I got home last Monday. Since then, I’ve slowly been adjusting back to the American way of life; I’ve returned with a smaller appetite and a clarified sense of place in the world, among other things. What I didn’t gain, nay, what I lost, was patience for the trivialities that line and frame our national consciousness and displace discussion of fundamental problems in our society. While abroad I could disconnect completely from American media, but here I have to occasionally tune in out of sick fascination, like watching a manned spacecraft explode in the sky. Phrases like “War on Christmas” and “Tea Party Movement” fill me with knee-jerk reactions of rage and make me want to sear my eyes shut with hot glue, or at least inhale enough to be whisked away to an idyllic world that values truth.
It’s not as if my only window to Middle America and its misguided ideas is TV; I live in Wal-Mart territory, flat land deep in the American South crisscrossed by Ford F150’s and boxy retail stores. When I’m in public I often hear either right wing propaganda or sensationalist discussion far removed from reality and I have to strain hard to keep my mouth shut. How has it been so easy to keep people blind to what has actually been going on?
Let’s feel a little truth first:
- A quarter of America’s income is earned by the top 1%, in part thanks to increased ‘financialization’ in the economy, i.e., more companies broadening their financial sectors to turn a profit. One example is Enron – right before it collapsed it was making way more money through derivatives trading than its goods & services market. Those who gain from such practices are already part of the wealthy classes and know how to manipulate money, and consequently “two-thirds of the country’s total gains in the five years to 2007 accrued to the top 1%, whereas the bottom 90th percentile saw only 12% of the extra income.”
- Median household income in 2008 was $50,303, while in 1998 it was $51,295.
- President Bush’s 1.3 trillion dollar tax cuts benefitted the super rich (families earning over $1 million) far more than anybody else. Fortunately, they will expire in 2010.
- The ratio of CEO-to-worker pay in 1978 was 35 to 1; in 2008 it was a nauseating 319 to 1
- At least 1.6 million people are imprisoned in state or federal prison in the United States, a population increase of about 300% since 1980 and putting us second only to China in most citizens incarcerated. More things are criminalized, and those affected are mainly poor and dark.
Isn’t it obvious what’s going on? We’re smack in the middle of a heist, and a very tactical one at that. While we were sleeping the wealthiest in this country slithered through our bags and smacked us around like shaved pigs. The question is, who’s to blame for Middle America’s stunningly misguided perception of our current state of affairs? Why are so many people berating our President for “socialist” policies and generally ignoring the accelerated polarization of wealth that took place over the last thirty years, a phenomenon rooted in right wing policies?
Perhaps it’s too easy and pretentious to pin all of the blame on the media or a widespread educational deficit. In his essay “Autonomous Politics and its Problems,” Ezequiel Adamosky proposes that the reason people run to the right for answers is because, in an increasingly individualistic society where everyone and everything is perceived as a potential threat, the right is appealing as a force of order. Who knows what could happen or who might get hurt if America’s political institutions were uprooted from the very bottom? Beyond the general fear of change, these concerns are especially heightened when one discusses reform based around economic justice, considering how well right-wing elites have done for over sixty years in conjuring up images of Stalinist Russia whenever they feel the threat of populism (or even using populism to advance the capitalist cause, i.e. the entire Tea Party sham). The same group has also done a good job convincing Americans that we live in some imaginary free-market bazaar where nobody has any inherent advantages and everybody can be a millionaire if they try hard enough; a hope so desperate that nobody wants to risk letting go of it.
I feel Adamosky is too dismissive of the power of the wealthy to influence the media. If people simply wanted security then they’d be less enthusiastic about an economic system based on incessant boom-bust cycles in which there must always be a loser. Whatever the root of our collective misinformation, one cannot deny: it is in fact the weasels who continue serving us stiff drinks of jingoism and false security, and while we stumble around blindly they reach into our pockets, slipping out the back after we’ve thrown up all over ourselves.