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Ups and Downs - Fall 2018

We live in turbulent times. It seems as if everyone is angry all the time and, increasingly, willing to act on their anger. This was on full display the last week of October when a political zealot and all-around loser living out of a van in South Florida tried to send pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, and then even more so when another, even bigger loser walked into a Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire. The eleven dead were among a congregation of innocent people peacefully gathered in the presumed safety of their place of worship. This was just the latest of a never-ending string of shootings with semi-automatic weapons that have become as American as apple pie.

Could the unrest in our society be having an impact on our economy? After months and even years of gains, the stock markets have suddenly hit some major turbulence. This began early in October and has continued since then.

Some of this is surely due to business concerns: there were some surprises – both good and bad – in corporate earnings; interest rates have been rising; the markets remain jittery about fallout from tariffs and escalating trade wars; and after nearly ten years of recovery, everyone knows that a correction is going to have to happen sooner or later.

But I can’t shake the feeling that the sudden unrest in the stock markets also reflects a broader unrest in our country and our world. As we go from one crisis to the next, the level of anger across a broad cross-section of our society just keeps increasing, and the red-blue divide keeps growing. You can see this on the left with calls for rent control and the vilification of property owners. You can see it in Pilsen and Logan Square and, yes, in Rogers Park where long-time residents decry gentrification and the changes occurring in “their” neighborhoods.

But mostly, you see it on the right. You see it at Trump rallies where thousands of people shout “lock her up” and “build the wall.” At its worst, you see it in Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers who, in their warped minds, believe it’s acceptable, even desirable, to send bombs through the mail or walk into a Synagogue and shoot innocent people because you don’t agree with their religious beliefs.

This is a sickness that has a long history in this country. Neither the right nor the left can claim to be free from its worst effects. But I doubt I’m the only one who believes this sickness is getting worse and is spreading to an ever wider segment of the population.

Perhaps the economy will find its footing again and sail through these rough waters. After all, business is all about making money and creating wealth. We’ve been through difficult times before and always emerged, stronger than before.

But I keep wondering, is it different this time? Is something else going on? Tribal warfare can go too far. Prejudice can turn deadly. In the America that I’ve always known, people of very different backgrounds have found a way to look past each other’s differences to work together for the benefit of all. But more and more, this accommodation seems to be slipping away as team blue and team red just keep trying to obliterate each other. Is America’s future going to look like what happened to Yugoslavia in the 1990s? I never would have believed it. But now I’m not so sure. And if this comes to pass, not much will be left standing – most certainly not the mighty Dow at 25,000.

Steve Cain is Secretary of RPBG. He writes articles and compiles content for our quarterly newsletter. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RPBG and its Members.



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