January 12, 2020. Today the NY Times reviewed a book, Tightrope-Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about Kristof's home town in rural Oregon where he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. Here is an excerpt from  the review:


 "One in four of Kristof’s former peers died in adulthood from substance-abuse disorders, suicide, accidents or treatable health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. “Tightrope” suggests why: a corrupt and uniquely cruel economy in which millions of underpaid or underemployed Americans cannot afford education, health care or housing. Familiar statistics on these dismal trends take on fresh urgency when juxtaposed with photos of Kristof’s schoolmates who are now homeless or dead."


I was struck by the difference between Kristof's experience (not the reviewer's editorial comments) and my experience growing up in a rural community in south Arkansas in the 1940s and1950s. So here goes.....
One hundred and thirty four kids were in the graduating class of 1955 and since then we have had maybe ten reunions and have kept fairly good tabs on one another. Our 65th reunion will be held this spring and it may be the last one....who knows. Our class records show that about 55% of the class remained in Arkansas, 25% found homes in Texas, 5% in Louisiana, and the rest scattered from California to Alabama.  Interestingly only two of us settled in the Midwest and none in the east. All got married to partners of the opposite sex, held down full time jobs, most raised families, and have done at least moderately well economically. Almost all attended Protestants churches through high school. Of course over the years there were divorces, problems, and heartbreaks, but no known cases of substance-abuse, no suicides, no time spent in prison, or cases of morbid obesity.  Of the deceased almost all were taken by cancer or heart disease. We lost contact with three or four classmates, but even if the lost ones all committed suicide or live in tents our percentage of lost souls would not come close to Kristof's defunct mates.


I reject the assertion in the review, where the blame is placed on "...a corrupt and uniquely cruel economy in which millions of underpaid or underemployed Americans cannot afford education, health care or housing."  Some of my classmates grew up in homes without indoor plumbing and in families where the bread winner earned less than $50 per week and some girls came to school in dresses made from flour sacks, but family ties were strong.  During the war years there were two doctors in the entire county and Federal agents shot one them in 1943. The economic opportunities and health care today are enormously better than the rural south in my youth.  Student loans for college were unheard of back then. 

 In the 10th grade I began working  after school, Saturdays, and summers at a grocery store saving enough to pay for my first year of college, but not enough to purchase an automobile. I continued to work summers, but my parents came to my aid for the remaining three years. During the summer of my junior year I purchased an old Ford for $100, my first wheels.  Those without family resources for college scratched around the best they could....all of us became self sufficient without government assistance. I don't suggest that government aid is necessarily counterproductive, but if Humpty Dumpty is shattered government aid will just rearrange the pieces; those sine spe recuperandi need something else.

 Kristof's home town probably is dysfunctional and his peers broken, but we need to dig a bit deeper to find the root causes...and remedy.

 January 13, 2020. I related the information above and posed the question of cause of the social decline in the US to several wise old heads that gather at the break room at the local bank. They too grew up in this community and agreed with my assessment about life here in the 40s and 50s. We concluded that the major cause of our national decline began with the Vietnam War. The drug culture, the loss of trust in national institutions, and spread of alienation all began with that war.  Of course there are other factors, but the downward spiral of society began with Vietnam.

But as to where we go from here, they demurred. As Tom Wolfe famously noted, you can't go home again....I'll add: it ain't there.  And going forward? .....  "All the king's horses and all the king's men. Couldn't put Humpty together again."

Most of the poison that debilitated Kristof's peers and our society originated  in Democratic policy. To suggest that shattered Humpty needs more poison is a position  that could only form in   a liberal mind.

-JJ