Voices: I’ve heard Home Depot’s founder’s comments about ‘lazy workers’ before — from my grandfather

Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus says Americans are lazy and don’t want to work (Fox Business)
Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus says Americans are lazy and don’t want to work (Fox Business)

I just read remarks by Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus. Mr Marcus decried the current generation as “fat, lazy and stupid,” laying the blame for these character flaws squarely at the feet of Democrats and their socialist, “woke” culture.

As I pondered his comments, I suddenly recalled where I’d heard these sentiments before: from my late grandfather.

The outspoken elderly business magnate has a lot in common with my Pop, it turns out. Pop would reminisce about his early years, shaking his head at the deadbeat youngsters of the decadent 1950s, with their snooty attitudes and high falutin diplomas. Pop himself had quit school in eighth grade, to make his way in the world, unencumbered by college debt or the ability to make a reasoned argument. In his early twenties, he founded a trucking company, which he claimed would have been much more successful if not for the labor laws and unions that prevented him from overworking the drivers.

Pop would expound on the good old days over a shot and a beer at his local bar, which was crowded with fedoraed businessmen every night by 5 PM -- quitting time at many businesses in those years. America was going to hell, mourned Pop; no one wanted to work an 80-hour week in unsafe conditions anymore! Well, he didn’t either, but that was beside the point. Pop died shortly after the end of the 1960s. I’m convinced the very idea of “hippies” did him in.

Like my grandfather, Mr Marcus has romanticized the past while demonizing the present. His recall of Home Depot’s ascendance, the multitude of home improvement stores sprouting like mushrooms all staffed by hordes of eager beaver employees, is at best a rosy view. According to him, the Home Depot crews LOVED to work for his company, and found great satisfaction in knowing that they were successful (and, of course, adding to Bernie’s bank account). What’s so hard about becoming a millionaire? Anyone with some old-fashioned spunk and get-up-and-go can do it! Hooray for capitalism!

But no, Mr Marcus says, folks today would rather sit around, fanning themselves with their huge welfare checks, larking about in line at food banks, living the easy socialist lifestyle! They aren’t motivated by a burning ambition to someday, possibly, afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment (surely a worthy goal). The pandemic has been worse than a killer of millions—it has made people soft, dammit! COVID has led to a massive re-evaluation of the rat race—facing mortality will do that, it appears. To Mr Marcus’ abject horror, many Americans have decided that perhaps there’s more to life than decade after decade of soulless, poorly compensated grind. Them and their pronouns! Who do “they” think “they” are?

Mr Marcus has aligned himself with another titan of industry, our former president. It does seem a bit curious that Mr Marcus’ buddy Donald Trump exhibits none of the work ethic Mr Marcus so prizes; nevertheless, the big beautiful American dream of immense wealth for the few is alive and well, thanks to those tax cuts for the 1%. That is some comfort in these terrible times.

Age does have its privileges. I guess when you’re almost a century old you can spout whatever nonsense you want. But the hotheaded opinions of the Home Depot founder, along with his knee-jerk scapegoating of President Biden and the Dems, add nothing of value to what is a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. What will we look like as we emerge from a global pandemic? How can we contain college costs, real estate prices, astronomical medical bills? How can we address the many inequities in our society? How can we save our planet? Very importantly, how can we find ways to work together and become part of the solution?

At 93, one would hope Bernie Marcus might have developed some helpful perspective on the complexities of economics and human nature. We could all have benefitted from the wisdom gleaned from a long life. Alas, Mr. Marcus has chosen instead to be just another grumpy old man, like my Pop on his barstool, longing for a world that never existed.