Pity the Billionaire by Thomas Frank

book jacket with cartoon figure of rich guyPity the Billionaire: The hard-times swindle and the unlikely comeback of the right,  by Thomas Frank, (2012). Author of several great books including new release MUST READ Listen Liberals and most famously his What’s the Matter with Kansas. [also on video]

Once again it is fun to see the title of the concluding chapter, in this case:
Trample the Weak. We who are living in this fake “free market” know that there can never be a free market because free markets are ruthless killers of all things, people, land, water, animals, and more, all for PROFIT. In fact, the religion of capitalism has now even shucked any pretense of their original charters with the obligation to serve the people by claiming “fiduciary” responsibility to their shareholders. How they can do that while taking $53 million a year in salary plus bonuses and stock options that cause them to waste capital on stock buybacks to jack the price up and contribute literally nothing in terms of goods and services, just shuffling paper money around, is beyond me. The shareholders aren’t even allowed a vote on the pay of the CEO but just their boards that are well-compensated people with next to no responsibilities except to rubber stamp whatever grand scheme the current CEO has to rape and pillage the people.

Trample the Weak
In 1944, the Hungarian historian Karl Polanyi [so immediately Americans will dismiss this foreigner’s insight] told the story of what he called the “utopian” idea of the “self-regulating market” — and of what happened when theorists and dreamers tried to put that utopia into effect. “To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment,” he wrote, in a celebrated passage, “would result in the demolition of society.”

“Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through VICE, PERVERSION, CRIME, and STARVATION. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.” (p. 186 footnote 1)

The author calls this the “deadly free-market dream” and that is what we are living in now, and it will only get worse based on the 2016 presidential race, the recent BrExit, and even the Australian election is too close to call at this writing. Too much division between classes, races, genders, religious authoritarianism is everywhere and I include terrorists foreign and domestic in this charming group of would-be tyrants.

 

Footnote 1 (p. 209) from Trample the Weak
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon, 1957 [1944]), pp. 140, 73.

I can’t help but wonder if another book on my reading list is a riff on that title since it is called “The Great Deformation” — I will let you know if I find out it is.

Footnote 2 is darkly amusing, what a country we have when we foster such contempt for other people:
“Trample the Weak” is tea-partying Ted Nugent’s summary of his political views. (It was also, apparently, the title for his 2010 tour.) See his editorial, “Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead,” in the Washington Times, June 24, 2010.

Actually, all the footnotes make good reading! And turn into more things to read of course. I still don’t understand why people so fear “socialism” for example; it seems almost to be a leftover Cold War notion and we need to get these old men out of office. For example, another citation is:

Jim DeMint, Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism (Nashville: Fidalis, 2009), p. 29. “The Siren Song of Socialism” is the name of the chapter in which this sad story is related.

This reference is in his Chapter 9: He Whom a Dream Hath Possessed Knoweth No More of Doubting. (p. 162)

That old “will to believe” still blithely overrules the “evidence of the senses.”

We notice this intransigent idealism everywhere on the resurgent Right once we start looking for it. Senator Jim DMint, for example, makes a point . . . in his 2009 bestselling, Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism. The nations of western Europe, he tells us, CAPITULATED to “the siren song of socialism” after World War II and soon thereafter “declined into economic stagnation.” (13) As it happens, this is incorrect, and in a really MONUMENTAL WAY. As a brief check with the annals of reality reminds us, it was during those very postwar years that France, Italy, Belgium, and Sweden — all of them called out by DeMint for choosing socialism after the war — embarked on their greatest boom periods in modern times. But according to Senator DeMint’s theoretical guidelines, this is impossible: socialism always brings stagnation, and therefore socialism brought stagnation.

Throughout his bestselling book, in fact, the senator seems to advance on his quarry not by proffs and demonstrations in the conventional sense, but by a process of abstract moral reckoning. In an important passage describing the 2008 presidential debates, DeMint criticizes then senator Barack Obama for reffering to “markets running wild after deregulation.” DeMint does NOT counter this statement by demonstrating that markets did not run wild after deregulation, he simply points out that the future president made these arguments and is therefore a man of “socialist principles.” (14 Ibid) DeMint’s object here is NOT TO REFUTE; it is to unmask, to close down an unacceptable mental operation. There is only one way that believers in FREEDOM can interpret the MELTDOWN OF 2008, and they must stick to it whether it fits the facts or not.

I just flashed on The Matrix film, which world is real and which the illusion? Many Republicans would simply declare my worldview as evidence of an equal amount of confirmation bias, but I don’t think I am guilty of that; I ask myself, follow the money and who stands to benefit? The answer never seems to be wage earners or poor people. That is why when I see the signs by poor white folks screaming NO SINGLE PAYER while holding a sign reading “keep yours hands off my Medicare” it really causes me to doubt the value of public education firstly, and secondly, see the evidence of the amazing propaganda machine of Faux news et al that seems to have confused people into thinking Medicare is NOT a socialist program that has rendered millions and millions of lives the better for it.

Hopping back to chapter 5 “Making a Business of It” to the section on Tea Party madness and specifically single payer healthcare, here are some tasty bits stating on page 83:

Using the same ingenious reasoning, each self-published philosohe comes to the same conclusion: The divinity of markets. The elitism of liberals. And for the extreme danger hanging over the head of the Republic.

Going Viral
All of these themes came together over the course of a story that began at a public meeting in a depressed part of Washington State in August of 2009. This was “Town Hall Summer,” when protesters took their complaints from the streets and into the traditional Q-and- A sessions held by their elected representatives. It followed the same trajectory from contrived to genuine as did the Tea Party movement itself. At first, memos appeared from leadership groups instructing conservatives how to make themselves heard a town hall gatherings or even how to disrupt same. (ch. 5-f. 10) Then, after a few town hall meetings were duly disrupted in spectacular fashion — with the disruptions captured for eternity on hand-held video cameras — the fad caught on. The chance to inflict spectacular HUMILIATION on some politician before the eyes of the nation was apparently the opportunity for which thousands had been waiting.  [15 minutes of fame syndrome]

At the town hall meeting that concerns us here, the subject was the Democrats’ various health-care proposals; the politician on stage was Brian Baird, a bland, affable Democratic congressman in khaki pants and a lighter-colored shirt; the local unemployment rate was well above 10 percent; and tall across the country, public meetings of this kind were giving way to explosions of rage. Representative Baird had made the mistake of labeling such protests “brownshirt tactics,” thus painting a big bull’s-eye on himself.

Thanks to those ubiquitous video cameras, the man who would emerge from the meeting with the spotlight fixed on his burly frame was David W. Hedrick [who would later run (and lose) for Republican in this seat after Baird retired without seeking re-election in 2010 to Washington State legislature], a management consultant and former marine. At some point in the Baird gathering, participants had talked over a federal proposal to teach parenting skills, and now, as the cameras hummed, this man Hedrick stepped up to the microphone on the floor of the auditorium to tangle with Representative Baird. “I heard you say tonight about educating our children, INDOCTRINATING our children, whatever you want to call it,” Hedrick began, after introducing himself. On the soon-to-be-famous videotape, the congressman can be heard mumbling a reply, but before he finishes Hedrick erupts “Stay away from my kids!

The audience explodes with approval at the unprovoked assault. But the man on the floor is just beginning; thirty seconds later he is imparting “a little history lesson” to the hapless Dem: “The Nazis were the National Socialist Party. They were LEFTIST.” These Nazis, according to Hedrick and countless leaders of the revived Right who have seen fit to educate the nation on the subject of World War II, seized the very industries that the Democrats were now also ominously accused of coveting: banks, automakers, health care. Therefore, if liberals such as Nancy Pelosi wanted to search the country for people wearing swastikas, the angry man on the floor insisted, in a voice growing husky with righteousness, “maybe the first place she should look is the sleeve of her own arm.”

The audience was on its feet now, shouting; a standing O for a guy who thinks we fought World War II to FREE MANKIND FROM UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. Or more likely, because it is always fun to see a politician get a good verbal thrashing, regardless of the delusions involved. Hedrick, for his part, was not quite done yet; there was one more insult yet to come. He had earlier mentioned the oath to “support and defend” the Constitution that soldiers and public servants take — a matter of GRAVE SIGNIFICANCE where Tea Partiers gather — and now he flung it in the Democrat’s face. “As a marine,” Hedrick insisted, “I’ve kept my oath. Do you ever intend to keep yours?” As the congressman mumbled again, the former marine turned his back and marched to the rear, as if from an overwhelming disgust.

The video of the confrontation “went viral” as the expression had it. Its image of a passionate everyman speaking up (literally, upward) at uncaring power was an awesome, inspiring sight, a populist moment of the most moving sort — that is, if you put aside the asinine things Hedrick actually said. In the days that followed, the clip appeared on countless conservative websites. It was played endlessly on Fox News. Someone set it to music. The former marine himself appeared on Sean Hannity’s TV program several days after the showdown, informing the host that the Democratic administration’s policies were the same “almost line for line” as those of the Nazis.

The world briefly seemed to be at the former marine’s feet, thanks to YouTube, the revitalized Right, and an understanding of German history that bordered on COMPLETE FANTASY.

He goes on to describe how this man, once bitten by the glory of idiotic faux celebrity, imagined himself an intellectual giant and tried again to rekindle his moment of glory at another town hall with Baird speaking. And, as mentioned above, to run for office, and try and try to regain his celebrity. There is fun discussion about Hedrick’s subsequent “can-you-believe-this-shit” children’s book, The Liberal Claus featuring elves required to join unions and an “enforcer elf who uses German words and wears ‘jackboots,’ a clever nod, apparently, to Hitler’s alliance with organized labor, something I had never heard of before but which I guess history-minded Tea Partiers know all about.”

David Hedrick was not elected to Congress, but his story tells us something valuable nevertheless. The relentless grabbing of opportunities, the blending of politics with profit, the ceaseless striving to build a career on a single moment of media glory — these are the elements from which the conservative resurgence has grown. In this particular episode, the entrepreneur failed. But thanks to the many others in which entrepreneurs succeeded, the resurgent Right was able to conquer Congress and put its CRIPPLING AGENDA INTO EFFECT. (p. 88)

Finally, I want to quote from a chapter 6 page, discussing the obsession of Tea Partiers about our country being founded by “ordinary people” — which of course, it wasn’t, not by “laborers, lumberjacks, farmers, soldiers, share-croppers, and other who make their living by the sweat of their brow.” [quoting C. Jesse Duke who it turns out isn’t one of them, he is a small business owner].

And with that mix-up about social class, I submit, we encounter the movement’s most essential obfuscation.

Duke’s idea of society’s structure is actually something you come across all the time in the rhetoric of the resurgent Right: America is made up of two classes, roughly speaking, “ordinary people” and “intellectuals.” According to this way of thinking, as we see again and again, either you’re a productive citizen, or you’re some kind of snob, a university professor or an EPA bureaucrat. Compared to the vivid line separating intellectuals and productive members of society, business owners and sharecroppers, for example, there is no difference at all, just as other Tea Party author’s saw no real difference between Rick Antelli’s bond traders and “working people.” *

* “Capitalism in NOT the problem; Ivy League politicians ARE” is one of the ready-made protest slogans that blogger Bruce Bexley suggests in his book on the Tea Party.

There it is again — the hatred of the professional class, the Ivy League smartest guys in the room. So once again, like in Schlafly’s critique, and Frank’s own critique in Listern Liberal, there is a real agreement that these elites are a problem! Fascinating! I am reminded of something I read once, will have to see if I can figure out where, about there being an optimal range of “smartness” for people to be smart enough to do what is needed but not so smart that they cannot related to everyday life.

And this, oddly, for all my hatred for the Tea Party and all the ignorant fools it represents, is rather distressing! It’s like my belief in my previously held belief that the Democratic Party is the Party of the People — which has now proven to be definitively false — and now the merit of higher education has also fallen from grace (despite the fact that I have a Master’s degree and would have pursued a PhD had my multiple sclerosis not rendered that impossible).

But then I remind myself of Ivy League legacy admissions, and the “gentlemen’s C’s” of George W. Bush, and cannot blame all of the neoliberal Democratic Party for the Professional Banksters on Ivy League training. They just chose the wrong color pill. After all, we got Ruth Bader Ginsburg from an Ivy League school (despite their efforts to keep her out).

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