Things are looking increasingly dark out there in the big wide world in 2016. There's no point in denying it.
Even here in the U.S. we're stuck in a new gilded age that's an even bigger con job than the original one, which was famously named by Mark Twain, and ran from 1870 to about 1900.
Back then it was an era of dramatic inequality too, with wealth increasingly concentrated in the hands of the one percent at the top, who inherited and passed on much of it to their titled heirs. But then, unlike now, the country was also welcoming millions of European immigrants and their working wages, thanks to industrialization, rose at the fastest rate in history.
Now though we can't get our partisan Congress to even agree to repave a highway or build a bridge, because the spirit of communal advancement of the last century is completely gone, as are the wage increases and employment opportunities that traditionally accompany them.
With each new decade Americans have been forced to work harder and harder, which produces more economic growth nationally. But we’re not getting rewarded with extra pay for all the hard work, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute.
Worker productivity has ballooned, to the point where the economic output generated by an average hour of work has grown by an astonishing 72.2 percent since 1973. But pay for the average American worker rose just 9.2 percent in the same period. What this means is that American wages have been stagnant for 40 years, over half a lifetime.
Conservative politicians like to tell us our economy is washed up and that’s why people haven’t done well. But the truth is that the country's economic growth has progressed at a remarkably healthy rate.
Everybody’s wages could have grown, but they simply didn’t. Instead the increasing squeeze on ordinary workers saw the wealth at the top explode to historic levels.
It's not all doom and gloom, of course. There have been wonderful advances. The World Bank recently reported that extreme poverty has declined by 43 percent since 1990, which in turn has increased global life expectancy.
Our technological advances are exploding too. By 2045 it's estimated that our technology will be a million times more powerful than it is now.
These are all very positive developments and may yet help us tackle unemployment, disease, global warming and increase access to education. But to get to that future the country has a very serious choice to make.
Most voters have grasped that we're in a scary new moment, where many of the ideas that we took for granted, like each new generation being better off than the one before, the idea we used to call the American Dream, no longer contains the same degree of truth.
So it's no surprise that many of us would like to return to a superficially simpler time, when these ideas held more national weight, and even seemed achievable. For many the impulse many feel to jump in that silver De Lorean and travel back to the past is irresistible.
That nostalgia for a lost era, even if it was never quite as idyllic as memory makes it seem, is what's behind the rise of Donald Trump, his second place finish in Iowa notwithstanding.
He's a superficial fossil of the 1980s, the era of conspicuous consumption when he first rose to national fame. He's the substance-less symbol of our gilded age and the best reflection we could ever ask for of its falsity and soullessness.
But for many Trump has become the third rail, the thing they reach out for now that every other political promise is evaporating before their eyes. He looks and sounds like a throwback from the Mad Men era of the early 1960s.
Many people actually like that about him. He carries himself with a swagger that's at variance with our own anxious age.
He even talks like your drunk uncle at a Christmas party and in some circles he is loved for it. He's not PC claim his admirers, meaning that he's as prejudiced as we are, and he's not afraid to say so. This is progress?
There's something profoundly tragic about the sight of millions of hard working Americans cheering on and identifying so closely with a blowhard billionaire. He's cleverly feeding us all fantasies. It's time we woke up. Hopefully the thumping he received in Iowa is the beginning of the end.