“Most obviously and outrageously of all is the fact that it seems as though the 80 percent who live humbly, poorly, confusedly, increasingly anxiety-ridden in the shadow of 20 percent are not plaintiffs at all, but The Accused.” – Joseph Natoli
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” Samuel Johnson asserted back in 1775. Historians are not exactly clear what Johnson was positing here but they’re pretty certain it is a reflection of those who utilize a false sense of patriotism to wrap themselves in when they have more self-serving notions to preserve.
Patriotism is defined in Webster’s as “love for or devotion to one’s country”. We experience it in ourselves and see it in others when good men and women represent America abroad in the service of their country either as political ambassadors, military personnel, relief workers or as sports figures in international competitions like the Olympics. It’s a mode by which we can live vicariously through others and thus give added meaning to our lives. But patriotism should never be selfish.
We should all reject the type of patriotism that says others are inferior to us. The ethnocentrism that says we’re special and thus by default others are less special is a dangerous kind of pride. As humans, when others make such claims, it naturally repulses us and creates a sense of hate. It is this false sense of patriotism that many use today to exclude people and thus justify waging war on them either militarily or economically.
This sense of devotion is a powerful one and this point has not been lost on some of our wealthiest citizens. When George W. Bush told Americans on 9/11 that this was an attack by those who “hate us for our freedoms”, he was using words that he hoped would unite us against a common enemy. We later learned however that this attack was actually a response by those who felt that the presence of American special interests in their part of the world had aided in a greater repression of the indigent people who were already governed by strict authoritarian rulers.
But the unifying power of such words has come in to play for a group of one-percenters who find themselves unpopular in a world where more people than ever before have fallen below the poverty line and have lost homes, jobs and even loved ones to those who were concerned more about growing their wealth than they were about the people their actions would negatively impact. What better way then to defend the practices of some who have accumulated vast sums of wealth while the strong post-WWII middle class slowly crumbles than to project yourself as the personification of America. By evoking the capitalist dream of a successful entrepreneur the new wealthy elite can claim that those who speak ill of their new gotten gains are socialist and communist; anything but true red-blooded Americans.
Bush’s meme, “they hate us for our freedoms” now becomes modified by some wealthy capitalists who are claiming that they are being hated for their extreme good fortunes. They cry foul and denounce those who they say are stirring up the ill-feelings that a class war generates. Yet a class war has indeed arisen since the Reagan presidency and many of those who have benefitted the greatest from his policies of lower taxes and deregulation are on the defensive now from those who want to level the playing field that many have been deprived of for the last three decades. Would Webster then define this wealthy class patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s bank account”?
By demonizing people in such a manner, zealots of free-market capitalism hope to appeal to people of lesser income groups for reasons that have Ayn Rand’s anti-altruistic, self-interest motif written all over it. They hope to gain support from those who may share some ideals with them but who are clearly not their socio-economic equals. For those who are conned into such an alliance they will only find themselves opposing those who they are more realistically identifiable with.
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” – Warren Buffet
Buffet’s simple but obvious truth here was not intended as an in-your-face boast to offend low and middle-income people. It was meant to inform his fellow millionaires and billionaires that the growing income disparity in this country is harmful, not only to themselves but to all Americans because in the end a plutocracy that deprives people of basic human necessities will implode and result in chaos.
Buffet’s statement was a call to arms for people of exceptional wealth to back away from a self-interest idea that believes vast fortunes are to be hoarded and spent extravagantly while those whose labor helped actualize their fortunes are struggling to get by. Some got this message and along with Buffet, others who have made more money than they will ever be able to spend in their lifetimes, have come together to promote a genuine concern intended to prevent the destruction of what one millionaire sees as “opportunities for personal fulfillment and enrichment that America provided me”. See a complete list of the more compassionate 1% here.
Plutocrats in Patriot Clothing
But as you would expect, not everyone who has benefited from the conditions that have given us the greatest income disparity in our country are willing to jump on board with the efforts of those like Buffet
Many are just self-serving and greedy (almost narcissistically and pathologically indifferent), such as rich Republican and Tea Party millionaires like Bill O’Reilly, Paul Ryan, Sean Hannity, Eric Cantor, Glenn Beck, Rick Santorum, Rupert Murdoch, the Koch bothers, Michele Bachmann, Paul Rand, Nikki Haley, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, and the rich Republican members of Congress.
The movie stars, drug lords, professional athletes, rock stars, Hollywood celebrities, best-selling novelists, celebrity heiresses, organized crimes bosses, and all the thieves at Goldman Sachs have been conspicuously silent on this issue.
But I’m sure most corporate CEOs, bankers, hedge fund managers, talk radio show hosts, and Fox News commentators don’t want to see their taxes raised a dime, no matter what the consequences are to the people or the nation as a whole. SOURCE
As a result we are seeing these poor rich people making absurd claims in defense of their wealth and any effort to distribute more of it to people falling through the cracks who have been victims of an economic downturn they had nothing to do with. As you might also expect they are wrapping themselves in the flag, either directly or indirectly by identifying themselves as part of “the greatest generation” who fought the Nazi menace in WWII.
Venture Capitalist Tom Perkins likened the people in the Occupy movement and poor people everywhere to the Brown Shirts that incited the German people to attack Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria in early November, 1938.
“I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich…’ This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” SOURCE
About a year ago, Stephen Schwarzman, the 66th richest person in the world, likened the suggested tax increases the Obama administration was favoring on the wealthiest 1% to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
People like Tom Perkins and Stephen Schwarzman are hoping, as Bush did with his bull horn at the base of the destroyed Twin Towers, that supporters of free markets everywhere will rally to their cause and help fight off any attempt to deflate the growing income disparity that they have so richly benefitted from.
The absurdity that the wealthy powerful are similar to poor people and ethnic minorities who suffered at the hands of the well-lubricated Nazi machine is a stretch to say the least but it is one that is being used to garner support from the very people who have been left behind by the likes of Perkins and Schwarzman. In the we versus them mentality, wealthy antagonist such as these two are trying to impress upon those who have aspirations of being financially well off that their dreams are being attacked by the “takers” and the moochers Mitt Romney referred to in his 2012 Presidential campaign.
An example of how the corporate media tends to cover for their wealthy corporate friends
It’s a popular myth that tends to resurface in each generation where economic conditions, often fostered by a greedy wealthy elite, find most people struggling to make ends meet. Such conditions were easily written off by the Spencerian business model that decreed it was a part of the natural selection process where the less fortunate are expected to wither up and die simply because they didn’t have the skills to beat their fellow humans into submission for purely self-interest motivations.
It’s this eat-or-be-eaten notion too that is currently trying to justify keeping wages at such levels that families have to rely on government services just to have adequate health care coverage and enough food to avoid becoming part of the food insecure population.
Witness wealthy investment broker Peter Schiff describe to Samantha Bee of the DailyShow his rationale for opposing any raise in the minimum wage. He claims it is Economics 101 that asserts “if you increase the price of something, you decrease the demand”. Now it’s true that a wage increase can affect the cost of consumer goods but not all of this increase has or should be thrown onto the consumer. Smarter management that can shift costs elsewhere including absorbing higher wages by lowering profits can prevent any serious decline in demand. But God-forbid we allow profits to take a back seat to help someone catch up a little bit who find themselves in an economic abyss brought on by the likes of those at AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley.
But the telling point here in this interview is Schiff’s apparent contempt for people unlike himself. It is people like Schiff who claim they alone have the right to determine the labor value of a person and in so doing conveys to Samantha Bee that “retarded people” are only worth about $2.00. How convenient for the wealthy entrepreneur who can make this claim and not realize that the very thing he is concerned about – consumer demand – will dry up if people’s wages are not sufficient to purchase the goods and services that helps an economy grow.
Schiff himself has made his fortune not from actually creating a useful product or service but using other people’s money in risky ventures that may or may not succeed. You would think then that increasing demand by increasing a consumer’s purchasing power would be something he favors. Unfortunately though his limited view of Econ 101 more readily serves the self-interest of those who are desperate to keep the Warren Buffets from inciting the masses to attack the so-called job creators in our economic system.
Then there are those like economist and commodity analyst Dennis Gartman who feels that the growing income disparity in this country is a good thing
“We celebrate income disparity” Gartman says, “and we applaud the growing margins between the bottom 20% of American society and the upper 20% for it is evidence of what has made America a great country. … Do we feel bad for the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the US? Of course not; we celebrate it, for we were poor once and we are reasonably wealthy now. We did it on our own, by the sheet(sic) dint of will, tenacity, street smarts and the like.” SOURCE
People like Gartman perpetuate this Horatio Alger myth by pretending that everyone can be a successful entrepreneur if they just apply a little “dint of will, tenacity, street smarts and the like.” Modern capitalism has built an economic system that requires workers and lots of them after we transitioned from an agrarian to an urban society. Sadly though these workers are expected to do what a consumer economy needs on wages that barely provide enough to stay out of the poor house. Even sadder is that as industrial use of robotics expands fewer workers will be required for the skilled jobs that once made up the middle class.
Not only has the game been rigged by powerful wealthy interests who pass on their fortunes and control mechanisms to family and close friends but as economist Yves Smith points out, it takes more than just what one individual brings to the table to be successful in this economy.
“The problem with [the] argument that “creators” should get to hoard their winnings is that their success does not take place in a vacuum, but is built on the back of generations of cultural, technological, and procedural advances, as well as public-provided infrastructure.” – Yves Smith
We are clearly at a crossroads today where the wealth of this nation cannot continue to gravitate to a small elite. For those who assert that vast sums of wealth in the hands of a few is part of some imagined manifest destiny while denouncing those who don’t entirely share this self-serving view as “Nazis”, they are seriously out of touch with the rest of the world. THIS is the true “dangerous drift in our American thinking” facing working-class families who have lost so much following the economic collapse in 2008. This false sense of devotion that claims we have to accept the continued downward spiral of a once robust middle class is delusional and dangerous to the survival of a once proud American people.
Millionaires Now (literally) Control the U.S. Congress
The Center for Responsive Politics analyzed the personal financial disclosure data from 2012 of the 534 current members of Congress and found that, for the first time, more than half had an average net worth of $1 million or more: 268 to be exact, up from 257 the year earlier. The median for congressional Democrats was $1.04 million and, for Republicans, $1 million even SOURCE.
The Right Stuff: What Prosperity Is and Isn’t by Ian Welsh
Advice to Plutocrat Perkins: Time to Shut Up! by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Don’t Pity the Billionaire by David Sirota