We entered the age of information – and disinformation – not that long ago. It changed our world and our lives, and now we live in the age of scramble. In almost every sense of the word, life has become scramble as noun and verb. The most vivid image of scramble of late is the tens of thousands of young residents in the country illegally scurrying to take advantage of an opportunity to legalize their presence and status – at least for now. The long lines of young residents, mostly Hispanic/Latinos brought to the country illegally from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and other places, represent only part of the scrambling of individuals, groups of people, institutions, and organizations reacting to defend their interests or get their slice of the pie that appears to have been getting smaller.
The scramble by scared senior citizens to protect Medicare at all costs, no pun intended, is on, and so is the scramble by Mitt Romney’s campaign to convince them that they will lose their benefits because President Obama “stole” $716 billion from “their” program to subsidize others. The Obama campaign abets the idea of an all-out scramble for shrinking resources by re-enforcing the proposition that, no, the President tried to extend the life of Medicare for seniors.
These two images – the new America and the old America – are the major demographic turning points on which the future of the country will turn. But the scramble is on throughout, at all levels of society. Recent college graduates find no legitimate work and are exploited by corporations through internships that pay little or nothing. Unions fight for scraps, so that airline flight attendants and pilots agree to contracts to protect jobs that pay them little more than they were paid ten years ago – with more work piled on. The nearly-unemployed race from one job in the day to one at night to make up for lost wages. The unemployed scramble to make ends meet and others try to patch their existence with whatever they can find, and some will now turn to crime. Corporations scramble to take advantage of lower costs of production elsewhere and the presidential candidate most of them support moves some of his money to offshore accounts to avoid taxes. The Pentagon says it cannot defend the nation if even one penny of its budget is sequestered.
It seems that everyone is out for himself or herself, so that in the process the sense of community is torn asunder; relationships are tossed out the window; traditions jettisoned; values corrupted. Throughout the process, corruption metastasizes, and the Supreme Court legitimizes it through misguided decisions, such as campaign finance. Republicans at the state level subvert the Constitution in their scramble to deny minorities their voting rights through new election laws that are transparently racist, but no one wants to call them for what they are. A senatorial candidate scrambles to save his candidacy after suggesting that a woman’s body somehow can reject impregnation from rape. Right-wing members of Congress – elected in part by the religious right – scramble to explain why in a drunken stupor they jumped, one of them naked, into the Sea of Galilee at night. Democratic interest groups cannot see past their own noses, yet scramble to win an election without real vision. The Catholic Church scrambles to find its way. The mismanaged Post Office scrambles to survive. On and on, the list is endless and it leads to paralysis.
When other nations and empires fell, the collapse of some of them was preceded by periods in which everyone scrambled.
What to do, Chicken Little, when the sky is falling? In one version of the old tale, Henny Penny finds the courage to act to prevent disaster. In another version, Chicken Little and a host of compatriots are misinformed by a wolf that lures them to be eaten alive.
In either case, the scramble is on, and I wonder how it is changing us as a people and whether it will make the future far different than what we expected.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman and writes at HispanicLatino.com.
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