Sunday, September 3, 2017

BEING A GROUCHY OLD ENVIRONMENTALIST



Smoky sunlight filtering through redwoods


Driving through the Avenue of the Giants along the northern California coast is an awe-inspiring experience. Ancient coast redwoods reach hundreds of feet into the sky. Even today, when the  temperature has reached 100 degrees and the air is filled with smoke from nearby wildfires, this place seems like a cool, quiet cathedral.

We stop at a grove to enjoy the view and walk, and I notice a young man wiping out a saucepan and tossing the contents onto the ground. Was that a paper towel? Disgusted, I tell him to look for a trash container. He comes up and waves a package of baby wipes in front of my face, saying, “Look at the label! Biodegradable! Don’t be so judgmental!” I am too astounded to answer. Does he think “biodegradable means “vanishes instantly”?

We drive on until we see a sign advertising a drive-through redwood. I’ve seen only photos of those mutilated giants, and am curious enough to stop and see the real thing. It’s interesting in a horrible way. How could anyone ever have destroyed a magnificent redwood so that cars could drive through it? We go on.

Later, we chat with a grandfatherly man who recently took a whale-watching tour out of Baja, and proudly shows us his video of people petting whales that had come up to the boat. I ask hesitantly if touching the whales and allowing them to approach the boats is allowed. He chuckles at my naiveté and replies, “Oh, those Mexicans don’t care!”

Well, I care. I’m tired of people who have no respect for the plants and animals that share our planet, who think their litter is OK if it takes a relatively short time to degrade, who endanger the earth their grandchildren will have to live in. Yes, I’ve become an old grouch, and I’m proud to be one.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

SEEING THE GREAT ECLIPSE OF 2017


Thane's photo of the corona


August 17: So, here we are at the Grant Co. fairgrounds in John Day, Oregon. Months ago, we reserved a camp site here so that we could be near some excellent viewing areas for the total solar eclipse of August 21, which also happens to be my partner’s birthday. There have been predictions of a million people coming to Oregon for this event, but so far things are fairly quiet.  Our rig is nearly alone, in a large grassy space under a tree.

We need to find a good eclipse-viewing site now—something with an unobstructed view of the entire sky, so that we can see not only the eclipsed sun, but also the shadow racing across from west to east. Many locals are trying to strike it rich by charging hundreds of dollars a night for staying in a driveway or tiny space in a field. We have to find something affordable.

Luckily, we stop at the Chamber of Commerce office and buy a couple of souvenir tee shirts. The lady there is a fountain of information, and gives us a phone number for someone named Jerry, who might have an available place. We call him and make a tentative reservation.

The town of John Day is quaint, and people are friendly. We talk to a local who tells us that they are walking on eggshells about the eclipse. The firefighters and ambulance workers are volunteers, and this is the height of wildfire season. With so many people pouring in, it’s a dangerous situation.

August 18: We leave the fairgrounds and go to Jerry’s house. What luck! Jerry is actually president of the Chamber of Commerce. He owns a ranch that overlooks a valley at the base of Strawberry Mountain, the highest spot in the county . At 9000’, it has a snow patch near the top, even in this very hot August. Jerry’s place will be the best possible place for seeing the eclipse. Not only that, but he is letting us stay here three nights for $150, an unbelievable bargain compared with other sites. Instead of spending today searching for a Forest Service spot, we settle down to enjoy the view, drink Pepsi, and relax for three days.

In the evening, we see smoke in the western sky. Knowing there is a wildfire near the town of Sisters, which has had to be evacuated, we are nervous, Sisters is far to the west.

August 19: During the night, Thane wakes and realizes he left the RV’s sewer hose at the fairgrounds after draining and cleaning it. We call this morning to ask if it has been found, but have  to leave voice mail. As we had some earlier issues with the campground manager, I’m not optimistic about getting the hose back. We won’t need it for quite a while, but will probably have to buy a new one. Another expense for a fairly pricey trip! The eclipse had better be worth it.

While we wait in the hope of a call back, we’re reading, looking at the beautiful view (now smokeless), and getting pictures. Thane is filling the camera with photos, I’m sketching. There are about 200 cattle down in the valley, so I’m trying to sketch them. Who would have thought it would be so hard? Cattle don’t seem to have the nice smooth shapes of reptiles or even birds; they are built like tank cars with legs and snouts. For guidance, I need a book of Gary Larsen cartoons showing cows.

Where is everybody? This wonderful site should be filled, but we are all alone. Knowing that nearby sites are crowded and expensive, we feel as if we have entered a twilight zone. Could it be because the site’s owner misspelled eclipse on his sign?

August 20: The eclipse is tomorrow, but when we get up, we are still alone here. This is downright spooky.

Around noon, another motorhome finally joins us. Things are looking up. I’m spending some time practicing using the camera for a quick shot of the eclipsed sun, but am pessimistic. From everything I’ve read, people become unglued as totality approaches, and I may not be capable of actually taking a photo. It’s worth a try, though.

More arrive by night. A family from Holland, some beefy women from Washington state, others. All are prepared with goggles and cameras.

We bake and decorate a special birthday cake for Thane that looks like an eclipse, complete with a corona of frosting.



August 21: It’s Thane’s birthday. Jerry’s wife Marcia has told others about the birthday, and the Dutch family festoons our awning with a Happy Birthday banner.

At about 9:30 the moon begins to move across the sun, and we put on our special viewing goggles. No other excitement yet.

People coming into the campground are carefully herded by jerry, so they aren't invading our expensive camp site or flying drones into our air space. It’s good to have political connections, even here. It would be complete chaos without his help.

At 10:10, the sky is changing. A dark shadow falls across the clouds, leaving the bright sky beneath them. Shadows on the ground are very crisp, but the air is dusk-like. Looking through our special eclipse goggles, we see the “bite” taken out of the golden sun by the moon, which gradually covers it entirely. When totality is reached we remove the glasses and look directly at the sun with only binoculars over our uncovered eyes. The bright white corona is visible, with a few reddish solar prominences. We have both followed the unfolding event with cameras, and have made some videos and still photos. It has been a highly successful day.


August 22: Unbelievably, we return to the fairgrounds and recover the sewer hose.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                   

Friday, August 4, 2017

IN FAVOR OF LIFE




Like most frugal RVers, I spend a great deal of time in various Wal-Mart stores.   Standing in a long checkout line is an easy way of observing people, especially families.

Too often, a tired-looking parent is trying to shop while keeping at least three children in line. The children may be hitting each other, sobbing, or begging for candy. (Even worse, they may be unnaturally quiet, as if they have been abused.) The parent is badly dressed.

In contrast, some times I see a happy, healthy child or two with a mom and dad who don’t seem overwhelmed financially or otherwise by being parents. The entire family is decently dressed in inexpensive clothing. (There may be wealthy people who bring their kids to shop in Wal-Marts, but I haven’t seen them.) Why can’t more families be like them?

As in many aspects of life, timing is almost everything. If a woman conceives when she is very young, she may be unmarried, still in school, or just beginning a career. She is unlikely to afford to raise a child. Bringing a baby into her life at that point may be a disaster, but in a few years it can be a joyous event. Simply postponing pregnancy can give both her and her children a much better chance of a good life

Nobody is in favor of abortions, except as a last resort. We pro-choice advocates don’t want death; we want life. The best way to prevent abortion is to provide accessible and affordable contraception to any woman who wants it.

Today the so-called pro-life movement fights contraception as well as abortion. Planned Parenthood clinics are under attack everywhere, and federal funding is endangered. As a result, desperate women will simply resort to using coat hangers or dangerous drugs to induce abortions themselves. They will endanger their lives rather than continue a pregnancy they find unbearable. Many of those who are forced or persuaded to carry their babies to term will give birth to children they can’t afford. Much as they may love those babies and try to make a good life for them, they are greatly handicapped in doing so. How much better it would be if they could wait a few years!

In some cases, babies whose mothers are unable to care for them end up in abusive situations, perhaps in bad foster homes. There are simply not enough good homes available to take care of these children; certainly the self-righteous pro-life advocates are doing little  to provide help. Further, in the current punitive political climate it is likely that Planned Parenthood and Medicaid funds will be cut, increasing the burden on parents and on society.

Society and individuals have much to gain from helping women plan their pregnancies, instead of implicitly blaming them for having sex. Sex is a normal part of life for most women, not something evil to be punished. If they become pregnant, giving birth at an appropriate time benefits everyone.

In the words of the Planned Parenthood founders, we need to make every child a wanted child. We need to choose life.

 

                                                                                                                                                   

Monday, July 24, 2017

THE WHITE PICKUP PROBLEM


Whenever I look in my little Honda’s rearview mirror and see a white pickup in the distance, I tense up. Within a few seconds, it will be riding my back bumper. The driver will be glaring at me or passing me, whether it’s legal or not. If there is a turnout available, I turn into it rather than risking road rage.

I can’t deny that I drive rather slowly; that is, I drive at or slightly above the posted speed limit. It’s an octogenarian thing. Any woman of my age is concerned about preserving her life as well as her car. (As comedian Flip Wilson once said, “I like old ladies. They’re cool. That’s how they get to be old ladies.”) As a result, of course my driving enrages many drivers.

The color white makes sense here, where summers can be terribly hot and white vehicles better reflect the sun’s rays. While I’ve never felt the need to drive a pickup, many people seem to feel their lives are incomplete without one. To each his own. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a white pickup. Why does driving one bring out the worst in its driver, though?

I’ve come to believe that every teenage male in El Dorado County is given a white pickup as a high school graduation present. Maybe it’s a traditional gift, like the Lane cedar chests many girls received back in the fifties as a rite of passage. How else to explain the preponderance of wild young men at the wheels?

It’s not so bad out on the highway, where I can drive in the truck lane and let others pass me. Often, though, I need to drive on side streets or county roads with low speed limits. Speeds are limited for a good reason here; many of the roads curve or go over hills. Also, the deer here seem especially stupid.  A doe trailed by fawns is likely to wander out in front of you at any time. You would think that the teenagers who grow up here would be well aware that they need to drive cautiously to avoid a deer accident.

I have a fantasy. Some day I will be driving my white Winnebago and will see a white pickup ahead of me. I’m bigger than he is! I’ll speed up, blow my horn, and ride his tail until he pulls off the road in terror. Then I’ll pull past, yelling  gleefully, “ Old ladies rule!”

                                                                                                                                                   

Monday, June 26, 2017

EIGHT, EIGHT, EIGHTY!


Eight has always seemed like my lucky number. Born on the eighth day of the eighth month, I’ve never had any trouble remembering my birth date. As a child I was quite excited when I reached the age of eight, expecting the coming year to be special.

Now I am eagerly looking forward to completing my eighth decade this summer. If I believed in astrology, I’d even think that there was significance in my being a Leo, the sign ruled by the sun. On August 21 (coincidentally, my partner’s and my father’s birthday) there will be a total solar eclipse across the United States. Those within a few miles north or south of the cross-country transit line will have a good view if the weather allows it. We plan to watch it from a carefully selected spot in eastern Oregon. For the first time in my life, I will see a total eclipse.
Waiting for the eclipse

Around 10 A.M., the syzygy (alignment of three bodies) will be exactly right. From this distance the sun and moon appear to have the same diameter. As Earth turns on its axis, our view of the sun will be blocked by the moon, which will appear to rush across the sun. For a few awe-inspiring minutes only the sun’s corona (outermost atmosphere) will be visible,  looking like a ring of sparkling diamonds. The sky around it will be black, illuminated only by stars. Animals may behave strangely, affected by the sudden change in light and temperature.

Understandably, many myths and superstitions started with the idea that during an eclipse something was eating the sun. During a partial eclipse, or the beginning of a total one, it does look as if a huge bite has been taken out of the sun. Ancient Norse people thought wolves were the predators; Vietnamese, a giant frog. Dogs, dragons, and bears were blamed in  other cultures. Even now, some people fear that an eclipse is a danger to pregnant women, or that food cooked during an eclipse will become poisoned. The temporary disappearance of the sun is often viewed as an omen of disaster.

Magical thinking is unneeded, though. The exciting, beautiful reality is more than enough. Unless bad weather interferes with the view, we can for a few minutes take off our eclipse-viewing glasses and look directly at the sun (it’s the only time doing so does not risk blindness).

Even those with no interest in astronomy can find comfort in looking at the sky. Contemplating the vastness of the universe and of time enables us to see our lives and world events in perspective. For the past several months many of us have sunk into despair and anger because of what the right-wing political and religious leaders are doing to our beloved country. Perhaps they will be like the moon, though—obscuring the sun for only a short time, and even then allowing us to see a sparking corona of possibilities.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

LIVING IN TRUMP COUNTRY




After living in large cities all my adult life, in 2007 I moved to El Dorado County in California.  Though the scenery is beautiful here on the western slopes of the Sierra, the area is impoverished. Once a thriving logging area, it has been hit hard by the recession and other factors. It is of course crowded with Trump people.

One of the things I like about this area is the friendliness of the people.  My neighbors are always helpful. Though I am not particularly extroverted or sociable, people often chat with me in stores or on my walks. It’s a nice contrast to the behavior of city dwellers.

Since the Trump campaign, though, much of the usual friendliness has vanished. Like many other places, this area rapidly became segregated into “red” and blue” areas. Being violet was just impossible. Furthermore, the reds far outnumbered the blues. Young men drove around in pickups waving the Confederate flag. Pro-Trump lawn signs appeared. I overhead snide comments about Obama and about LGBTs. Though the election is over, the division has remained.

It made me wonder, how do people become conservative or liberal? My own history can provide some clues. Berrien County in Michigan, where I was born in 1937, was and is still extremely conservative, much like El Dorado County. It hardly seems credible now, but I don’t remember hearing about the Holocaust during high school. It might have something to do with the county’s large German population, or with anti-Semitism in general. Certainly Jews were considered inferior in my home town. We saw Jews only in the summer, when Chicagoans came to summer homes at the nearby lake. Like other “resorters,” they were tolerated but not really welcomed. So, I grew up with an anti-Jewish attitude that now embarrasses me.

Similarly, Joseph McCarthy was considered a hero. The newspaper we all read was Col. McCormick’s Chicago Tribune,  which praised McCarthy and right-wingers in general. When I voted for the first time in a presidential election, it was for Barry Goldwater.

Religion, too, was conservative in Berrien County. There were Catholics and traditional Protestants. (Today the county is even more conservative in that regard. Evangelicals seem to have taken over.)

Still, today I am an unabashed Bay Area liberal, a Unitarian and the widow of a Jew.  My views on politics and social issues are far to the left of center.

How did my transformation take place? If I had stayed at home, as some of my high school classmates did, I might not have changed, at least not to this extent. Instead, I went to college and then to grad school, where I learned much about science, and especially about how to be skeptical and analytical. I met liberal Jewish professors  and was exposed to their values and ideas. Though I went to a Baptist college, the religion classes were nontraditional, and the Methodist church I attended in the early sixties had a charismatic, liberal minister. Later, I became a Unitarian.

 In the workplace I met a variety of people with different viewpoints. Though my formal education was valuable, informal education was even more so. Living in a variety of communities taught me about people at various socioeconomic levels and ethnicities.  

So, my own history leads me to think that education and broad experience are the answers to Trump thinking. Even in rural areas like this one, children can be exposed to the ideas and values that will lead them to become intelligent, ethical citizens.

It is also encouraging to see that since the election, closet county liberals have come out in the open. A few weeks ago the nascent El Dorado Progressives (EDP) group advertised an organizational meeting at a local church, expecting 90 or so people to show up. I attended, and barely got in the door. About a thousand angry citizens came to find out how they could resist the coming autocracy. Since then, many of them have stormed into town hall meetings held by our local Congressional representative, Tom McClintock, one of the most conservative House members. There is hope for the future, even here in Trump country.




Protestors at a McClintock Town Hall meeting. (Photo published in the Mountain Democrat.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

BUYING STUFF ON THE ROAD





Though we don’t travel with the goal of shopping—in fact, we travel in part to escape our consumer society—we’re not completely immune from wanting to buy a few things on the road. By using common sense, once in a while we can do a little shopping without taking up needed storage space or spending much.



Food, being consumable, is a great on-the-road purchase. Stocking up on frozen entrees at Wal-Mart may be cheap and convenient, but it’s not as healthy or tasty as buying fresh produce and other groceries along the way. Even at home we tend to buy most of our produce at a year-round market featuring locally grown items; when we travel, we try to find farmer’s markets and other local food sources. We have bought maple sugar, elderberry jam, blueberry syrup, and much more as souvenirs. Harvest Hosts allow RVer members to stay on their property free or in combination with buying wine or other products they produce. We have yet to try that option, but it sounds like a great idea.

We had only one bad experience with buying farmer’s market foods, and it was all too instructive. Returning to the States from Canada, we saw a market just a few miles from the border. We bought delicious corn, fruit, and other things, and stuffed the refrigerator. And then we crossed the border and went through inspections. The Canadian inspectors gave us no trouble, but those in the U.S. treated us almost like ecoterrorists, lecturing us about not bringing possibly infected food into the country. Worse, they confiscated all the food. We should have known better—we live in California, where even crossing the state line involves being inspected for plant pests! For some reason we had not expected the political barrier between Canada and the U.S. to be vulnerable to infections. The dollar loss was not great, but we really missed eating the delicious food, felt stupid, and suspected that we had provided the inspectors with a picnic.

Another trip to Canada turned out better. The weather was colder than I’d expected, so I bought a lovely, fleecy sweatshirt. It’s bulky, but often bulky is good. I wear it often. Clothing in general can be a good thing to buy on the road if it’s actually needed. If it’s not, then extra clothes can take up too much space.

Souvenirs don’t usually tempt us much, but there are exceptions, and seeing those we have are pleasant reminders of our travels. The little corn-husk fiddler doll from the Blue Ridge, the posters from the Navajo National Monument and other sites, a few small geodes, and other small souvenirs bring back good memories. If we ever find something irresistible to buy and don’t have space for it, there is a last-ditch method: we can have stuff mailed to our home post office box. So far we have managed to squeeze everything in and avoid shipping charges.

Window-shopping can be enjoyable and costs nothing. When we went to Monument Valley I looked at some interesting pottery at Goulding’s gift shop, but paid nothing.


So much more than a gift shop! Goulding's at Monument Valley


During many years as an environmentalist, I have been enthusiastically shopping at second-hand shops, even furnishing a series of homes with used furniture. So, on the road I also look around any thrift shops for second-hand items I can use. Luckily, these can often be found near Laundromats, which we need every week or so. While the laundry spins, I can indulge in that shopping. No furniture, of course—at least, not yet!—but sometimes I can find something small.

I have a huge collection of book marks, mostly from art museums. These take up virtually no space, cost very little, and make great souvenirs. I use them at home for the obvious use, and enjoy remembering various art exhibits and museums. Sometimes I have arranged some under a sheet of glass on a table. Post cards, too, are a tiny and cheap purchase. We post some of them on the walls of the Winnebago View, send a few to friends, bring some home to add to photo albums along with our own photos of travel.

National and state parks visitor centers are our favorite source of must-have souvenirs. There is a little dreck, mainly aimed at children or their grandparents, but in general these centers are well stocked with books for all ages about the local park, posters, and other items that may not be available elsewhere. Not only do these help us recall the area, but the money benefits the parks. In this time of budget-cutting and opposition to the parks, that trumps everything. (We also are members of the National Parks Conservation Association. We scarcely notice our small monthly contribution, and like to think we are doing a little to help maintain these wonderful places. (It also assuages any guilt we feel for saving lots of money with our Golden Age passes.)

Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone; photos copyright © 2017 by Thane Puissegur

 

 

Monday, January 2, 2017

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO CIVILITY?




Some people have always been rude and crude, but their behavior has become more widespread during recent years. Encouraged by the disgusting, cruel comments of Donald Trump during the recent presidential campaign, those who might once have held their tongues unleashed online garbage that  was simply sickening. President and Mrs. Obama were particularly targeted; it’s hard to understand how they managed to take the high road instead of responding in kind.

This is not entirely a new phenomenon, of course. Even during Thomas Jefferson’s time, political attacks were sordid, and politicians have been abused to some extent ever since. In general, though, people have maintained at least a veneer of politeness. That changed during the sixties, when many of us freed ourselves from a too-strict upbringing. In some respects that was a much-needed correction, but we also learned  to use obscene language in inappropriate environments, to tear down those who disagreed with us, to “let it all hang out“a bit too far.  Comedy, for example, has degenerated greatly. Stand-up comics who use little humor but much gutter talk are admiringly described as “edgy.”

It has happened at some surprising levels. For instance, the editors’ online discussion group I belong to has usually held to a high standard, with only the occasional genteel disagreement about the serial comma, proper use of the subjunctive, or other editorial concerns. Even there, I have noticed a shift in behavior. When I recently posted a simple question about “an historic” vs. “a historic,” the answers quickly degenerated into snide comments about undereducated high school English teachers, regional pronunciations, and other ad hominen attacks. I was both amused and appalled.

I fear there is no going back. When anonymous comments can be left on social media sites, when Muslims are openly disparaged, and when vulnerable teens can be made suicidal by online criticism, there may be nothing to brake the sickening remarks that are common now. It may be possible for Congress and voters to rein in Trump during the next few years, but his boorish behavior has infected a great many people and added to the general decline in civility.

There are some glimmers of light in this dark cesspool. On New Year’s Eve I happened to hear a dialogue on an NPR station. A white nationalist and a proud black man—both intelligent and articulate-- were having a calm talk about their enormous differences. Though at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they spoke respectfully and confined their statements to the issues. Perhaps their civil behavior, too, can be contagious.

Copyright © 2017 by Carol Leth Stone

 

 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

BETTER BRAINS?



For  the past few decades, pediatrics experts and educationists have gone back and forth in their advice to parents about electronics. Some have advised parents to limit children’s “screen time”—time spent playing video games and otherwise interacting with tablets, smart phones, and computers—from zero to a few hours a day, depending on the child’s or teen’s age. Others have counseled parents to give their small children as much stimulation as possible as a learning tool, with computers being an obvious aid to mental stimulation. Currently the trend seems to be toward relaxation, and allowing even infants of eighteen months to have some screen time. Still, parents are supposed to supervise the kids’ computer use, not use the devices as babysitters.
The chief reason for concern, of course, is children’s developing brains. Some scientists have held that if children spend too much time staring at screens rather than interacting with toys, arts and crafts, and physical books, the normal changes in their brains will be slowed or changed.  ADHD and other disorders might result.
In addition, there is an obvious connection between too much screen/couch time and health problems that include obesity. Like all organs, the brain depends on normal blood flow, elimination of wastes, hormone production, and so on; all these functions can be damaged by lack of exercise and of sunlight.
The experts seem hesitant in general about allowing much screen time, citing research about the effects of computers on brain development. Indeed, some research with rat brains has indicated permanent changes in neural circuitry that might be harmful. However, the changes might also be positive. In our “future shock” society, where we must cope with enormous and continual changes in the environment, it may be an advantage for children to learn and respond quickly, without much reflection.
That reminds me of the educational issue of fluid v. crystallized Intelligence.[i] Some people have more fluid intelligence, enabling them to solve math problems, see patterns, and reach conclusions quickly. Others have more crystallized Intelligence, which leads to considering context and drawing on life experiences rather than immediately solving problems. Both kinds of intelligence are needed, but computer experience seems more likely to increase fluid intelligence.
Similarly, research by some psychologists[ii]  indicates that some people need and seek stimulation, while others are quickly overwhelmed by it. Being one of those who likes a quiet environment and flees from too much stimulation, I am rather glad personal computers were not around when I was a child. Learning from books suited me well. Later, learning to paint, immersing myself in a foreign language, looking through a microscope, or exploring  the natural environment  gave me knowledge and satisfaction at a gradual rate, not the condensed version provided by  computers. 
My aging brain is also finding it hard to manage the world of today.  That may be one reason why I love the RV life, where it is fairly easy to turn off some noise and stimuli. (I am surprised at the many Rvers who insist on Wi-Fi and cable TV wherever they go. Why don’t they just stay home?)
I hope today’s children, even if they must cope with an ever-changing environment, will not be pressured Into rewiring their brains for quick responses only. We still need crystallized intelligence, and thoughtful responses to life.
Text copyright © 2016 by Carol Stone
 




[i] Cattell, R.B.  Abilities: Their Structure, Growth, and Action. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.


[ii] Sales, S.M. Need for stimulation as a factor in social behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 19(1):124–134, 1971.





Tuesday, November 15, 2016

WHAT NEXT, AMERICA?






We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss—we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink away from the danger. Unaccountably we remain.   

    --Edgar Allan Poe

 

Last week Hillary Clinton lost the election, to the horrified surprise of millions around the world. In two months Donald Trump will become the president of the United States. Though I’m tempted to cry “Not my president,” of course this is one reality show I can’t avoid. Thanks to the people H.L. Mencken called the “booboisie” long ago, we are stuck with Trump for a few years.

Better informed observers than I am will long debate how this atrocity happened. The consensus seems to be that Trump simply capitalized on the unemployment, expensive tuition, skyrocketing medical costs, and other national problems we are suffering, and persuaded millions of voters that he could somehow “make America great” again.

Perhaps some actually believed that the fifties were a golden age to which we should return. Certainly it was a good period financially for the low-skilled white male workers who could get good jobs on auto assembly lines, for instance. There were other high points, too. Thanks to Sputnik and the National Science Foundation, it was even a good time for science education. However, most women were still confined to traditional low-paying jobs as secretaries, nurses, and teachers. Black men and women, as always, suffered discrimination in housing and jobs. We were all polluting the environment and quickly using fossil fuels and other natural resources.

During the sixties and seventies, enormous progress was made in civil rights and environmental concerns. Many of those who had been left out of the postwar boom began to share in the wealth. Even teachers’ salaries began rising. The EPA was established, and the National Parks Service was expanded. Thanks to the Pill and to the Roe v. Wade decision, women were freed of what biologist Garrett Hardin called “mandatory motherhood.”  For the first time in history, they could have children if and when they wanted to.

Eventually, though, greed has won over benevolence. The income taxes that were never onerous in comparison with those in Europe have fallen steadily, and most of the country’s wealth is now held by a small percent of individuals and corporations. Our middle class has become a lower class, earning less while working harder, and paying  far too much for health care and other needs . Those at the bottom of the ladder are pushed even farther down in the struggle for survival.

As a citizen and voter, I have two major concerns that affect everything else: the environment and education. During his campaign, Trump pledged to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education or to cut its influence greatly, giving more power to the states. If he makes good on his campaign promises, the public schools will be greatly harmed, leading to an even less educated citizenry. As to the environment, he has made the ridiculous claim that human-caused climate change is a hoax. Under Trump environmental quality will decline, because the EPA will lose its capability to establish and enforce environmental protections. Our beloved national parks will be overrun by developers and ranchers.

In addition, women and minorities will lose their hard-won gains. Violence against immigrants and native-born minorities will increase. (Since the election even children are being targeted by bigots; some are afraid to venture out of their classrooms, or fear deportation.)

One group will come out well, though—Trump and his cronies, self-satisfied rich white guys. I can imagine them now, relaxing on their yachts and laughing gleefully at the stupid voters who were taken in by their promises. We can only hope that in 2020, the Republicans have not yet destroyed the planet, and can be voted out of office.

 

Text copyright © 2016 by Carol Stone