To the president-elect

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My adult life has included the time from the Reagan presidency to now. In that time, we have had three (and now, probably, four) economic downturns so severe that job creation did not merely fail to keep up with population growth, but in which the economy shed jobs.

We have been lied to about the economy, using statistics that are manipulated to hide the real pain, casting the underemployed and the long-term unemployed from the numbers as if they weren’t wanting work. “Core inflation” excludes food and energy, as if they were unimportant. What poppycock.

Economists celebrate the business cycle; it weeds out inefficiency, they say, and allows resources, including human beings, to be put to better use. But good jobs have been exported to other countries and what jobs have replaced them pay a third or less. Efficiency, we know, means more money for the rich, and less for everyone else.

The United States of my lifetime is not a land of opportunity, unless you are already wealthy. But for the wealthy, who can transmit their capital to places with the lowest wages and the least regulations and shift it again at a whim, it has been a world of ever-increasing reward. We pretend to reward merit, but workers have not received gains commensurate with their productivity and we have somehow come to believe that upper management really and truly is worth several hundred times the average worker.

Free trade, I keep hearing, has brought prosperity to more people all around the world. More than what, I wonder. I certainly haven’t seen it. Rather, a phrase like “free trade” must be interrogated: “free” for whom? Because it certainly isn’t free for me.

But more fundamental than the economy, I am tired of the lies. Throughout our history, we have killed and been killed for lies, in war after war after war, and for what? So hegemony can maintain a now-sinking standard of living at the expense of the rest of the world? So exceptionalism can perpetuate a myth that the “American way” is the best way for all people in all lands?

But I’m not rich. And I’m not powerful. So it isn’t for me that these benefits accrue. But if I were twenty years younger, it would be me who would be asked to waste my life and my sanity. For a lie in a series of lies.

In this time also, I have had to share the governance of this country with people who are intolerant of others, with people who blame the poor for their own problems, with people who think that the earth is unimportant, with people who think killing and abuse are all right, as long as it isn’t them. I am sick of the hypocrisy.

So President-Elect Obama. You claim to be about change. Change we can believe in, if I recall the slogan correctly. Tell me some truth.

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