A Musical Future
See Paco. See Phyllis. Playing the accordion and the tambourine in Calle del Arenal in Madrid, November of 2024.
They share an interesting story. Paco was a physician in the USA. He worked hard, for forty years, and he did very well for himself. Phyllis was a nurse; she held various jobs through all of this time. She raised the kids when Paco was not there, which was 95% of the time. She paid the bills and kept the house in order.
Come 2017 this exemplary couple was ready for retirement. Years of answering the phone at midnight were about to end. They looked forward to lots of late mornings reading the paper and drinking coffee at each other’s side. Their children were successful, and there were seven grandchildren who came for dinner every Sunday and allowed themselves to be loved and spoiled.
Then life intervened. Donald Trump won the 2016 election. Although Paco was a left wing hippie socialist, he felt that everyone deserved a chance. The election had been fair and square. Democracy must be allowed to prevail. Phyllis originally felt that she had just woken up from a nightmare, but with time she went back to her routine of volunteering at the dog shelter and helping with the grandkids. What could go wrong?
The first signs were subtle. President Trump refused to read his daily briefings. He had generals and millionaires to do that for him. When the generals asked for more weapons, they got whatever they felt that they needed. When the millionaires wanted to eliminate most banking regulations, they got their way.
By mid-2017 the economy accelerated. Many new airplanes and submarines; this meant more jobs. Lots of research on how to kill as many enemies as fast as possible. Banking profits boomed. Taxes were lowered. True, only the very rich enjoyed this perk, but soon they were expected to invest in their businesses to create more jobs. Paco’s conservative friends and family did not hesitate to remind him: “I told you so.”
Paco was nervous. No new wealth was being created. The budget deficit increased. The dollar surged; it became difficult for US businesses to export anything. The trade dispute with China, which had started with a few innocent tariffs, blew into a full-fledged conflict. Even the generous incentives given to coal-producing companies could not make coal cheaper than solar or wind. Electricity rates went up. Wal-Mart had to increase prices and lay off employees. Nobody could afford a new car.
Millions of people lost their health insurance. Many of them bought some more guns. There were weekly instances of shootings in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Medical costs surged. Medicare was on track to be insolvent by 2022.
No matter, everyone said. The Congressional elections of 2018 will fix things. In November of 2018 both the House and the Senate reverted to Democratic Party control. President Trump was furious. He claimed election fraud. He urged his supporters to demonstrate. Tens of thousands of people marched. There were riots and tear gas. Many state legislatures were blockaded. Trump’s supporters were convinced that their wages had decreased and their health had worsened because of a left wing plot to discredit their man.
Radical measures were taken. More weapons; less regulations. By 2020 the country was clearly in a recession. The generals, who had played with their new toys for two years, were anxious to try them out in the real world. When a Chihuahua dog bit one of the president’s grandchildren, Mr. Trump was sure that Mexicans were responsible. All dogs smaller than ten pounds were ordered to be deported to Mexico. When the Mexican president refused to accept this canine burden the military carpet-bombed all of northern Mexico, after which hundreds of thousands of dogs were thrown over the wall which now separated the two countries.
When North Korea went through one of its phases of threatening to attack, the generals took them seriously. The whole country was sent back to the Stone Age. When China complained, President Trump declared martial law and cancelled the November elections. A tense standoff followed, with each country pointing thousands of tons of nuclear weapons at each other.
The stock market crashed. Paco and Phyllis’s savings were now worth one tenth of their original value. Social Security checks were cut in half, because China was no longer willing to lend the US more money to finance the system. Taxes on the middle class were increased, as the president proclaimed that all patriots had to pay more. Except, of course, for his rich friends, who were still trying to find the best way to create more jobs.
Paco had enough. In 2022 he decided to move to Spain. Phyllis reluctantly followed. Rents were cheap; health insurance was reasonable. Public transport was excellent, so a car was not needed. But there was not enough money. He convinced Phyllis to buy a tambourine; his son Miguel gave him a few lessons on how to play the accordion. When people feel sorry for them they give them a few pennies. If they get fifty donations a day, this is enough money to buy food and stay warm.
See Paco. See Phyllis. They don’t have much, but they have each other. They lost a country, and the fruit of so many years of hard work. But they have music, and for the first time in years they sleep well at night.
See Paco. See Phyllis. Pray for them, and for the US.