The ugly underbelly of capitalism for the wealthy has been exposed like never before by Trump and his cabal.
It is time once again to take stock of the shocking level of disinterest among the political and corporate classes in the well-being of the lower classes in America. First, despite routine repetition of the notion that America is some incredible land of opportunity for one and all, there is simply no evidence to support this notion. If “opportunity” means nothing more than waking up each day without mortar shells landing in your bedroom, then yes, America could be considered a land of opportunity. But then so is Costa Rica, and the weather is much better there.
It seems to me more persuasive on the land of opportunity spectrum that somewhere over 12 million children in America regularly go to bed hungry. (This figure is right around three times the entire population of Costa Rica.) Or maybe a routine check under bridges and in homeless shelters would be instructive, as well — over half a million documented homeless people in the land of opportunity. Not impressed yet? How about the number of people still without access to meaningful health care in America — 28.9 million “lucky” individuals?
Then, think about all of those people who have jobs in America, yet are living paycheck to paycheck: 78% of full-time workers say they need their next paycheck to meet their obligations, and 71% of all workers claim to be in debt. Although this data covers a wide range of incomes and a bloated consumer culture that overwhelms many, even those with a decent income, it surely belies the notion of a nation awash in opportunity for all. To drive this point home, maybe the following piece of information will prove instructive: 40% of American adults say they cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing or selling something they own.
I could go on, further striking at the “land of opportunity” fantasy that continues to permeate the American psyche. But it should be enough to ask those hungry children, those without a secure place to live, and those who are sick and can’t afford relief just how lucky they feel to be living in this “exceptional” land. And this doesn’t even get to the racism, in the broadest sense of that word, that leaves so many in our midst feeling as if they are on the outside looking in.
To make matters worse, political perfidy and corporate greed continue to foster systemic poverty, under-performing educational institutions, expensive and ineffective health care delivery, and the crumbling infrastructure that endangers clean air, clean water and efficient public transportation. These crucial impediments to opportunity go unaddressed. At the same time, big surprise, public revenue has been reduced by massive tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
“Land of Opportunity”
Alas, just as you are about to think that America should do a thing or two about some of this, someone emerges from a cave to raise that most ignorant of questions: If life is so bad for so many who are already here, why do people from other lands want to immigrate here, particularly those who are brown, black or somewhere in between? Not surprisingly, if you ask an ignorant question, there is usually an easy answer: Life is better here than in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Sudan, Syria and a whole bunch of other countries in the world.
However, before doing a national victory lap, it might be worth asking why caravans of Costa Ricans, Argentines, Chileans and hordes of French, German, British and Scandinavian citizens are neither on America’s immigration doorstep nor ever seen as part of the immigration problem. In this context, it might be worth noting that if you are one of those folks really worried about someone infiltrating the land to take your high-paying job, do what you can to keep out the Germans, the South Koreans and the Chinese. Then, after that is taken care of, you can call the guy with the Latino accent to come mow your lawn.
A truly sad part of all this is that the tired self-delusional “land-of-opportunity” narrative is routinely used to obscure reality for so many who are already here and, perhaps more significantly, to drown out the serious policy debate that is so long overdue. It is not original thinking to suggest that the political and corporate beneficiaries of the status quo will use whatever smokescreen they can devise to prevent ideological challenges that might reduce privilege and profits for them, while benefiting the underprivileged and powerless.
Much has been said lately about some national reactive progressive agenda that has finally been resurrected by all that is corrupt about Trump and the right-wing agenda that he parrots. While it is nice to hear voices raised in protest, it will be more impressive if those voices can produce a cohesive message of progressive change that will be heard through the fog. To be successful, it cannot be watered down.
It may finally be time for an awakened progressive and socialist minority to advocate for and engage with the lower and working classes while giving the middle classes the education they need to join the cause. Life really can be better in a world with a living wage, affordable housing, universal health care, universal access to quality education for our children, affordable higher education and meaningful technical training, clean water and air and public transportation that works.
Life will never be better, however, if the same political and corporate classes are permitted to cling to power and promote their agenda as “our” agenda.
Yes, America, the ugly underbelly of capitalism for the wealthy has been exposed like never before by Trump and his cabal.
Now, we just have to convince the blind that they can see and the tone deaf that they can hear. And then loudly proclaim a new day dawning and proudly make it happen.
*[A version of this article was also featured on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
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