We got Trump in part, I think, because for decades only the rich have been getting ahead. (And, boy, have we ever.)
So . . . much as I’d rather tell you my recipe for healthy summer pizza . . . today I offer the thoughts of a pen-pal who cares deeply about his fellow earthlings.
(Cut a big cold tomato into slices onto which you sprinkle garlic salt, pepper, oregano, and Parmesan cheese; drizzle amply with olive oil; eat each slice with your fingers; lick your fingers.)
(Think about it! No carbs! No heat! Nothing to clean but the cutting board and the knife! And yes, I know you think tomatoes should not be refrigerated before slicing. It’s summer. Everything should be refrigerated.)
It began with this link: The Age of Disappointment? Or How the American Century Ends, a gripping rant by Tom Engelhardt.
Does it work well to have “the wealth of 162 global billionaires equal that of half of humanity?”
It’s a rant worth your time.
(Engelhardt doesn’t raise these suggestions specifically, but . . . what about a Universal Basic Income of the type Andrew Yang advocates? What about a wealth tax on the uber-rich? What about putting people to work at good wages revitalizing our infrastructure, smartening our electric grid and providing rural broadband as we once provided rural electrification?)
One friend who read the Engelhardt piece, Brian Schwartz, an expat living in China, the afore-referenced pan-pal to whom I cede the balance of my time, reacted to it this way:
There is so much for each of us to say in these profound times. Every one of us needs to reflect and consider and yes, face the truth of our lives and times. Especially those of color and disabilities and sexual minorities and women have long standing legitimate grievances that need to addressed. This is the moment to rally for the essence of our democracy.
Tom Engelhardt is my contemporary. I identify powerfully with his memories with the addition of having been heavily involved in the civil rights movement and helping to lead NYU’s faculty and student response to Dr. King’s assassination. Those were heady and, to some degree, naive days of great hope in the face of the successive murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. King. Two months later so much of that hope was shattered by the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the ascension of liberal sell-out Hubert Humphrey to the Democratic Party nomination of 1968 after Chicago’s police riot. Back then I and others, sadly a tiny minority, saw the handwriting on the wall of the decline of the American Empire. It was evident not so much in our military might or national wealth but in the “heart of darkness” exemplified by ongoing racism at home and the state violence used to suppress domestic dissent while at the same time exporting that same violence to maintain dominance over most if not all of the rest of the world.
Though most people of good intentions were asleep at the wheel of democracy, failed Supreme Court nominee William Powell issued the manifesto in 1971 that laid out the strategy for the oligarchic transformation of the American Republic. Those who saw this coming have been marginalized and seen as traitors to the USA or conspiracy theorists or extreme radicals or dangerous revolutionaries. Our social lives, even professional lives, have been truncated by our being proponents revealing the ugly truths of American society. Contrary to the charges against us, we have been true believers in the ideals set forth by the Founding Fathers, imperfect but hopeful advocates of the essential truths laid out in that wonderful beacon of humanity emanating from the Age of Enlightenment.
Tom Engelhardt’s genuine angst has been a daily state of mind and emotion for this small minority of Americans who could see past the insidious corporate propaganda broadcast by mainstream news sources.
[DISCLAIMER: I’M NOT AS RADICAL AS BRIAN. I’M GRATEFUL FOR LOTS OF THINGS CORPORATIONS HAVE ACCOMPLISHED FOR MANKIND! ENLIGHTENED CAPITALISM, SENSIBLY REGULATED, IS A GREAT THING! EVEN SO . . . ]
There have been uprisings galore in the USA starting with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee protests of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. We beheaded that monster and expanded to the free speech and academic protests of the early 1960’s. I was proud to vote for the strike at my college in the spring of 1961 as our Student Senate defied the censorship being imposed upon us. I listened mesmerized to Marxist speakers, banned at my college but allowed to speak at nearby Columbia University, presenting a version of history informed by Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism. It was a scientific deconstruction of all that I had been propagandized to believe in from childhood. I rejected the Stalinist and Maoist versions of Marxism and embraced the democratic socialism of Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg and others seeking a more democratic and humane approach to the ills of mankind. I was captain of the pickets at each entry to the college and sophomore Mario Savio went on to lead the free speech movement at Berkeley three years later.
Tom Engelhardt here tells the story, to a great degree, of my own journey. (He doesn’t mention the political battles of the 1980’s and the horrific Reagan policies that have brought us the massive movement of refugees from the increasing collapse of Central American and several South American societies. The crimes of the American Empire in those lonely days of protest in the 1980’s and the scars of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala run deep. Americans ignored most of that horror and have forgotten that misery attached to today’s immigration debates.)
If anyone still fails to see the class warfare being waged amid increasing intensity as our country suffers a wealth disparity the worst since the Gilded Age, then they continue to be part of the problem. The incrementalists and centrists are very much a part of the problem. The times call for revolutionary change and that is what will mark the next 10-20 years whether one likes it or not. Extreme wealth disparity is obscene and morally indefensible.
How can the six heirs to the WalMart fortune have greater wealth than the 50% bottom of American citizens? How to justify the existence of billionaires when so many go to bed hungry or without jobs or without basic medical care? It’s insane and maddening to those who have a sense of humanity and justice.
Eldridge Cleaver was no saint but he was a powerful writer and when he said, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” he put his finger right on the nub of the issue of one’s legitimacy as a political agent in a democracy. Jesus was a social revolutionary who understood that love was the greatest force in the Universe and that those who worshiped power and money and status were as likely to go to Heaven as a camel to be threaded through the eye of a needle. Shakespeare and Freud and Marx and Einstein all told us in their unique ways that true human happiness is built on love/relationships and our passion for our work, work which satisfies our need for material goods necessary for survival if not comfort and which contributes to the overall benefit of society. How far our country has become lost in the infinitesimal journey we each of us take through the Cosmos. So much attention paid to inanimate things, so little attention paid to the human spirit of each of us.
That magnificent document that serves as the cornerstone of our nation, the Declaration of Independence, boldly states that all human beings are born with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. White privilege, the Chinese Communist Party, the Tories, Orban and his protofascist Hungarian allies, Duterte and his allies, Bolsanaro and his allies, Putin and his fellow thugs are all responsible for the massive affliction not only of the virus but the looming environmental disaster that awaits human and all living matter on the other side of this pandemic.
Solutions abound but the most promising are quite radical and thrust us to the hope of Karl Marx and a birth of a socialism he advocated that leads to the increased happiness of all life on this planet. He was a man well ahead of his times but moved by the same vision that moved Isaiah, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and so many of the great prophets who have walked this Earth. To survive, we, as species, must find harmony and balance with Nature as there is no other sustainable reality to ensure life on this speck in the Universe. Our current systems are wholly inadequate to the task and we need to reinvent our way forward.
The political will that is required to right the longstanding wrongs of massive income and wealth inequality is not yet there but that battle for the hearts and minds of all of humankind is now in motion. None of us, as individuals, have the wisdom or knowledge or power to change things but we are part of the great collective of humanity and what each of us decides to do going forward will determine the outcome. There are more of us than the 0.0001 who currently hold most of the power. What will you do? With whom? When? Towards what hopeful end?
I am sure many on this list will consider my words traitorous or crazy or extreme or overly harsh. You are, in our dying democracy, entitled to your opinions.
Yet those who fail to see the handwriting on the wall at this auspicious moment in time will have missed the opportunity of a lifetime.
The solution may not be more tax cuts for the rich.