might think that Dickens was writing about our country today.
The book, written in the mid 19th century, is set in the latter part of the 18th century. For many Americans, the most up-to-date knowledge of the political and social turmoil of the era that began with the French Revolution is presented in the stage show “Les Miserables.” The actors’ songs and lines address universal themes of strife, poverty, longing, unfair imprisonment, love and more.
As we approach the 2020 elections, it is clear that some Americans feel they are living in the best of times, but even more believe the opposite is true. For some Americans, now is definitely the best of times. If you are an owner of a major business, are well educated with no debts, trained in the newest technology, physically and mentally healthy, have a stable family, a secure home and access to excellent and affordable health care services, it may be the best of times.
But if you live in an area without good public services such as transportation and water, cannot afford or easily access good health services and cannot pay off your education loans that you never envisioned as life-long burdens, it is not the best of times. If you are a veteran who has suffered major physical or mental health problems, if you cannot find decent employment because technology changed and you didn’t have a chance to change with it, the times are not wonderful for you.
If your racial or ethnic appearance means that you fear frequent negative treatment, if your gender or sexual identity results in problems in work, school or family, if you or your family is impacted by the opioid/drug epidemic, if you or your loved ones go to bed hungry most nights or if you worry that your neighborhood or school will be racked by bullets, it is certainly not the best of times.
No country can make sure that all of its citizens are happy and healthy, but the chasm between those who are really happy, America’s very upper class, and those who are poor, despondent, angry and lost has widened too far. The great mobile middle class that helped America grow and prosper through the 20th century is fading into oblivion.
By looking at past economic and social conflicts, we are reminded that clashes between the haves and have-nots and the happy and discontented are nothing new. History should remind us that without attention to those who feel disenfranchised, the well-off may not continue to enjoy their bounties.
Dickens continued his opening statement with “it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
For our country as a whole, it is neither the best nor worst of times. But it would be much healthier for our nation if more people, including the ever-shrinking middle class, enjoyed times that were reasonably good.