After four debates and with a tsunami of political advertising inundating the United States, it is clear that neither presidential candidate is willing to act decisively on what should be the most pressing issue of our day: student loan debt. Democrats offer crumbs. Republicans even can’t be bothered to pander to young voters. Yet no other issue so neatly encapsulates the miseries of contemporary American existence. An entire generation of smart, educated people are being crippled with debt. Without some sort of relief, upward mobility will vanish, the gap between rich and poor will yawn wider, our economy will be left in ruins, and what’s left of our once vaunted ability to innovate will die. The parasite is killing the host.
America should be more open than ever. Women and minorities are no longer excluded from high-earning professions and, if you are willing to take on the debt, a university education is more accessible than ever before. But if anything America is less egalitarian than it once was. The income gap between rich and poor has been growing since the 1970s. More worrying than that, a permanent class system seems to be calcifying into place: people born rich are getting richer, while the poor stay poor. America’s elite has found a way to protect and perpetuate itself within what should be an inclusive system.
SHORT literary fiction and critical essays are the publishing world’s equivalent of weapons-grade plutonium. Dense, highly refined, and for all but a professional few, something best avoided. The world’s demand for the stuff is met by a handful of respectable quarterlies, such as the Paris Review and Granta, and countless “little magazines” that publish experimental fiction and serve more as a proving ground for authors than something people actually read.
In the 1970s it was unusual to see wealthy families on television. The Jeffersons with their deluxe apartment in the sky, the occasional rich couple flitting over to “Fantasy Island” or booking a cruise on “The Love Boat”—these were the exceptions. But as the economy accelerated, mass culture was suddenly inundated with images of affluence. The wave hit around 1981, as the economy slowly recovered from the stagnant wages and inflation of the 1970s. Rabbit Angstrom, John Updike’s scampering everyman, began to make serious money on his appreciating property and selling Toyotas on his father-in-law’s lot in Rabbit is Rich; Joan Collins joined the cast of “Dynasty” as the splendid and venomous Alexis; and the second edition of The Official Preppy Handbook came out, gently mocking but also instructing a peculiar subculture of well-coiffed, pastel-hue wearing teenagers who wanted to look as if they summered on Cape Cod and worked on Wall Street.
There is a junk store a few doors down from my house. Actually it isn’t even a store; it is just an alley with a tarp stretched over it and a chicken wire gate in front to protect the merchandise, which is mostly old furniture and baby things.
There used to be a guard dog chained to the gate. His name was Roscoe. I detest dogs, for the most part, but Roscoe wasn’t bad. He was beautiful. A pit bull with a pink muzzle and fur that was mostly white but had a faint orange hue. Roscoe was ferocious; terrifying, the streetlamp was out on his side of the street and at night he would hurl himself against the fence if you so much as looked in his direction, let alone walk past him.
We vet families and can bar them from joining the Op – but once they leave our sphere of influence, the Op must seize control and wield kin as clandestine cover. But the pliant, detached creatures we select for foreign assignment are not householders by nature. Much as we suffer the consequences, and much as it might be humane to do so, we simply cannot execute our children without risking accusations of profound hypocrisy and international outcry.