Monday, November 01, 2010

Selling Me The Rope For The Noose They're Gonna Hang Me With

I must hand it to the Republicans: No other party manages to do the equivalent of that when it comes to those who are not super-rich voting for their own continuous enslavement. But it has been done in this country, through right-wing populism such as the Tea Party movement! My helmet goes off. Or would go off if the outcome wasn't so much pain and suffering.

But still. They have hit upon a winning formula, and it is this one:

Imagine a large number of people getting together and paying for the flour, sugar, eggs, cream, strawberries and so on to bake a gigantic celebration cake. Imagine, then, the finished cake and notice how most of the people are asked to share one thin slice while a small number hog all the rest of the cake. What happens next?

The cake hoggers (standing with 99% of the cake behind their backs) essentially tell the vast masses that someone else is trying to steal their thin piece! That's how right-wing populism works. It's those immigrants! It's those blacks! It's those upppity wimminz! It's those fags! They are the ones you need to fight to keep that thin cake sliver.

Not the people with most of the cake. This I have never understood. But that's how it goes.

The next stage is for the disgruntled masses to say that they will never ever again pay for any of the eggs or the sugar or the flour or the cream because that cake goes to the undeserving wimminz, blacks, illegal aliens, gays and so on.

So they don't want to have a government. Without the government they will be worse off but that doesn't enter the story. The story, after all, is orchestrated by that small number who are right now digging into the cake with their bare hands, smearing the cake all over the walls and laughing at the rest of us.

This Huffington Post piece tells a better story about the same phenomenon:

"Why don't more Americans -- especially those with low incomes advocate for greater redistribution of wealth?" the authors ask. Their answer: Americans drastically underestimate the disparity between the very rich and the rest of the population, are overly optimistic about social mobility, and there exists a disconnect between their attitudes toward inequality, their self-interest and public policy preferences.

Why do so many working class Americans hold these detrimental false assumptions. Why this disconnect between self-interest and voting patterns?


A look at the divergence in political thinking between Western Europeans and Americans provides much of the answer to why we lag so far behind.

* European workers define themselves as working class which facilitates awareness that their interests are opposed to those of the upper classes -- factory owners, bankers, financiers etc. Since WW2, the common wisdom in the U.S. has been that we have no working class. Factory workers, the folks who flip Hamburgers at MacDonald -- they're all middle class, so it's a small leap to becoming upper middle class. Someday, with hard work and a little luck, you, or your children, could be making millions, or at least hundreds of thousands -- true for a small percentage of working class Americans, but for the vast majority more than ever, a fantasy that discourages struggling for better conditions.
* The shift to "we are all middle class," coincided with virulent McCarthyism which lumped socialism and communism together -- no distinction made between murderous, totalitarian Communist regimes, and democratic socialist societies developing in Europe -- and turned both into un-American dirty words. (Right wingers' attacks on centrist President Obama as a "socialist" testify that it remains an attack word 60 years later.) Talk of working class versus capitalist class, common among European workers, became anathema -- such talk supposedly
created class conflict where none existed. But it does exist. With all due respect to our many responsible CEO's -- and wealthy Americans willing to pay higher taxes -- a vast majority care only about their bottom line.
* Unions, still influential in Western Europe, are committed to democratic socialism. Since the 1970's U.S. unions have been in sharp decline. Industry moving to un-unionized areas, employers -- with their lawyers -- using labor law to evade unionization, corrupt union leaders, have been factors. By the 1990's most workers -- especially blue collar -- were without power and without the political education that unions historically provided.
That's pretty much it. On some level American workers know that their anger is justified but the zillion social diversion mechanisms all throw smoke in their eyes and point out obvious culprits. Once again, all those other groups fighting for the same cake slice. Right now it's racism but if we had a Hillary Clinton administration it would be sexism that would run the engines of the opposition.