Land of the Free Lunch, Home of the Brave Old World
How did we let this happen?
We, the moussed, Reeboked beneficiaries of the Great Experiment with cell phones plastered to our ears as we drive high performance, less fuel-efficient cars, have somehow let it all get away.
The "It" to which I'm referring is the now-risible, overarching rationale that guided the Declaration of Independence, the one that stated that all men are created equal. The mystery is not how and why we could let that principle be forgotten but how we could've been so gullible as to believe in it for going on three centuries.
Even a cursory look at American history, particularly labor and civil rights history, will inform one that far from being open to new ideas, championing labor and being spiritually vested with improving the quality of life for all Americans, the United States has consistently been a nation motivated by greed and maintaining the status quo even to the point of murdering our fellow Americans to that end.
The inequality and vicious attempts to maintain a tilted status quo began long before the Bread and Roses Strike that began exactly a century ago this month in nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts. Coming less than a year after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City that killed almost 150 men, women and children, the brutality of the mills toward its workers was eventually spotlighted by Congressional investigations, exposure from the press and increasing political pressure from trade unions.
Literally gallons of ink and blood have been respectively spilled by worthy minds and worthy bodies explicating causes and effects, pros and cons and ramifications of why things need or don't need to change. But this facet of human nature does not need too fine a point put on it. And when you fully unpack the whole messy argument it boils down to one simple, atavistic imperative: When people derive good fortune in one way or another, they #1 do not wish to share it with a segment of society they deem unworthy and #2 they wish to keep things that way. (It's no wonder that, according to a recent OECD finding, America ranks 27th overall out of 31 nations in social justice.)
This has been a hallmark of human civilization perhaps since the days we lived in caves and fought each other over prime hunting and watering grounds. And the infallible human instinct of equating social standing with ill-gotten wealth derived at the expense of the happiness, opportunity and wellbeing of others, wealth that cannot be taken through this vale of tears and imported to the next, is a timeless story.
And among the perennially greedy landed gentry, virtually the only way to penetrate that veneer of culture and ossified humanity and to get a primal, visceral reaction from these people, for want of a better word, is to threaten their wealth and status quo. Fascism, which is partly characterized by a complicity with private industry, will never be as controversial with the working class and especially not with the wealthy for the simple reason that it doesn't threaten the interests of those who have access to the military and paramilitary power that's needed to maintain a semblance of civil order. Socialism will always be controversial because it threatens to take all that away.
Greed and selfishness will always be defining characteristics of human society and as long as we keep reproducing, despite our best attempts at nurturing, we will always produce children that will grow up to be exactly the same kind of sociopaths and psychopaths that we now see running Wall Street and Capitol Hill.
But these past couple of years, we've seen a difference. Far from seeing the status quo merely defended with police and military intervention and through propaganda campaigns, we've actually witnessed an incalculably vicious reaction that has produced a regression in the policies, principles and laws that helped us emerge from a feudal state in the 19th century into the more equitable, civilized industrialized superpower that we'd become.
As with Europe in the Middle Ages, early 20th century America thrived under a middle class that was largely if not entirely enabled by trade unions both public and private. With unions (or guilds, as they were known in the Middle Ages) came more equitably shared wealth and political power that rivaled that of the church and state. And yet, despite the fact that the 80 year-odd experiment with an actual middle class was an unqualified success story, we've seen a very successful move to actually push the United States back into the feudal/serf state it was before the rise of the union movement about a century ago.
Now, for the first time in my 53 year-long life, we're hearing Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah actually calling for the repeal of child labor laws that got children out of dangerous mills and back in school where they belong. Just a couple of days ago in South Carolina, Gingrich renewed his call to turn children into janitors to approving hoots and hollers from the yahoos in attendance. The overarching and stupendously ignorant rationale among Southerners especially is, as long as we defeat liberalism at all costs, fuck the poor and fuck our own kids. It's an anti-Communist/Socialist mindset engineered by the right wing in a post-Cold War era.
And, rather than merely indemnifying Wall Street from its excesses and refusing to drag into court the titans who's made the meltdown of 2008 possible, the American public, under a surly simulacrum of representative government, was forced to bail out that same Wall Street despite tens of millions of us protesting that bailout to our elected officials. And, absurdly, the Republican Party that was largely responsible for laying the foundation for those excesses was for a time on our side.
Occupy Wall Street may be dead but it hasn't been forgotten. Instead, it's been ossified into history regardless of the best spinmeisters Wall Street and Capitol Hill can buy. OWS forced the corporate mainstream media to put under a microscope the world-consuming greed that nearly resulted in the collapse of our planet's financial system. For those who couldn't get away to occupy Zuccotti Park or Liberty Square or McPherson Sq. in Washington DC, the movement showed that, yes, you are not imagining things and, no, you are not alone and you are not crazy for coming to the same conclusions.
The problem is, fighting to save the American Dream is a battle that's doomed to failure because, except for one brief, shining moment, the American Dream never existed, As George Carlin once said, "it's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe in it."
And when those without guns oppose those who do, we all know what the outcome will be. The only difference is, the police and militia have traded in their clubs, fire hoses and truncheons with automatic weapons, pepper spray and tasers, mobilized not with horses but in tanks thoughtfully provided to them by an increasingly paranoid federal government.
Our landed gentry's track record on civil rights is every bit as spattered with blood and yet considering White America consistently being on the wrong side of history, the attitude of maintaining a racist status quo remains in full effect. Difficult as it to believe that we had to labor for nearly a century to abolish the enslavement of our fellow humans, that is exactly what we're fighting now.
How and why have we let this happen? How could we stop building on the progress we'd made throughout the 20th century to the point where we're seeing the dismantling of unions, the defunding of Social Security, the deconstruction of Medicaid and Medicare, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the outright theft of the voting rights of African Americans and calls to repeal child labor laws and even the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
Well, as the right wing has taught us, neglect of progress and infrastructure results in this very same thing: The flagging of the vigilance that progress requires and demands will inevitably produce a backslide that will land us back into the 19th century if not further. Under the dominance of the right wing that began under the union-busting Reagan, America is now like a once-champion body builder gone completely to flab.
And now we find ourselves in the absurd position of protesting rewarding corporations and banks for their corruption and malfeasance, to fight to keep our children out of the janitor's closet and in the classroom, for African Americans to merely secure the right to vote in the face of a sleazy, racist onslaught from an audacious right wing hoarsely screaming about voter fraud in the face of its much, much more massive electoral fraud.
If we couldn't take our very survival for granted in the nuclear age, at least we were able to take comfort in the fact that if you got up every morning, went to work, upgraded your skills, got a good education and a better job and lived within your means, you'd do OK. And that when the day came that you couldn't get out of bed due to old age or illness, the social safety net would take care of you and reward you for decades of hard work.
All that's being seriously threatened while we are, for the most part, allowing this to happen. But our forebears risked and gave their lives to hand us the freedoms and rights that we now no longer can take for granted. Then again, they didn't have cell phones, video games and Twitter to keep them happily distracted.