Post-Election Musings: The Short Shelf Life of First World Problems

On August 31, 1939, nine-year-old Maria Sikorski in Gdansk, Poland, prayed she wouldn’t have to go to the first day of school on the following day. Her prayer was answered, but in a way she would bitterly regret for the rest of her life. On September 1, 1939, the Germans invaded Poland and Maria’s young life would never be the same. What she would have given to just go back to school and see her friends and return to what had been normal up until that fateful day.

Tough realities have a way of making smaller problems dissolve.

The midterm elections showed significant changes in the winning campaign messages from those of 2012, such as “the war on women” and issues of racism. What hasn’t been made clear is why.

Part of the answer can be found in the bigger picture. Global crises can make first world problems melt away. Perspectives about shallow and/or fictional first world problems change when confronted by the brutalities of third world problems. And Americans are beginning to feel the force of third world problems spilling into their first world realm. Ebola and ISIS have presented threats to our country, the likes of which no current living generation has ever seen (save, perhaps, for the very oldest).

No one remembers the Spanish flu, and only a few have faint memories of polio. In the pristine Pacific Northwest, where I grew up, there are virtually no outside threats to daily life, save forest fires or mudslides. There are no agitating Canadians in the north, very few poisonous bug or snakes, and no major storms. Even the predicted “big one” earthquake hasn’t yet transpired, leaving an artificially suspended reality that allows one to think that assisted-suicide is just and vital, rampant sex shops are necessary and common, and any restaurant that doesn’t serve farm-to-fork food is violating cosmic laws of nature. In fact, Portland boast’s of having perhaps the world’s only vegan strip club. But even Oregon—Oregon!—voted dramatically against providing legal documents to illegal immigrants.

Existential threats have a dramatic way of bringing everything else into focus. This is what was behind many of the dramatic shifts in the midterms. Suddenly, those petulant women throwing tantrums about birth control looked a little silly. Rallying for “lady parts” and late-term abortions just aren’t compelling, now matter what color your tennis shoes. And Senate testimony demanding that the Catholic Church get more involved in a single woman’s sex life proved to be little more than a distracting, short-term fluke.

Sadly, the current threats to our freedom and well-being don’t appear to have short shelf-lives. It is going to be difficult for any party to gain traction if these menaces remain or worsen. Band-Aids, shortsighted solutions, and hysterical diversions are not going to cut it. Bread and circuses can only do so much when the barbarians are crashing the gates.


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About Carrie Gress, Ph.D. 50 Articles
Carrie Gress has a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. She is the editor at the Catholic Women's online magazine Theology of Home. She is the author of several books including The Anti-Mary Exposed and the forthcoming Theology of Home.