Lifelong Learning

In the 2000’s, the American Dream faded for millions of Americans. As the 2016 presidential election approached, work rates were at their lowest levels in decades. Millions of people had dropped out of the work force and income insecurity grew. An opioid epidemic of pain pills and heroin spread across white America often funded by Medicaid and disability insurance, which had become long-term unemployment insurance for many. A study showed that nearly half of all working-age male labor-force dropouts—about 7 million men—took pain medication daily.

Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies.” Suicide, chronic liver cirrhosis and drug overdoses account for much of the increase in death rates.

Many felt left behind in a world that moved faster than most of us could keep up with. Millions no longer trusted politicians, government or America’s institutions. People felt angry, afraid and anxious because America was not going in the right direction for them. Their lives were difficult and getting harder.

The time was perfect for Donald Trump. He promised he would “make America great again.” He would withdraw from globalization. He would bring manufacturing jobs home. And he would give great health care to everyone. He would build physical and psychological walls to keep Muslims and Hispanics out. He called them criminals and terrorists. I call them poor and powerless, mostly women and children, in search of a safe-haven.

Citizens didn’t have to be anxious about climate change: it was a Chinese hoax. Trump would get rid of the EPA, eliminate regulations, exploit our national parks and national monuments and double down on consuming finite resources. If facts and truth got in the way, we would use alternative facts: truth and reality would be what we wanted them to be. Fantasized wishes and opinions would replace science. Together we could create our own imaginary world and live happily ever after. Life would be great.

Working class Americans felt “heard” by Trump. Millions so wanted to believe in him. Their desire to believe clouded their judgement, emotion trumped reason and the unfit and needy con man who lies more than he tells the truth became president.

Today only a few months into his presidency, Trump’s lies cover up his picking the pockets of the American people. Trump betrays those who voted for him and he and Republicans in Congress will continue to cater to the wealthy–indifferent to the suffering of everyone else. His biggest lie was about “healthcare for everyone.” His plan takes healthcare from 23 million Americans and is more a transfer of wealth from everyday Americans to the richest two percent of us than a healthcare plan.

Millions need to deal with addiction.  Trump made combating the nation’s drug-overdose problem a focal point of his presidency. “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth,” he said… “and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted .” Trumpcare will, in all probability, reduce funding for treatment for Opioid addiction when the nation needs it the most.

More lies will be exposed: Globalization isn’t going away; we must be engaged in the world. Manufacturing jobs will not return; coal miners won’t get their jobs back. Climate change is real and we better get honest about the dangers: wars, famines, mass migrations and economic collapse. Walls won’t protect us, alternative facts won’t make reality go away and opioids, heroin and alcohol won’t restore purpose and meaning to our lives—only values, purpose and meaningful work will do that. Trump’s “make America great again” is a road to decline.

We can think of working class Americans as canaries in the coal mine. The issues that drove them to Trump may one day be everyone’s issues, their stories may be our stories. No group or economic class will be immune from the greed, selfishness and the lust for power of the Trump’s of the world. They have no loyalties other than to their own ego’s. We have to say “NO” to “Trumpism” and the dark side of humanity that he symbolizes if we want to have any dreams in America.

We need to be aware of two highly probable future realities: Technology will continue to evolve rapidly and many great advancements will come from robotics, biogenics, nano-technology and artificial intelligence. But technology has a dark side that we need to manage: addiction, distraction, the loss of freedom and the loss of our humanity. And unemployment and income insecurity in the working class alert us to a future that will affect almost everyone. In the decades ahead, massive numbers of people will lose their jobs to technology: lawyers, doctors and accountants along with cab drivers and clerks. Some jobs will become obsolete; others will be done by robots, machines and workers in other nations. We need to adapt.

Thomas Friedman in his book Thanks for Being Late wrote that we must become lifelong learners: we must continually learn new things and develop new skills if we want to even begin to keep up with change and have a place in the future. To be employable from now on, we must reinvent ourselves throughout our lives–life is learning.

Lifelong learning might strike us as a small fix to complex challenges today and in the decades ahead. But the impact of valuing learning and weaving learning processes into the fabric of all aspects of life: you, me, our schools, our organizations, our communities and our local, state and national government and institutions would bring forth massive creativity, evolve our capabilities and prepare us for a future life more different than most of us can imagine today. Such change will require a well-balanced mix of government help and personal drive and responsibility. The alternative might be spending our productive years sitting in front of screens stoned on drugs and living on a small stipend or disability check (See: Homo Deus by Yuval Harari for more about the future of work and massive unemployment).

But we need to do more than just develop new job skills. We must also learn how to navigate difficult changes easier and faster. Friedman wrote, “Every society and every community must compound the rate at which it reimagines and reinvents its social technologies, because our physical technologies will not likely be slowing anytime soon.”

I used the work of William Bridges to manage external change and the internal emotional transitions that accompany external changes and must be guided if we want changes to be implemented well. A deeper understanding of change helps people make changes easier and faster and also helps people tolerate uncertainty and cope with chaos and complexity better. If you or your organization can change easier and faster, you will have a competitive advantage.

Daniel Quinn wrote in Ishmael: Perhaps the flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live. We need to do more than learn new job skills and learn how to change faster. We need to learn how to live differently. Our way of life and our existence as a species is threatened by our addictive consumption of the earth’s biomass. Earth is over-populated and we cannot sustain our way of life for much longer. Either we will change or we will not. Either way, something spectacular is going to happen soon.

We must see reality clearly and we must create new, positive stories for our collective future and unite around them. Then we can leave Trumpism behind and consider it a bad episode in America’s history.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Lifelong Learning

  1. Excellent analysis, Tom. The saddest part of Trump’s election was the false hope he injected into the desperate lives of people in pain. They – the downtrodden and forgotten – saw him as a savior who would lead them to the Promised Land. In reality, he was just another bad narcotic, offering a few random feel-good moments that masked the emptiness of their despair. They had a symbiotic, codependent relationship, Trump and his base. They lifted each other up in a shared illusion that greatness was on its way. Some of them have caught on that it was all a sham. Most haven’t yet. Denial is a powerful opioid. As his kingdom crumbles in Washington, Trump will surely return to his hinterland rallies in the days ahead. Time for another mutual fix. Like all drugs, the Trump euphoria will eventually bottom out. That’s when the time will be ripe for an intervention, an opportunity to reach out to these misled “forgotten people,” and persuade them that meaningful change doesn’t come from a false prophet; it comes from within, and from working together to create a better world.

  2. One of the saddest things to me about everything you’ve written here is that it’s very difficult to create new, positive stories for folks whose most desperate desire is to return to “how things used to be.” I really am worried about what will happen to millions of Americans when they discover that the man they believe in so fiercely will not only be unable to bring back their jobs, but will also slash the benefits so many of them rely on. And you’re right that it’s something we must confront — now — as a society. Just last week a senior executive of my company explained that within five years he expects to need only 40% of the current staff because of computer programs and automation. And these are highly skilled folks we’re talking about: actuaries, analysts, underwriters. Made redundant in FIVE YEARS. It’s scary to consider how quickly the world is changing, and how ill-equipped we are to adapt.

  3. Nice analysis, Tom and also Bruce. Sometimes “hitting bottom” is a very rough experience. When the Trumpeters catch on to the fact that their man is a hollow”high” what will they do then? What will they do when they start living with the massive cuts to social programs the GOP is enacting through the budget and the AHCA? Do you think we will be presented with a leadership choice in 2020? Perhaps Mother Earth will make all of us pay for our excesses. As you noted, “something spectacular is going to happen soon.” I try not to live in fear one day at a time. I also try to laugh at mess in Washington — they couldn’t write a movie script this good.

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