Fort Report: The Meadows

Oct 6, 2017
Fort Report

As I approached the door of my DC office recently, I noticed a large crowd of men in camouflaged t-shirts waiting outside.  We see a number of constituent groups and sometimes they stack up in the hallway.  As I got closer, I noticed that on the front of their shirts it read, United Mine Workers. I thought, “That’s unusual to see Nebraskans representing mine workers.”  It turns out that they were waiting for my neighbor who represents Kentucky.  Nevertheless, I greeted them and we began a very meaningful conversation about work, security, and fairness.  

These men had spent their lives in hard jobs.  I’m sure they proudly toiled to create reasonable livings for their families.  They all now showed the signs of physical fatigue.  They were in Washington to make a plea for their pensions, which are facing dramatic reductions.  A similar situation exists in Nebraska for another group of workers. 

These men worked for a guarantee: that they would be provided for--when they could work no more.  But, given a confluence of factors, their pensions face a dramatic shortfall, and it’s not fair.  I lived for two years in the area where these men come from, in a town that had lost half its population in twenty years, in the old industrial Rust Belt, where the post-WWII economic boom built a thriving, stable community, and now where globalized supply-side theory has had its most dramatic degenerating economic effect. I said to them, “You know, I know where you come from.”  One of the men and I hugged.

Our country is in pain. Epic hurricanes and floods, escalating urban violence, an opioid epidemic among those self-medicating their own mental, physical, and financial anguish, a broken health care construct, the after-effects of a bitterly fought election, and, now, another mass shooting, have torn America’s heart. 

In a vibrantly healthy society, there is space for marketplace fluidity, creativity, and innovation.  A person with an idea and the drive should be free to pursue it.  The benefits accrue to the innovator, the buyer, the community, and those who give their effort.   A healthy economy is both individualistic and community-oriented at the same time.  Innovation and competition can be disruptive, but they must be set within a fair set of rules.  When a system stacks to the wealthiest, or is outsourced by faceless corporations in the name of advancing quarterly profits--exploiting the poor elsewhere and damaging the environment--it sets in motion a series of things: lost jobs, lost community cohesion, and a breakdown of life stability.   Tie this to a loss of the formative institutions of family life, faith life, and civic life and we drift without a national narrative that holds overtime, making it much more difficult to respond holistically, in the midst of tragedy, to events like the senseless horror of Las Vegas.  

As a practical policy matter, we will undertake appropriate measures to regulate or ban so-called bump stocks, which allowed an unhinged person to create an illegal weapon that showered bullets on unsuspecting concert-goers. A deeper response is also required.   In my own anger after the shootings, I had this to say to reporters outside the House chamber, which Time Magazine reported:  "You all in the media are unwilling to look at this in a broader way. Look at the violent imagery that's all around us in our society. You go turn on the television in primetime and see heinous murder — and we expect that none of this is going to have an effect? The media profits off of violence and then reacts with outrage when there's a violent act."

In Spanish, the word “Las Vegas” means "the meadows,” a restful, lovely, and inviting place. Can we move beyond all this brokenness to regain our optimism? The selfless acts of so many country music fans point to our answer.