Monday, August 7, 2017

Life As I Knew It

Thirty-six years-and-one-night ago, I was at my desk at the theater where I was the artistic director, signing off on contracts for the coming season. We had just had the annual meeting, and I had spent a good part of the day and night running around like a headless chicken. There were no desktop computers to speak of in those days. I operated with an electric typewriter and a Xerox machine; I had a secretary whom I shared with other department heads, and she did remarkable things like take dictation, type stuff up, and keep me on track when stuff was due. Having worked as my dad's fill-in secretary for several summers, I appreciated what she did and marveled at how she did it. 

Back to almost midnight.

I was tired and cranky and wanted to go home. I looked at the stack of contracts and knew they would be there in the morning when I came back for the staff meeting/port mortem at 9:30. I did the one thing I swore I would never do: I left a messy desk. 

An hour later, I was tiptoeing into our flat...but that was pointless; Ziggy was up reading. We talked, I shucked my smelly clothes in favor of a clean, giant t-shirt and went to wash up. At the very moment I strolled casually into the bathroom, my life changed forever and ever and ever.

My water broke.
Tough day at Brit Milah

Within hours, someone handed me the break-dancing baby we'd been calling Fred for those past 9 months. We immediately changed his name to Moshe Lev for my grandfather and Ziggy's grandfather. Life as we knew it had ended. 

Fast forward thirty-six years. 

I'm not going to talk about all the things I learned from being a mother. That's prosaic and, quite frankly, boring. Instead, let's talk about the world then and the world now.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan was president. The Iran hostage crisis was still going on. Reagan was not representative of the things we believed in, but he was president and he seemed to surround himself with competent advisors. Or not. We sorta stood by and watched with amazement as people bought into voodoo economics. My dad loved Ronny Raygun, but even he couldn't quite grasp how Reaganomics could possibly work. 

It didn't. 

On the face of it, things looked pretty good.  But underneath was a vastly different story. The national debt went from  $997 billion to $2.85 trillion, turning the US from the largest creditor nation into the largest debtor nation. The federal deficit went from 3.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in fiscal year 1982 to a peak of 5.9% of GDP in 1983. It would eventually fall, but it would not truly come down until Bush 41 took office. Federal spending was 21.6% of the GDP up from 20.3% while income tax revenue fell from 9.1% GDP in 1981 to 7.5% GDP in 1984. In other words, the numbers show us why the national debt ballooned. 
Job growth by U.S. President, measured as cumulative percentage change from 
month after inauguration to end of term. (chart by Farcaster)

Clinton did a better job with the economy, and then we got to watch Bush 43 bungle the economy into a huge hole. In the graph, you can see job growth by president. Clearly, some did better than others. This is not a surprise, this is not an indictment, this is math. Okay?

Now that I've set that up I want to talk about what we thought when the Senior Son was born. We thought the economy would ebb and flow. We thought that with Ziggy's work in super-computing, he would always have job security. We believed that we would do better than our parents, and we would give our kid a good foundation for being a responsible and ethical adult. 

As life goes by, so do governments. We began to see a shift toward untenable semantics under Clinton. This was a new kind of prevarication, a lie that wasn't quite a lie but really was a a blow-job the same as having sex? I'm not answering that question, but the peccadilloes of powerful men were suddenly front page news. Used to be people had affairs and it rarely made it into the news. Case in point, randy Franklin Roosevelt. Seems he had a chain of them. JFK? I'm not sure I even want to know. And here's the thing....I don't care. What I did care about was that it became a distraction and a ruse. It diverted attention from the business of government. It became personal. And it was mean. 

Personal and mean. That was a warning shot we all missed. From the moment they started running after Princess Diana, the cult of the paparazzi was taking control of the media. We stopped seeing news and started seeing personal crap that wasn't any of our business unless it was screwing up the government. Monica Lewinsky was not trying to run the government from under Bill's desk. Did anyone really give a damn if Hillary didn't bake cookies? Politics would be changed forever by the shrinking news cycle. The more connected we became, the higher the demand for instant, prurient gratification. 

By the time we lived through Bush 43, we were wondering what was happening to this country. Ziggy and I began to think about where we wanted to end up and would the kids want to come along. They were close to being adults; they would make decisions on their own. Still....Ziggy saw the beginning of the assault on the Constitution taking root under this barrage of questionable information, and worried about being the only one who saw it. He was not. He was very much alive for Barack Obama's first campaign, and he got to see this degradation in action. We were both disgusted by what we saw coming from the right wing. Hatred of the other filled the airwaves. Here we had the chance to have an educated, erudite guy lead our country after your basic confederacy of dunces, and instead of being relieved, we were terrified. The anti-Muslim rhetoric, the neo-racisim, the garbage out of the mouths of Bachmann and Palin even after the election was over. The attacks were just plain racist. There was no other way to describe it. The birth business was demoralizing; and it was evil. Somehow, we managed to elect President Obama, and for a moment we hoped the hate would stop.

Then Ziggy was dying and I stopped caring. 

For 8 years I watched our country devolve from a place that welcomed the tired, the poor, those yearning to breathe free to something closed-off and closed-minded. 

Then the electioneering for 2016 started. Instead of civil discourse about policy domestic and international trade, we were treated to name calling, tales of pussy-grabbing, smoke and mirrors on emails and tax returns, and lie after lie about stupid things like crowd size. Really? 

Sometimes, I try to imagine what Ziggy would say about this past election and the toddler-in-chief. Instead of a ticket to Tel-Aviv, I would be pricing tickets to New Zealand while he'd be checking on who he was going to work for once we got there. 

And I think about the newly-married Senior Son, the Junior son and his family, and I wonder: what world are we handing to Little Miss and any other grandkiddies that happen along? The world we once believed to be full of hope and promise seems to be folding in on itself. Will the air be breathable and the water potable? Will we have been tossed out because we are not Christian? I listen to the rhetoric and I cannot help but wonder.

Please to be understanding I'm not talking about Democrats and Republicans. I am talking about We, the People and our national character. What does it say about us when even one of us tosses a bomb through a window of a building where people are praying and the White House remains silent? What message are we sending the world when our president gloats to the Wall Street Journal in an interview how the national leader of they Boy Scouts called to tell him his was the greatest speech he ever heard:
TRUMP: ... from the time I walked out on the stage — because I know. And by the way, I’d be the first to admit mixed. I’m a guy that will tell you mixed. There was no mix there. That was a standing ovation from the time I walked out to the time I left, and for five minutes after I had already gone. There was no mix.

WSJ: Yeah, there was a lot of supporters in the arena.

TRUMP: And I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful. So there was — there was no mix. 
Only there was no call. In fact, there was an apology from the Boy Scouts' chief executive, Mike Surbaugh, for the political rhetoric injected into the Jamboree. You can read it FROM THE CHIEF: OUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE PRESIDENTIAL VISIT.

That happens to speak directly to my concerns. What are we telling our kids? To earn lots of money and do stuff on a yacht that is unsuitable conversation for Boy Scouts? Or are we telling them close the doors, lower the shades, and hide the welcome mats because a boogeyman is out there? 

That's not what I want to tell my grown-up kids.

I want to tell my boys...and their wives....and Little Miss....that character counts. That We, the People have a national character that sure ain't perfect, but it wasn't supposed to breed hatred. We are supposed to grow and move forward on those things. We're supposed to understand We, the People, were strangers in this land and we treated it horribly. We are supposed to have learned from that. We are supposed to welcome those tired and poor yearning to breathe free because that's who we once were. At the same time, we have to respect and make amends to the peoples whose lands we took and whose lives we destroyed with slavery and racial hatred. It's all hard work but it can and must be done. 

Yes, we have made progress, but we are in danger of undoing it all. Preaching hatred of the other from the halls of our government destroys who we strive to be. If we lose that theoretical foundation of who we are, what are we?  If we don't stand up for ethics now, how do we explain NOT standing up to the next generation? Will we be doing the German National Apology dance because we allowed another Holocaust to happen?

What world are we leaving our kids, our grandkids, our great-grandkids?

If you don't have an answer, you need to find one in your head and in your heart. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Hillel says: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? 
But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" 
                                                Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14


  1. You said: "In 1981, Ronald Reagan was president. The Iran hostage crisis was still going on."

    Misleading to put it mildly. Reagan was President in 1981. The hostage crisis did still exist in 1981. However, the overlap was mere minutes. The Iranians waited until Reagan was inaugurated at noon on 1/20/81 to release the hostages as a final f-u to Jimmy Carter.

    1. Not misleading, but accurate. When Reagan was elected, the hostages were still hostages. It wasn't until _after_ he was sworn in 1981 that it was resolved. To have said otherwise would've been misleading.