A shared reality is a tenuous thing. The adversarial nature of this country makes it difficult for any of us to share much of anything at all. We largely understand individual identity as a series of manufactured group statuses. We are led by an elite class that, by its design, is incapable of understanding the problems of the masses even if it wanted to, which it mostly does not, as it creates those problems in the first place. Most of us have no time to even consider navigating any of this, and those who do rarely operate with anything other than misinformed self-interest.
In other words, what even is reality on a good day? I don’t know, but I do know that the time between understanding and forgetting has shrunk considerably. For example, in response to the president’s student loan forgiveness program, Susan Collins said this:
“President Biden’s decision, however, to cancel student debt for couples making as much as $250,000 is inherently unfair to millions of hardworking Americans who chose not to pursue higher education; paid their own way to attend a community college, trade school, or certificate program; or paid off their student loans. Essentially, the President is requiring a hardworking logger to subsidize a graduate of Yale who is earning far more but has student loans.”
Jared Golden echoed Collins’ sentiment, saying of loan forgiveness, “It is out of step with the needs and values of working-class Americans, and I do not support the president’s decision.”
This is a popular and backward argument. There is no point to a society that doesn’t set newer and better standards, but somehow there are those who believe that hardships suffered by those in the past should be suffered by everyone, always, now and forever. Those people have already won the argument, even in the president’s victory. While it is certainly a good thing that some people are receiving much-needed debt relief, a crisis is nowhere near averted. As Nina Turner tweeted, “Student debt is a $1.9 trillion crisis. Reducing it to $1.7 trillion isn’t solving the crisis.”
That’s the understanding. Now here comes the forgetting.
Our previous president paused student loans. At the time, people demanded he cancel student debt outright, but he refused, cowering behind his half-measure. He was rightfully criticized, and as the debt pause continued, no banks suffered and people flourished. [As a quick reminder, our previous president is the single greatest disaster to happen to this country in several generations, and he continues to be our current president’s main rival.]
The obvious game-winning strategy for our current president would be to cancel student debt, let the flourishing continue, and sail past his adversary to an easy victory in 2024. Instead, he decided the pathetic half-measure was too much. Many of his supporters — people who have been living with this debt having been canceled, in effect, for two and a half years, and who would’ve been rightfully outraged if the previous president had done this — well, they couldn’t be happier to start paying again. As this “relief” plan only applies to those with loans borrowed before July, I wonder if they’ll notice how quickly this crisis balloons back up to $1.9 trillion and beyond.
The reality break doesn’t stop there. Remember COVID? From what I’ve been seeing lately, probably not. Under the previous president we got vaccines, testing sites, safety restrictions and shutdowns. He also claimed he would beat the pandemic while undermining all efforts to do so. We all understood at the time that all those efforts weren’t near good enough to begin with — even without his meddling — and so he was rightfully criticized, especially after catching COVID himself.
Under our current president (who also caught COVID between claims of beating the pandemic) almost all of those deficient efforts apparently afforded us too much protection, as they’re now entirely gone. COVID continues to kill, maim, evolve and deplete the country’s workforce to crisis levels across nearly all industries, inevitably leading to another immeasurable catastrophe.
Have I mentioned federal funding for police, inflated by our current president to a new high, resulting in a record number of killings by cops? The immigration crisis? The climate crisis? Roe v Wade? I could go on, but I’m not that bleak.
I was raised to believe that each party represented different views of our shared national interests. But as the parties race to the bottom I wonder what this country can be when we’re so far past sharing reality.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller. He is also a contributor to the bestselling How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling, from The Moth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.