By Kenneth Woodward
I have a job, but I understand that my company will soon lay off 500 people. My wife lost her job. I think about our home with its ARM for the mortgage. I see foreclosure signs on many of the houses in the neighborhood. I pay our bills. I worry about my children at school. I think about the high cost of gasoline and groceries. I think about our credit card debt with the high interest rate. I know we are in a recession, but I don’t know what is coming next.
I understand that other countries are on the verge of bankruptcy and have been told, if they fail we too will follow. I keep hearing about the trillions of dollars of our national debt which will become the responsibility of my children and their children. I understand that big financial institutions and corporations have trillions of dollars in reserve. My friend who watches the stock market told me that oil companies and banks this year have made profits greater than ever before. I think about who caused all of this misery for the citizens of our community. I know that I didn’t have anything to do with it, nor did the wonderful people who live here.
Where do I go from here and what is going to happen to my family and friends and my community? We have no access to those in power and those who make the decisions. They infrequently appear in our midst at election time; speak a few platitudes, ask for alms and our votes, then move on. My friends and I, and our community are not fooled…we know that other people with money and agendas have special access the year round to these politicians. Even foreign governments appear on the door step of our national capitol with hat in hand and walk away with billions; while many of our schools and communities are in financial straits.
My friends and I understand only too well that the foundation of our community was local industry, small businesses and education. Our nation grew and prospered for over 200 years on the backs of these essential services, and then, cloaked in the powerful slogan of “globalization,” great financial forces began ripping industry, our national treasure, from its moorings and shipping it overseas. Now we don’t know what to do or where it is going to take us.
I do know what our American values are supposed to be; patriotism, fair play, respect for the law and individual rights, honesty and personal integrity, moderation, truthfulness, respect for tradition and ceremony, spiritual values and rugged individualism. These were taught to me by my parents, teachers, and church. I try to match these values with our leaders and their associates who are supposed to respect the Constitution and diligently attend to our nation’s political agenda and all aspects of the people’s business, but I find them greatly wanting. This is an all pervasive attitude with my friends and community.
In this millennium, I am told, our great republic will be 300 years of age. No other democratic-republic, such as ours, has survived beyond 100 years, consequently there is no model that we can consult that will tell us what eventually happens beyond this point in time. Perhaps age brings on a neglect and a lack of respect for political institutions. Maybe excesses of greed, corruption and selfish interests slowly disintegrates the core values of a democracy. Or conceivably, continuous gridlock permeates the halls of the law makers, making it impossible to move ahead with the nation’s business; which, at that point in time many of the 50 states of our union may find it to their advantage to simply walk away.
My family, my friends and our community look at the wonderful gift that was handed to us by our founding fathers: a republic, a democracy and a constitution, and realize, maybe too late, how badly we have abused it.
Kenneth Woodward is director of the Guy B. Woodward Museum at 645 Main St.