The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He who dies with the most toys now loses!

(Tom Toles)
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Maybe you remember and maybe you don’t the phrase “He who dies with the most toys wins.” It has been attributed to Malcolm Forbes, but whoever said it deserves to be noted for being able to get it out while throwing up a little in the back of his mouth.

I write here occasionally about eras, because it has felt to me for some time that we are transitioning. But from what to what? It’s pretty clear where we’ve been. The Reagan Era, which I think will officially close with Donald Trump’s imminent wipeout. You can call it the Reagan Era, as I think that is historically fair, but I will think of it from now on as the “Throwing Up a Little in the Back of My Mouth” era.

It’s beyond debate that the nation got caught up in a romance with pure money itself. This is hardly a new thing in this country, but it is usually temperered by some lingering ethical queasiness about that root-of-all-evilry and the-best-things-in-life-are-freeisms. We had grown tired of talk of limits and having to feel guilty about everything and then President Sunshine gave us all permission to trade in our filthy hippies for some good old filthy lucre. It looked like a good trade, and trading was the new name of the game. Remember the stories about Our New Heroes: Day Traders! They made nothing BUT trades. T-shirted but wired, they rode the markets like a cowboy, determined to bust it like a bronco.

Eventually of course, most of them simply went bust, as eventually did our fantasy that somehow everybody would get rich, or at least everyone who ‘thought outside the box.’

Thinking outside the box meant replacing the old, unpleasant and unprofitable hippie kind of disruption with new, silicon-and-money-flavored disruption of ‘old industries’. Old industries were the box we were supposed to be thinking outside. But it turned out that most people were working inside those boxes, until the crash threw them out of their jobs and mortgages into literal boxes.

Whatever, I ramble. The point is that man does not live by that kind of bread alone, and the victors were too few, and they can’t enjoy their spoils anymore, because people are starting to hate them rather than envy them for all their obscene riches. The spoils have spoiled.

Now people are ready for something else. If there were any doubts remaining, Donald Trump succeeded in permanently tarnishing the glamour of the new Gilded Age to look like the tacky plated veneer it always was. There is a whole world of useful and rewarding work ahead of us, work that piled up while our eyes were dazzled by all the shiny things. A badly damaged planet in need of repair, a work-life-values system almost as out of balance as our climate, and a technology revolution that could be put to better purposes than unrelenting consumer diversion and owner money-grubbing.

My guess is that most everybody is ready for a new era when you are.