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Sorry, Johnny, We Can't Turn Back the Clock Sorry, Johnny, We Can't Turn Back the Clock

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Sorry, Johnny, We Can't Turn Back the Clock

MUNCIE, Ind. -- Johnny Whitmire is the central figure in our cover story about the loss of faith in institutions. Still, so much of what he told me was left out of the story. Here is more:

After bumping into Johnny at a nondescript City Hall meeting, where he won an appeal on a $300 tall-weed citation, we agreed to meet later that afternoon at 1900 W. 10th Street, the home he once owned but that now belongs to his bank.

I wanted to know how his views of national politics are shaped by his disillusionment with the institutions that are supposed to protect him: his state, which laid off his wife; his government in Washington, which couldn't rescue homeowners who had played by the rules; his bank, which failed to walk him through the correct paperwork or warn him about a potential mortgage hike; his city, which penalized him for somebody else's errors; and even his employer, who laid him off.

"I voted for Obama and had hopes for him," said Whitmire who - as a white, non-college educated male  - is part of a fraternity of voters most skeptical of the president. Obama may not get Whitmire's vote in November. "He was thrown into a rat hole," Whitmire says. "He hasn't done much with it."

If he could tell Obama one thing, it would be this: "I had a lot of faith in you, bud. But that faith is going downhill. I know you can't do it alone, that Congress stinks. But still ... ."

Whitmire isn't as disappointed with Obama as he is angry with the rat hole in Washington. "I was middle class for 10 years but it's done," Whitmire says.

Like many men of his type, Whitmire rails about the global economy and the trend of "damn-good paying jobs gone overseas." He's tired of being a have-not in a world dominated by haves: "Politicians and businessmen tell you what you want to hear and do nothing to really help you while they make the money," Whitmire says, brushing the grass from his jeans. "Guys like me? It's frustrating."

"It's a shame that this country is coming apart on us. It breaks my heart because it didn't always look this way," he says. "I'm not alone. There are thousands, millions like me. I wish them well."

At this point, Whitmire took off his wrap-around sunglasses and looked me square in the eyes. This is when the full meaning of the trip to Muncie clicked:  What Whitmire says next brings to mind 20th century "Middletown," when post-agricultural Americans were lost in transition and dreamed of a not-so-distant past when the nation's biggest institutions were family and community. "If I had a plough and a horse and my wife and kids, and a piece of land, I'd be a happy man," Whitmire says. "If I could turn back the clock, boy - I'd go back."

But we can't turn back the clock, Johnny. Time is running out. We as a nation need to fix our broken institutions and create new ones urgently, because the alternative truly is disillusionment, disengagement, and destruction.

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