What will make them cringe?

When colum­nists of 2068 look back on to­day,

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHANGE OF SUBJECT - By Eric Zorn er­ic­[email protected] Twit­ter @Er­ic­Zorn


Our so­ci­ety’s heed­less and fla­grant overuse of plas­tic pack­ag­ing was the first thing that came up in con­ver­sa­tion when I re­cently asked my wife and 21-year-old daugh­ter to pre­dict what peo­ple 50 years from now will look back on with dis­may as they con­sider Amer­ica in the 2010s.

Prompt­ing this dis­cus­sion was my col­league Mary Sch­mich’s re­cent col­umn head­lined “Ah, the Amer­ica of my child­hood. So full of bunk and big­otry,” in which she wrote of how bad — how racist and sex­ist in ret­ro­spect — were the “good old days” of her child­hood in the 1960s.

What will prompt a sim­i­larly cool as­sess­ment of our times from a newspixel colum­nist in 2068?

Granted, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict what will hap­pen in the next five weeks, let alone five decades. And it’s dif­fi­cult not to let one’s po­lit­i­cal in­cli­na­tions in­fect such an ex­er­cise — we will be shocked, 50 years from now, that Amer­ica had not al­ready adopted all my per­sonal pol­icy pre­scrip­tions and no­tions of fair­ness and jus­tice.

Nev­er­the­less, here’s an hon­est guess at how such a col­umn would read:

In the Amer­ica of my child­hood, the Na­tional Foot­ball League ac­tu­ally had a team named the “Red­skins,” the most brazen and of­fen­sive of the ways in which the cul­ture stereo­typed and marginal­ized the Amer­i­can In­di­ans whose land and dig­nity we’d al­ready taken.

In those days, most peo­ple walked the streets with­out car­ry­ing any firearms for pro­tec­tion what­so­ever and — hard to be­lieve, I know — were able to en­ter movie the­aters, shop­ping malls, trains, buses, restau­rants, beaches and con­certs with­out pass­ing through metal de­tec­tors.

When I was a kid, the U.S. was vir­tu­ally the only coun­try in the world where health care was con­sid­ered a priv­i­lege, not a right. Peo­ple died need­lessly and were driven into bank­ruptcy for lack of a na­tional health care sys­tem, and de­fend­ers of this shock­ing state of af­fairs couldn’t stop crow­ing about the heal­ing won­ders of the free mar­ket.

Be­fore sci­en­tists per­fected lab­o­ra­tory-grown meat, we used a third of our arable land to grow feed for live­stock — in ef­fect pro­cess­ing that food through the guts of cat­tle, swine and poul­try that fouled our at­mos­phere by pro­duc­ing mas­sive amounts of green­house gases and pol­luted our wa­ter­ways with their waste while as­sist­ing in the pro­duc­tion of ed­i­ble steaks, flanks, ribs and chops.

Hu­mans — flawed, dis­tractible, oc­ca­sion­ally im­paired hu­mans — drove their own cars in my youth. About 35,000 of them died ev­ery year in mo­tor ve­hi­cle crashes as a re­sult. For­tu­nately for hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple now alive who would oth­er­wise be dead, the march of progress to­ward au­tonomously guided cars and trucks wasn’t blocked by some early mishaps.

And those death traps we drove? Most of them burned fos­sil fu­els and so con­trib­uted to re­la­tion­ships with re­pres­sive Mid­dle East­ern theoc­ra­cies that were of­ten awk­ward, to say the least.

Vot­ing laws na­tion­wide were a crazy quilt of lo­cal re­stric­tions, cu­ri­ous prac­tices and Byzan­tine count­ing pro­ce­dures of­ten adopted by parochial par­ti­san bu­reau­crats to ad­van­tage their own causes. We Wash­ing­ton Red­skins fans cheer.

some­how thought these ex­per­i­ments in pu­ta­tive democ­racy that of­ten frus­trated the pop­u­lar will were prefer­able to the im­po­si­tion of na­tional stan­dards for map­ping, regis­tra­tion, bal­lot­ing, tal­ly­ing and re­port­ing.

We treated can­cer pa­tients with what amounted to poi­son, toxic chem­i­cals of­ten just strong enough to kill the deadly cells with­out killing the pa­tient. In­fer­til­ity, obe­sity, un­planned preg­nan­cies, heart dis­ease and male pat­tern bald­ness — re­mem­ber them? — were among the sig­nif­i­cant health con­cerns when I was a child in the ’10s.

There had never been a fe­male pres­i­dent. We had not yet built the mas­sive dikes that con­tinue to make coastal liv­ing pos­si­ble. Adults gave tro­phies — sym­bols of vic­tory and tri­umph — to me and my peers just for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a team sport, think­ing it would en­hance our self­es­teem and not breed cyn­i­cism and a fes­ter­ing sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

Be­fore the in­stal­la­tion of hun­dreds of thou­sands of cam­eras on the pub­lic way and the near per­fec­tion of bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy, street and prop­erty crime were sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems. An evil­doer could rob or shoot you on the side­walk and ex­pect to get away with it.

It was per­fectly nor­mal and widely con­sid­ered ac­cept­able to in­dig­nantly de­clare one’s ob­jec­tion to the idea that peo­ple could be born with gen­i­talia that didn’t match their ul­ti­mate gen­der iden­tity.

We usu­ally had to wait at least two whole days to have mer­chan­dise de­liv­ered from on­line re­tail­ers. And main­stream me­dia out­lets were still prim and cau­tious in their use of the com­mon oaths we used to call pro­fan­ity, though most of them blithely — ugh! — used “Red­skins.”

Like my jour­nal­is­tic fore­bears, I mar­vel that a coun­try steeped in so much ig­no­rance has ad­vanced as much as it has.

Well, that’s one guess, any­way. I wish I could be even more op­ti­mistic and pre­dict an end to un­em­ploy­ment, home­less­ness, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, sex­ual abuse, in­come and ed­u­ca­tional in­equal­ity and the threat of nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion, but there are some wounds that seem im­per­vi­ous to the heal­ing pow­ers of time and tech­nol­ogy.

The young man, wo­man or in­ter­sex per­son who will ac­tu­ally write this col­umn af­ter Mary and I are gone is in grade school now, per­haps al­ready start­ing to chafe and gog­gle at what to­day is con­sid­ered nor­mal.

Here’s hop­ing there’s a Chicago Tri­bune that will pub­lish their with­er­ing ret­ro­spec­tive.

Who else but Don­ald?

When asked by a re­porter Tues­day about Time mag­a­zine’s up­com­ing “Per­son of the Year” des­ig­na­tion, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said, “I can’t imag­ine any­body else other than Trump. Can you imag­ine any­body other than Trump?”

I can’t. Since 1927, Time has named “the per­son or group of peo­ple who, for bet­ter or worse, had the great­est in­flu­ence on the events of the year.” Trump seems to think this is an honor, but it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily. The ti­tle has been be­stowed on Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini and Mikhail Gor­bachev (twice).

No one on the world stage is even close to Trump for hav­ing in­flu­enced the events of the year, largely for the worse in my view. The only ar­gu­ment for not be­stow­ing the ti­tle upon him again (he was Per­son of the Year in 2016) is that he’ll be in­suf­fer­able about claim­ing it as a great honor.

Re: Tweets

The win­ner of this week’s on­line reader poll for fun­ni­est tweet is “My mother-in-law likes me so much she asked if I would take the fam­ily photo this year,” by @WorstCassie. To re­ceive an email alert af­ter each new poll is posted, go to chicagotri­bune.com/news­let­ters and sign up un­der Change of Sub­ject.


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