I was eight when Ronald Reagan was first elected president. I knew nothing of politics then and frequently wish that I didn’t have to pay attention now. My first inkling that guys who didn’t wear clip-on ties (and who would probably only visit the dirt road and trailer I called home on some press conference about poverty eradication) actually influenced what happened to me was when my dad got laid off from Merz Sheet Metal. It was right after Reagan busted the airline strike and deregulated the industry setting the stage for a cascade of deregulation that has birthed companies that are too big to fail and corporations that are considered people. Did the government directly cause my family’s financial woes? No. As always, things were more complicated than that. But the climate made it nearly impossible for Dad to find work.
By the time I was ten, the sound of Reagan’s voice made me sick to my stomach.
Odd, you may say. This blog is usually about the book selling industry, chock full of railing against Amazon. Why am I sifting through the ruminations of some middle Illinois hick’s childhood?
Indulge me a while longer. I promise to get to the point.
I’ve been sitting with the DOJ’s decision about the “anti-trust” lawsuit brought against some in the publishing industry feeling an eerily familiar feeling. I couldn’t quite place it at first. Sure, there was disappointment. Anger. A touch of bitter resignation and despair. After all, I was one of the over 800 people who sent public comment letters rationally explaining why creating a diverse marketplace was actually good for consumers and that the success of this lawsuit would only benefit one company – Amazon. When fellow book lovers and I were unceremoniously dismissed and ignored because we actually know something about the industry and have a hand in keeping it healthy, I had a right to feel kind of pissed off.
Also dubious is the no-bid contract with the state department for a gajillion Kindles. It’s all so cozy, isn’t it? So very sewn up. Finished. Decided before it was asked. Yes, I’m angry as both a citizen and a business owner. I’m almost speechless looking at the blatant, immoral and possibly illegal disregard for the other side of this argument in favor of short-sighted politics.
But there was that other thing. Something akin to a bruise. An old one. Yellowed and spread out over time, sure, but still vaguely painful. A reminder of earlier flailing against immovable walls.
It’s the eight year old in me who believes in the better angels of our nature and the power of the underdog only to find myself shoved firmly back on the front porch of our trailer drinking Mountain Dew out of the glass bottle, petting one of the dozen cats all named Kitty, knowing life couldn’t be any bigger than my yard because success is against the rules.
Do I sound heartbroken? It’s because I sort of am. Nobody likes to watch the other team spike the ball. But tomorrow will come, and when it does it will come to this:
Booksellers: No one will help us. There is no protection. We are the architects of our own redemption. If it’s against the rules for us to expand outside our own yards, we must make our yards better. If the administration-backed mega monopolizer wants to step on us, we must penetrate its boot and become the annoying sharp tack.
Readers: Love is essential, but it doesn’t pay the bills. You have to buy local, too.