Feel­ing dis­placed by the mod­ern world? Suck it up like my grandpa did.

The Denver Post - - OP-ED - By Diane Car­man

One hun­dred years ago this month, my grandpa joined the Army as the U.S. en­tered World War I. I’ve thought of this ornery old guy lately as I lis­ten to politi­cians who say that our coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing un­prece­dented tur­moil be­cause so many Amer­i­cans are be­ing dis­placed by tech­nol­ogy, glob­al­iza­tion and a sys­tem rigged to keep the rich rich and the poor poor.

Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion thinks its hard times are unique, af­ter all.

But we’re wrong.

Char­lie Car­man was a leg­endary sto­ry­teller, so his opin­ions were well known, and they have echoed in my head as I read about the chal­lenges fac­ing non-col­lege-ed­u­cated white men who can no longer find work in man­u­fac­tur­ing, min­ing or what­ever, and blame the bru­tal­ity of the mod­ern world for their hard luck.

If he were still around, Char­lie would pull the lever on the La-z-boy, lean back and tell his story.

His en­list­ment pa­pers iden­ti­fied him as a 26-year-old horse-shoer in 1917. By the time he joined the war ef­fort, he had worked half his life in his dad’s black­smith shop. He dropped out of school at 13.

He was a child of the Gilded Age, when rapid in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion had dra­mat­i­cally changed the econ­omy and the cul­ture, pro­duc­ing ap­palling in­come dis­par­i­ties with the Rob­ber Barons — the top 1 per­cent — hold­ing roughly half of the na­tion’s wealth.

He came of age in a pe­riod of hos­til­ity to­ward im­mi­grants, who mostly came from Europe, and were con­sid­ered danger­ous threats to the econ­omy, pub­lic safety and the dom­i­nant cul­ture. Then, af­ter risk­ing it all in the war, he came home to a coun­try that he be­lieved had in­sulted his sac­ri­fice and un­der­cut his po­si­tion in the es­tab­lished power struc­ture by giv­ing women the right to vote. He had no choice but to suck it up. The dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy of the au­to­mo­bile de­railed his ca­reer path as a horse-shoer and seller of horse­shoe nails. He got a job sell­ing Buicks, and then went to work for a com­pany that made oil­ers for farm ma­chin­ery.

Alas, that job dis­ap­peared with the in­ven­tion of oil pumps for gas en­gines and he was once again un­em­ployed.

He moved from job to job for a while, and then opened Car­man’s Al­ley Garage, re­pair­ing the au­to­mo­biles that had put him out of work as a horse-shoer. That gig ended when the De­pres­sion came and no­body could pay for car re­pairs. Grandpa picked up what he called “odd jobs” for which he was paid with a chicken, a bot­tle of milk or a dozen eggs.

When Pro­hi­bi­tion ended, he leaped into a new fron­tier of op­por­tu­nity, first work­ing for a brew­ery and then sell­ing liquor, a job that fi­nally car­ried him into re­tire­ment. Even af­ter re­tire­ment, he picked up a sales job for a few years to ac­cess health in­sur­ance since this was long be­fore Medi­care and he had de­vel­oped some health prob­lems that even back then were un­af­ford­able.

He was proud of his life, es­pe­cially that all three of his kids grad­u­ated from col­lege. And he never hes­i­tated to tell his grand­chil­dren about the good times he had even dur­ing the hard­est of the hard times.

Now, I ap­pre­ci­ate that a lot has changed in 100 years, don’t get me wrong. And I don’t mean to sug­gest that Char­lie was a noble char­ac­ter. He did what he had to do, paid his debts and counted friends as his most valu­able as­sets.

But when I hear that the wide­spread anger, dis­af­fec­tion and sense of vic­tim­iza­tion that have char­ac­ter­ized pub­lic de­bate in the past year some­how jus­tify the bit­ter po­lit­i­cal dys­func­tion, I find it pre­pos­ter­ous.

I can’t ac­cept that some­how work­ers are more dis­placed, frus­trated, ex­ploited, broke and scared than my grandpa was 100 years ago.

When Char­lie was honor­ably discharged from the Army in 1919, the hand­writ­ten records from his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer de­scribed his char­ac­ter as “ex­cel­lent” and his ser­vice as “hon­est and faith­ful.” There was no stand­ing ova­tion. He went home to Madi­son, Wis., and went to work. He was an ex­traor­di­nar­ily or­di­nary man.

What he did is not un­usual. It’s what we’ve al­ways done. It’s what we still do.

That poor piti­ful white guy nar­ra­tive — it’s a myth. I don’t buy it for one minute.

Diane Car­man is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant and a reg­u­lar colum­nist for The Den­ver Post.

Bob En­gle­hart, Ca­gle Car­toons

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