By Ivan G. Goldman
By Ivan G. Goldman
If trust-buster Theodore Roosevelt, who managed to rein in the most blatant corruption of his day, saw how politicians operate today -- touring haunts of the super-rich where they openly beg for alms and then perform huge favors for them at the expense of everyone else -- Teddy would call in federal marshals. But then he’d discover that in most instances the bribes are legal.
The bribe-takers have long since cemented legislation in place designed to keep them out of the penitentiary while their gratuities roll in. Everybody knows what’s going on, but we’ve been taught to pretend the gifts have no influence on takers. They buy only “access.” At least that’s the story the givers and takers tell. Not coincidentally, the U.S. distribution of wealth is the absolute worst in the Western World and getting worse all the time. Nearly 50 million Americans were walking around without health insurance at the same time Prince George and Congress, including many Democrats such as Diane Feinstein, killed the inheritance tax.
These crazy excesses look very much like what was going on during the years preceding Teddy’s reforms. But nowadays the lower classes aren’t offended by the conspicuous consumption of the super-rich. They just want to join the club. All across America people have taken out second mortgages to buy 8,000-pound, $90,000 SUVs to drive to the 7-Eleven for a quart of milk so they can pretend they're not desperate losers.
This new Gilded Age weirdly concides with a period of great religious awakening in America, the most religious country in the Western World. Curiously, the Christian Right, which is attempting and in many ways succeeding in putting its zombie legions in charge of schools, health, and science, is allied with conspicuous consumers like my neighbor Deepak Chopra, who's building a 20,000-square-foot home on the next hill. The church fascists provide a welcoming governmental environment for all the Fools on all the Hills. (See my March 2 LEISURE CLASS GOING BONKERS WITH EXCESS two posts below this one.)
“The politics of envy” is one of those hammers that hired hands for the super-rich start swinging whenever they run into someone who hints that lust for possessions has gone over the top, that perhaps corporate executives worth hundreds of millions who steal more hundreds of millions from their shareholders are a symptom of systemic disease. Their lackeys – authors, Supreme Court judges, senators, Fox newscasters, and the like -- are quick to batter us with slogans they apply to anyone applying rational thought to these bizarre phenomena. By using the same words, they can make their falsehoods seem more true.
For instance, they like to accuse critics of waging “class warfare.” In my case, they’re correct. I’m a proud, card-carrying warrior in the war between the classes, or at least I would be if such a war existed in this country. It can’t because whenever pollsters ask people about their status in the socio-economic structure, just about everybody says they belong to the middle class. That includes the very, very rich as well as people in trailer courts. And I’m not talking about the nice trailer courts with brave, well-tended little gardens. I mean the ones where the man of the trailer watches TV twirling a 14-shot, nine-millimeter pistol and sometimes can be seen on reality cop shows getting dragged out in an undershirt and handcuffs for cooking meth or beating his significant other.
Ask those guys being stuffed into the back seat of the patrol car if they’re middle class and they’ll probably say yes. The cop who’s doing the stuffing would tell you he’s middle-class, too – same league, but on a different team. Americans who can’t even identify their location in the economy are useless dingbats in the political world, sitting silently while politicans working for tips kick them farther down the ladder.