A 5-foot-8-inch plastic Jesus in tan robe and white shroud stood gallantly outside the House side of the U.S. Capitol last week.
Hundreds of school students crowded past him, along with members of Congress, lobbyists and dozens of heavily armed Capitol Police pacing around in SWAT formation.
The statue was so lifelike that, if you didn’t look closely, you might think he was real. Yet, if many passersby noticed plastic Jesus, it wasn’t readily apparent.
A striking metaphor for our age: a flutter of youth, energy and power passing the everyman, the lowly carpenter, without blinking.
We still are a country of everymen (and women), but disruptive economic change and bipolar politics have shifted us away from doers and toward intellectuals at an alarming clip in the past two decades. That shift escalated to a frenzy in the past eight years.
The "us and them" gap has escalated general mistrust; it has isolated our society’s doers and makers from those who hold wealth and power.
This isn’t just about politics anymore; it is about values. Our nation is at odds with the intellectual elite in wealthy, urban and academic enclaves, who now control the engines of industry. To the rest of us, those engines are not robust machines; they’re like little red tricycles.
The evidence could not have been clearer than when the Labor Department reported Friday that our unemployment rate went up and our hourly wages rose only 0.3 percent in the private sector.
It was a blunt reminder to Wall Street and the White House that their message of brisk national economic momentum rings hollow to the rest of us.
We’ve all known for a long time that this economy — built on apps (which might employ three people), "green" jobs (they don’t exist, people), social sustainability (still don’t know what that does), and trying to build a middle class by forcing companies to pay $15 an hour — is a house of cards.
Today’s economy is all about convenience, but that convenience comes at a price.
Grocery shopping? Self-checkout. Travel plans? Dozens of websites will compare every motel and hotel known to man to suit your budget; same for airlines and car rentals. Apps will mark every gluten-free/vegan/free-range/local-grown/food-to-table restaurant within a five-block radius of your destination, so you can carbon-footprint-transfer it (walk) there — after you read the sanctimonious reviews at the bottom of the app, of course.
All of these conveniences, via the iPhone or watch from which you can’t detach yourself, come at a big price: jobs.
Somebody once checked out your groceries, filled your bags, found a hotel for you, booked your airline, checked you in or out at the airport. Not anymore.
We used to make stuff in this country, too. But that has been driven overseas by union and corporate greed or by the environmental elites.
There’s a reason that, last week, much of America was transfixed by a 60-year-old woman, glammed up to look like a 35-year-old woman, who once was a man and the world’s greatest athlete. It’s the same reason we are obsessed with loving or hating the entire Kardashian family: We want a distraction from how bad things are — the economic uncertainty in our lives and communities, the terrifying instability seen not only in the Middle East but in many of our own black communities.
Main Street Americans do not want to face such uncertainty; they don’t want to be the plastic Jesus that everyone passes by, unnoticed.
Not one person currently running for president is addressing the majority of Americans who want to know just who is going to lead all of us forward, the haves as well as the have-nots.
We don’t want another president who divides us even further.
We want someone who will take us — together — to a better place in order to tap into our country’s greatest resource, which has always been our people.
Someone had better address that soon. Until then, we’re like that plastic Jesus, standing overlooked on Capitol Hill.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media ([email protected]).