It is nearly unthinkable today that we legally enslaved people right here in America until just 150 years ago. It is similarly unthinkable that only wealthy, white landowners were allowed to vote for a very long time and that women gained that right just 93 years ago. It took over 50 years of focused struggle to fix something as obviously broken as that. Unthinkable.
It was only 48 years ago that African-Americans gained full voting rights and the beginning of their relief from voicelessness. It was around that same time when we at last decided that discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin was not okay. It is unthinkable that it took that long.
This is not ancient history. This is recent stuff remembered well by most Baby Boomers and it shakes our sensibilities today that our American forebears could have tolerated, much less practiced such amazing discrimination.
How do you suppose Americans seventy years from now will see us? Will they be as baffled at our practices as we are in viewing history from our perch today? Here’s a list of predictions of how adults seventy years from now will see us.
- They will be astonished at our national polarization and the fear and hate that spawned it and which has resulted in our national dysfunction. Historians then will struggle to piece together a narrative to explain our penchant for shooting ourselves in the national foot.
Americans in the last quarter of this century will wonder why there was a debate over private ownership of people killing machines, like assault rifles and large capacity ammunition magazines. And they will shake their heads in astonishment that we had a low prohibiting the purchase of such killing machines and then allowed that law to lapse.
The people of tomorrow will find it unthinkable that we had a law that required background checks of citizens purchasing guns through retail stores but required no such background check of purchasers of guns sold at gun shows or through personal exchange. Future Americans will wonder at the spinelessness that created such a law.
People will find it unthinkable that we had a healthcare system that was driven primarily by a profit motive, rather than a public health motive. It will likewise be unthinkable to future Americans that we had a system where significant health crises caused half of all personal bankruptcies and where millions of Americans had to make tradeoffs between medical care and food. And people tomorrow will wonder how it was that we tolerated the decades-long escalation of healthcare costs resulting in the most expensive healthcare in the world. They will shake their heads in confusion over how, at the same time, we allowed our healthcare outcomes to deteriorate relative to the rest of the world. A common refrain will be, “What were those people thinking as Americans suffered?”
Parents of children in 2083 will scratch their heads trying to figure out what people of today were thinking when they allowed their elected officials to cut funds for public education and incrementally destroy it.
Americans will be aghast that we allowed corporate and special interest money to poison our politics in such a way as to make otherwise sensible politicians behave in reprehensible ways. They will wonder why we tolerated the dishonesty that served to perpetuate the careers of those same politicians and enrich their benefactors, while impoverishing the rest of America.
Late in this century voters will shake their heads at our 8-hour lines to vote. They will ask if we really did tolerate that attempt to disenfranchise Americans. It will be unthinkable.
American children will read in their history books that we had national debates about whether we Americans should torture people and that we actually did torture people. Children will wonder if there are printing errors in their e-textbooks. They will hope in vain that the torture was actually done by the Soviet Union or during the Spanish Inquisition and will wonder how such a thing could have ever happened in America.
Future Americans will ask how we could imprison people and charge them with no crime, refuse them due process of law, deny them legal aid and imprison them without limit. They will ask, “Did we do that in America?”
Americans in the last quarter of this century will be damning us for our national refusal to deal with the reality that the Earth is warming and bringing with it catastrophe. They will be angry that the sea has risen to the point that we will have lost much of Florida, that the Great Plaines, the greatest food engine the world has ever known, will have become a Great Dust Bowl and that the residents of lower Manhattan all have fins. They will be furious at us for our shortsightedness, our greed and our outright stupidity. It will be unthinkable to them that we missed the obvious.
Of the 172 democracies on the planet, America now ranks 138th in voter participation. Tomorrow’s Americans will wonder why we sat stupefied in front of our televisions and let others’ short-sighted self-interest rule the day and ruin America.
It might be worse. People in 2083 may take for granted the path that led to their pitiful lives, and that they, like we, are polarized and unable to accomplish anything. They will say that of course there are the fabulously wealthy few, and then there are the rest of the citizens scrambling for crumbs. They’ll say that’s just the way it is.
They may assume that torture and unlimited detention should always have been okay and that every household needs assault weapons and a huge cache of ammunition. Healthcare and education will be only for the rich then, so the people of tomorrow may not wonder at all about the destructive path we’re on today because it will have led to the woeful America that is painfully familiar to them.
And that’s the way it will be unless we Americans take action right now. Not next year or in the next administration or in any particular administration. Right now. Our grandchildren are counting on us.
“If someone like you doesn’t care a whole lot,
“Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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