I’ve been confused about politics ever since Republican states became red states, which to me, growing up in the era of Red China, suggested commissars and gulags and thought control, which of course Utah and Texas and Georgia do not have. You can believe in God in those states, same as in blue states. Blue makes me think of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, but that’s another matter.
So as I watch anarchist conservatives battling nostalgic progressives, it all seems unreal. Our young people, burdened by college debt, work two and three jobs to stay afloat, thanks to dismally low wages as a tax plan rolls down the tracks that will richly reward the rich, a plan backed by the tycoon Mister McNasty, champion of the common man, as the young content themselves with Facebook and the fabulous narcissism it offers. Your own page, your followers keeping up on your daily doings, gazing at the hundreds of pictures you’ve taken of yourself, never mind that the prospects of you owning a home and having work that you love are getting dimmer.
I’m conservative. I feel that what is inherited — family, community, culture and language — is more crucial than what is acquired — tattoos, an Armani suit, a taste for artisan beers, a cat who loves you — and there are as many conservatives on the left as on the right, maybe even more. I want my daughter’s school bus driver to be conservative, obsessively checking his rearview mirrors, and not resenting the rules of the road as an infringement of his liberties. I’d like her English teacher to correct grammar and usage rather than urging the kids to write about their upbringings and never mind if they misspell “abysmal” or “horrendous.” I could go on.
My daughter dragged me to a school dance last week, a ’50s dance, and it was illuminating as most things with teenagers are. She didn’t care to dance with me because I am a postmodern dancer uninhibited by rhythm, so I got to sit and watch teenagers in 2017 going wild to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Fats Domino and it dawned on me that when rock-and-roll got all progressive and artistic and inward, something you listened to and tried to figure out what the lyrics meant, it lost the power to make people jump around and have a good time. My daughter was having a wild good time. The dead musicians were alive as could be and youth danced to their tunes with no sense of nostalgia.
I don't miss that music so much as I miss the card games I played long ago with my Republican in-laws. We disagreed about Nixon and trade unions, but we ignored that over games of gin rummy and Four Hundred and Hearts. The gentle small talk, the kidding — where did that go to? I think that's why people love cruise ships. They take you off the grid and recreate the slow stately life of a small town, like a floating lodge. You gather at the buffet or the bingo game and a little small talk leads to conversation, politics assiduously avoided.
I miss the sight of people reading newspapers, holding the big broadsheet up and poring over the contents. Radio and TV are amusements: The big page of gray type is where you connect to the world through real journalism. That’s where you find out we are heading toward an economy in which, thanks to Googlization, Facebooking, Amazoning, a great many people now gainfully employed will find themselves doing whatever they can scratch up for $7 an hour. I come from a family of six children raised by parents who absorbed the lessons of the Depression — make do, hold on, tend the garden — and we became an engineer, teacher, writer, lawyer, historian and development director. We all made homes, raised children, enjoyed our lives and our work, and have arrived at old age just in time to benefit from remarkable medical advances. We’re lucky.
I flew to Des Moines on Monday and my airport shuttle driver told me she works five jobs: driving, child care, janitorial, food prep and home health care. None of those offers health benefits. Her life is unpredictable from month to month. She is 31 and lives with her mother. I got the impression she had voted for McNasty. She surely had reason to be angry last November, but what happens to her now? I am feeling that having been born 75 years ago was the best option.
Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.
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