Global Ramifications: We are Just Us
I am a wordsmith. I enjoy reading and discovering vocabulary that invites me to pause and search through my old 1967 Webster’s Dictionary for its true meaning, and for its source, and its derivatives. Sometimes I’m surprised at what I find.
Decades ago, I came across a word in a book I was reading, probably something from an English or American Literature course. The word is tuft-hunters. I re-read the sentence to see if I could work out the meaning of this. I don’t remember the sentence today, but I do remember the word, and how it stayed in my mind and seemed to fit various situations. The current election brought it again to mind. I went to my dictionary to find it, and found instead that it is not in my trusty Websters’. I must have found it in a more complete dictionary, perhaps the Oxford dictionary at the school library – the one with many more pages and smaller print than any I would able to use today. But today, I have many dictionaries at my fingertips, with print that can be enlarged by the click of a few keys. And so I went looking for it online, and here is one that I found – one that resonates with what I remember of this word:
A nobleman’s toady; one who tries to curry favour with the wealthy and great for the sake of feeding on the crumbs which fall from the rich man’s table. A University term.
Looking further,the definition can be broken down to both the Tuft, and the Tuft-hunter:
Tuft was from about 1670 a slang term for a golden ornamental tassel that was worn on an academic cap (a mortarboard) at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Most members of these universities had only a plain black tassel, but the titled undergraduates — noblemen and sons of noblemen — wore gold ones as a mark of their status. By an obvious transfer of sense, wearers of golden tufts were themselves called tufts. Those individuals who were slavish followers of the tufts, toadies or sycophants, became known as tufthunters.
Thirty-five years ago, the young woman came into my office to apply for state subsidized day care for her young children; she was enrolling in a work training program and this care was offered as a supportive benefit. It was a government-funded program, part state money, and part federal. We had a pleasant conversation while we filled out the paperwork, and the topic turned to the presidential election that was coming up. She said that she was going to vote for the republican candidate. I asked her why; her response indicated that she knew he was an actor, and he was successful, and she wanted to vote for a man who was successful, because she hoped that she would become successful by following successful people.
I never confronted someone voting for the opposition, but always tried to understand their reasoning. I was and still am a true blue Democrat; I believe that “we the people, the whole people, men and women” had a responsibility to care for each other. After all, I’d come of age at the end of the sixties, and community care, co-operative sharing, and government for the people was something I believed in. And so I voted for the Democratic candidate, who lost the election. It would be a long time before the Democrats again won the white house, and during those long years the economy bloomed for some and dried up for others. Businesses did well and made profits; prices rose and consumers who were not stock-holders saw cut after cut to programs that helped people. And the deficit balance climbed.
During those years, I pursued two college degrees, and became a teacher. A century ago, or longer perhaps, I might have been known as a Tuft. I graduated with honors, having spent many long hours studying and writing. But my tassel did not bear the mark of nobility as it may have long ago; instead, I was “just a teacher” earning a moderate income and still working long hours and taking continuing education courses for credits, credits that would allow me to move up the salary tracks. Many people don’t realize how much work is done by teachers outside of school hours, and how much money is spent by teachers to prove their credibility and qualification.
A true Tuft-hunter would not attach themselves to a teacher in the hope that it would better their own status to be associated with such people. Tuft-hunters today ally themselves with successful business owners, or mega-millionaire rock stars and movie stars. Many people in the middle class still believe in the American dream, but they seem to have forgotten the sense of common wealth. Some complain, justifiably, that it is harder and harder to find a job that will pay a living wage. They blame the growing population for the scarcity of jobs, rather than looking at the changing dynamics of our labor force. Manufacturing jobs are being downsized by robotic replacements. Some are being sent overseas to a less expensive work force, and those that remain here are paying lower wages with fewer benefits. Work related health care options and pensions will soon be a hazy memory. Unions are being blamed for things rather than credited for accomplishments in humanizing the working conditions of their members.
Most American middle class families want their children to go to college and to succeed in growing beyond the middle class, like the people they vote for have done for their children. It is true that some in power today are privileged, financially. They are in both political parties – and each have their own American story of how their family became wealthy and powerful. The world as we want to know it today was not as level as we want to remember. People succeeded in becoming wealthy because other people were working long hours for little pay. That it is still that way today is not something that Tuft-hunters want to acknowledge. They want to blame the people who have not succeeded financially. And they desperately want to be seen as those who have “responsibly” become successful for their family’s benefit … their family’s benefit, not their neighbor’s benefit … their community’s benefit, not their commonwealth’s benefit.
I would like to know how that young single mother’s life turned out. She was training to become a carpenter, and was gaining her experience by working with the early version of what became Habitat for Humanity. It was a communal effort, using communal government funding, raised through taxation with representation, money contributed for the common good. Her young children were cared for by women in their own homes, paid by government funding. The young woman benefited, as did her children, as did the woman providing the care. It was a government program that made a difference in all of their lives, and in mine.
I’ll stay true blue for as many more years I have to vote. I’ll still have friends who will shake their head at the blue platform. And I’ll continue to wonder how it can be rationalized away. We are not all the same. We are not all equal. We are Americans, and the world is watching this current election with apprehension. We are considered leaders of the world. Where we will lead the world may exist only in our enlarged self-image as Americans.
Those are my worrisome thoughts during this election day. I pray that it is finished tonight, and that the results are known, and accepted, and that all involved can get back to work in our government of, by, and most importantly for the people.