What’s The Matter With All Of Us?

The Stockholm syndrome (when the prisoner identifies with his or her jailer) was framed accurately following the 2004 national elections by Thomas Frank in his seminal book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas.” Frank’s vision was one of fading and suffering blue collar workers and towns still opting for a positive economic future, buying into symbols when hope was all that was left because the American Dream was still alive in a country still reacting to the psychological horrors and violence of 9/11. We’re way beyond this in 2010.  Now, it’s no longer “what’s the matter with Kansas” as a question but rather “what’s the matter with all of us” as a plain statement of fact.

The America of our forefathers stood for equal opportunities, hard work, personal responsibility, civic commitment, and expanding ownership starting with land.  The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is not a political symbol but an American symbol about throwing off the yoke of self-interested taxation without enlightened taxpayer representation.  This is a bipartisan symbol that flies in the face of economically unpatriotic corporations who got their start in this country and then shuttered our main streets and furloughed our people to off-shored, outsourced jobs without any environmental, safety, or healthcare conscience in the global practice of sweatshop wage arbitraging.

In the U.S, we’ve learned the hard way about failed models. We’ve learned that deindustrialization and disintermediation are not natural “creative destruction” outcomes. Instead, they’re entirely man-made, creative only for those who profit and destructive for those who are fired, abandoned, foreclosed, and outsourced.  It’s back to peering darkly through the “looking glass” as nothing is what it seems except for the palpable discontent roiling our citizenry.  This anger is easy to explain.  U.S. Census data shows that the richest one percent of all Americans account for forty-three percent of the nation’s total net worth if housing is not included.  Even worse, the richest twenty percent make off with ninety-three percent of the country’s collective wealth.  This means that the remaining eighty percent of our fellow citizens benefit from the remaining seven percent of the nation’s gross domestic treasure.  In this context, the term, “democratic, market-based economy” becomes an oxymoron. The nation is ripe for class warfare.

While the two major political parties joust over who is better at opportunistic channeling, this anger is basically bipartisan and anti-incumbent.  Our dramatically polarizing “two Americas”, those increasingly who have more and those increasingly who have less,  continue to morph into permanently gated, unequal societies.  As wage and opportunity inequalities rise, aided and abetted by failed models specializing in the “privatizing of personal profits for a few while socializing collective losses for the many”, we risk active civic dismemberment.   President Lincoln’s prescient, sorrowful, and deeply respectful battlefield consecration during another “great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure,” is now, alarmingly, about the past becoming prologue.

This “new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”, survives on industrial life support.  We risk splitting our country up once again into two Americas for economic reasons complicated by the false, self-preserving social class definitions and justifications that follow.  We reap the seeds sown from irresponsible capitalism serving as paymaster for unchecked political greed successfully tilting one too many self-interested and parochial playing fields unfairly against a hurting country.   “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” is gasping to stay afloat in places like Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland, Phoenix, Cincinnati, and in every shuttered heartland town for all those “children of a lesser god.”

Such flagrant abuse masquerading under manipulated political symbolism no longer passes the enraged citizen smell test.  Supposed free-market enterprises that choose not to accept both the upsides and downsides of risks and rewards shouldn’t be surprised when targeted for a national policy re-set. Self-defined free market financial enterprises that choose opportunistically to become wards of the state, any state, after extracting billions from the national treasury because a lot of unchecked, greed-driven speculation in stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives somehow didn’t pay out the way they were intended, have no standing to complain down the road to recovery about anti-business sentiment or about government getting in the way.  Special interest tax categories helping to fund multinational American corporations create overseas jobs instead of more competitive investment policies inspiring both local and overseas corporations to invest where we live – no longer make any economic or social sense because our people can no longer afford to buy what these companies want to sell.

Either we let all of America’s social and economic communities benefit equally from government-guaranteed deposits and virtually free money from the Federal Reserve’s discount window to cover all of our bad bets, or we turn off the spigot completely for everyone.  To do otherwise is to “pick winners and losers”, that phrase so handily brandished as a brake on someone else’s inside good deal.

“Don’t Tread on Me” is what we hurl back indiscriminately because what’s the matter with all of us is that now, for the first time, the “American Dream” is about having no dream at all.