In the discarded dog-towns of the Great Recession, the “Moby Dicking” of America – harpooning our whale of a country to dance with the stars for starry-eyed profits – no longer qualifies as a victimless spectator market sport where big game hunters can pay to play for uneven advantages. Outside of paradise, twenty-seven million unemployed average citizens have come up empty, receiving nothing but return to sender job applications this holiday season (Los Angeles Times), with no improvement anytime soon. Our jobless testify to a national disenfranchisement fix, a coast-to-coast underclass that is alive but not well and which has morphed into a signed, sealed, and delivered divorce standoff between global shareholders and local stakeholders, between those who have way too much and those who have much less than enough, between those who decide to buy-back their corporate shares because they’ve confused investing in themselves with investing in their country, and between generations struggling to equate broken, non-recyclable promises with anything positive they were brought up to believe in.
Instead of an ennobling professional odyssey leading to a destiny sliver of American exceptionalism, America’s human leftovers are reduced to occupying city centers in tents to reboot participative democracy. Deafened by jobless sounds of silence, political turntables scratch overtly labeled, pre-recorded empty slogan platters, spinning them backwards so that intransigent dissonance is the only music playing. In mean streets and counties in America, privatized prisons represent the largest local employer while in transactional cities where clients are referred to as suckers, historic civic trust has been subprime-mortgaged and investor-tranched into trenches where jobless victims are buried alive. Everywhere you go nobody trusts stockbrokers or investment bankers anymore or understands how banks can pay fine after fine for an endless stream of crimes against humanity without ever admitting guilt or truly changing their practices until they are caught with their hands once again in our collective tills, the recent Federal District court ruling against the egregious SEC-Citibank give-away notwithstanding. Everyone is waiting to see which partisan corner will produce that defining populist anger surge we’ve all been waiting for that will clear the decks of economically traitorous and greedy brine and reset the national moral compass.
Today in the America we have crafted, more profit streams go to fewer and fewer people, most of them repeat customers. While America’s richest 20 percent own more than 80 percent of America’s wealth and its poorest 20 percent strain to own barely one-tenth of one percent, our cacophonic congressional debate still clashes over how much is enough for the “top 0.1 percent – the richest one-thousandth of the population” (Paul Krugman, NY Times 11-25-2011). Choosing to represent either vast majority ownership of advancing poverty or miniscule minority ownership of extreme wealth, our politicians and their endlessly ineffective sloganeered charges of class warfare confuse how to make opportunities equal with sideshows over why life is unfair. This kind of question finds no credible answer in a country dedicated to stacking the deck and declaring tomato paste a vegetable because it can. Predatory capitalism’s obsession with quarterly results for the few backed up by public bail-outs by the many coupled with corporate profits anonymously going to buy political votes aided by highly partisan Supreme Court rulings that reek of bought and paid for compacts with oligarchy devils in our midst, sound the death knell for competent, competitive and conscientious democracy.
Out in the cold, literally and figuratively, not only frozen but frozen out, America’s top-rated reality TV gong show should be, “Who Wants to be Manipulated?” In each grippingly dismal episode, the great American white whale country we live in gets harpooned by another partisan take down strategy manipulation masquerading as a symbolic fight for freedom, or a sweet sounding campaign promise which never delivers, or another publicly traded corporate stock buy-back for boardrooms and c-suites taking place at the expense of increased working class employment, or privileged elected officials blowing-up sacred institutions for short-term political gain and then walking away from the nation’s policy battlefield without burying the bodies of those trusting proles who could not make their survival ends meet. Each new saga in the All-American grab for the “do as I say but not as I do – heads I win, tails you lose” jack-in-the-box consolation prize that is fast becoming our national anthem to inequality from sea to shining sea elevates economic class selfishness over civic generosity and divides our country into privileged hunter-gatherers and sucker prey.
The big board metrics prove we would rather spend our treasury on fattening the indoor 1 percent than in sustaining the outside 99 percent. We spend days, often weeks, even years debating the politics of minimum wage but affect moral amnesia or legislatively shrug off golden parachutes awarded to executives or corporate boards who murdered and sabotaged their companies, industries and hosting communities. Beyond what any lobbyist can fix, we have arrived at a societal tipping point precipice where our country will be able to heal itself and we will prevail as an exceptional people only when we radically change.
We can start by equating shareholder capital with stakeholder capital. Every special interest slice carving out a choice piece of blubber from the belly of the body politic pulls the scab away from our collective ability to recover and heal. Each recidivist ideological faction wants to “starve the beast” belonging to the other zoo; twenty-first century big game buffalo hunters using political party and “Super Pac” weapons of mass destruction to fire and maim indiscriminately for token focus group pelts and talking head tongues until mass carnage is all we see. Today, every beast on the compromise horizon is dead and our legacy cultural frontier has become the dreams of our fathers we will never know how to dream. In the face of indiscriminate starvation in the land of plenty with more than 27 million structurally unemployed bricks in our broken national wall desperately seeking jobs that reflect some form of sustaining family honor, our hunting class either runs out of or runs out on targets they teed up that are now part and parcel of the waste land we have wrought.
Maybe it’s because current self-interested system incentives are stronger than any buried impulse to do better, a living rehash of the old joke about the scorpion knowing that killing the frog carrying it across the lake will cause them both to drown but finding that its nature to sting is stronger than its interest in surviving. How can we resuscitate the great, multi-color hope of the mortally-wounded American dream whale lying morally inert, harpooned into gridlock and polluted into paralysis on the national trading floor asylum where principles and values are foreclosed by elected sector guardians while private sector leaders outsource the inmates? Bankrolled by others beyond borders to the point where captains of industry and members of Congress argue publicly whether we are even able to make things anymore in our own country, we’ve become a nation of bottom-line connected fattened oligarchies voting in Republican and Democrat elites with the dispossessed, disenfranchised, and destitute down in the no-safety-net pits still up for grabs but reduced to nothing more than indices in the grinding applause meter dialed into the national manipulation bonanza game show.
What plays real in our pot-holed streets and lives is that unrepentant, too clever by half, selfish elites masquerading as free market patriots have sold out any sense of civic honor in return for the nation’s rich booty. White collar, revolving door crime has become justified, legalized and institutionalized to the extent that getting away with economic murder by importing, exporting, fielding and exploding financial weapons of mass destruction on one’s own people has become who we are and what we do. We live in an America where our privatized jails are overwhelmingly full of people of color who commit crimes mostly against individuals in their neighborhoods while our board rooms, country clubs, and executive suites are overwhelming full of white people who commit crimes so that entire neighborhoods are obliterated and who when caught plea the “Nuremburg excuse” of just following orders. In the name of a prosperity gospel that blesses bundled political fundraising bribes to inoculate self-serving and self-dealing Pharisees and Philistines, “we, the people” pray in vain for an ever hastening tribunal of perp-walks and claw-backs. Forget facile charges of class envy or reverse racism, it’s just the way the railroad tracks split every hood any of us live in.
Hope for rebooted American exceptionalism demands that we reoccupy our historical civic conscience, our common cultural soul, and translate our collective need for forgiveness into a newly empowered declaration of independence from the predatory capitalist dreams of Davos wannabes. Today, most of our own people, 99 percent of our citizens, huddle over the venting grates in our own “too big to have failed” streets, trying to stay warm and motivated in this approaching winter of our national discontent. They deserve much more from all of us than being consigned to second tier, hand to mouth existence, to substandard lifestyles in the collateral damage bins that too many of the top 1 percent install outside gated communities of the mind and heart.
Let the cry go forth to occupy everything until we get our original frontier mojo back, until we discover that our destinies are made manifest through the pursuit of happiness by others to the point where the differences between us pale in comparison to the opportunities knocking down doors in everybody’s neighborhood. Let’s stop harpooning the whale just because we can make the trade.