No tomorrow

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange says that watching the videos of Christmas shoppers makes him feel a little gloomy.

(LANGE) In 1863, halfway through a horrible war, dozens of battles and thousands of deaths still lay ahead; but the end was inevi-
table. Moved mainly by the sense of relief that at last there was hope of victory, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving, a feast to recount all the blessings enjoyed by the nation.

It’s safe to say that fewer people nowadays spend Thanksgiving in gratitude to Providence than in reading the sales sheets inserted into the newspapers. The next day has become the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, a day that makes or breaks many retailers. Thus the fliers with announcements of sales designed to grab a large share of early Christmas shoppers.

By now we’ve all seen the television footage of the predawn openings of large retail stores the morning after Thanksgiving Day: excited shoppers stampeding through the doors like the bulls of Pamplona, sometimes even trampling those who’ve fallen. They act like earthquake survivors, chasing a helicopter bearing relief supplies. But it’s just electronic gadgets they’re after. Instead of muslin bags or baskets, they’re carrying credit cards and coupons.

It’s not a pretty picture of America; and it’s been seen all over the world, which is embarrassing. You’d think we citizens of the one current superpower in the world, and its model for democracy, would behave with more dignity and intelligence.

What’s wrong with the picture is the credit cards the shoppers are carrying. Americans’ personal debt is at an all-time high, and personal savings at an all-time low. We no longer save for what we want, but charge our purchases to credit cards, at ruinous interest rates. It’s hard not to wonder what, if anything, is going on in the minds of so many who let themselves in for that.

Interest rates and energy prices are rising. The invasion of Iraq has cost billions of dollars. Congress is cutting services to the poorest and continuing tax breaks to the richest. Our priorities bespeak ignorance, desperation, or cynicism. It would be easy to be cynical.

There’s a perception that whoever’s in charge of this vessel is incompetent, asleep at the wheel, or compromised. Federal contracts appear to be hemorrhaging waste and mismanagement. Congress is perceived as “For Sale.”

A New Yorker article notes that, while any mutual fund manager who beats the market by three percent is reckoned a genius, Congressmen beat it by about twelve per cent. You’ve got to wonder how they do that.

Many nations are deep in discussions of global warming. The United States is pretending it isn’t happening. Many Americans actually believe environmental concerns unimportant because the apocalypse is imminent. They are relatively harmless. But others, in our government, act as though they believe it. They’re dangerous.

Meanwhile, the shoppers thunder through the doors, spending as if there’s no tomorrow. As, one of these days, there won’t be.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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