Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Let me tell you a fictionalized story about true events in my life. When I was growing up, there was a disagreeable kid in my neighborhood. I’ll call him Al. As some of us walked to school each day, he would sneak up behind us and grab our lunch, look in it, take what he wanted, and give the sack or lunch box back, leaving us with whatever he didn’t want. At school recess, Al would often get a kid alone and demand some money for a soft drink or a snack. During lunch, Al would walk by and grab whatever he wanted off another kid’s plate. He was careful to make sure that teachers monitoring the lunch room were looking the other way. If a kid told a teacher what Al had done, there would be the usual denials from Al, and the teacher might give both kids a warning, and Al would skate by. But any kid who told on Al had better find a new way to walk home from school that day because Al would be looking for the tattletale to rough him up or put him on the ground and bend his arm until he squealed in pain.
Playing with Al was asking for trouble, or at least was no fun. A game of baseball didn’t follow the usual rules. We had to follow Al’s rules, which changed to assure that he would win. If his own rules wouldn’t help him, Al would just lie about whether a ball was foul or a pitch was a strike or how many strikes he had taken when he batted. Al intimidated, frightened, and dominated the others kids in our neighborhood. Parents were of no help. The few efforts made to talk with Al’s parents did no good, and only made Al madder at the kid who had squealed to his parents. The next day or the next week was a time of torment for the offending kid who had dared to tell his parents about Al’s behavior. And Al had his group of followers, who were only too glad to do whatever Al asked, and participate in his intimidating the rest of us. What we needed was someone to stand up to Al and his pals, but the usual sources of help–teachers and parents–weren’t of much use, even when they tried. Oh, how we wished for Superman to sweep down and take care of Al and his pals. But, of course, Superman was fiction.
Al and his pals were bullies, ruffians, tyrants, and terrorists. The behavior of Al and his pals was not far different from the behavior of the corporate and financial classes and their willing minions and friends on Capitol Hill. When Barack Obama was elected president, many of us thought that here, finally was a real live Superman, who would save us from the bullying behavior of the wealthy class. For those of us who fought in the civil rights, and women’s, and anti-war, and gay rights, and disability rights movements of the past half century, there was the double pleasure of not only getting someone to right the wrongs we had been suffering, but of having an African-American be that person. What fools we were.
Barack Obama was not a political incarnation of Martin Luther King. He saw and sees the world much differently than King did. King opposed war as a solution to problems. Obama embraced an expansion of the Afghanistan war. King would have abhorred torture and never participated in it. Obama promised to close that torture center called Guantanamo, but he has not done so, and he has opened up new ones in Afghanistan and allowed others to continue with both direct and indirect American involvement, mainly in the Middle East.
King stood with the oppressed, whether they were garbage workers in Memphis, poor whites in Appalachia, Native Americans, or farm workers throughout our country. He never curried favor with the wealthy elites. He had a habit of pointing out the injustices they fomented. Obama has done little of this. King knew that change comes only with conflict. Obama believes that there can be a post-partisan America, which is as foolish a notion as my belief that his administration would usher in an era devoted to the needs of average Americans.
If Obama were to play Superman against the wealthy elite bullies of Wall Street, he would not hire as his advisers some of those same people. He would spend money to reform the oppressive mortgages that are sapping the life-blood from middle-American families rather than rescue the financial institutions that made those unjustified mortgage loans knowing that they would be bailed out when they failed, as they did spectacularly.
Some of us saw Obama as a modern-day Franklin Delano Roosevelt who would take dramatic steps to put Americans back to work on public works projects much as FDR did through the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. But Obama is no FDR any more than he is an MLK. It is impossible to imagine that President Obama would tell the American people the truth about the financial sector as FDR did in 1933 when he wrote, “The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson.”
Today, economic inequality in this nation is as bad as it’s ever been. The top 20% own 85% of the wealth, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the other 260 million Americans. In fact, the top 1% own 43% of the wealth. And the gap between the top one-tenth of 1% and the rest of us has not been as great since the Great Depression.
Given the naked economic inequality now apparent in our country, it should not be too much to expect that a President Obama would be as forthright about our circumstances as was FDR in 1936: “For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor–other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness. … Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. … These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.”
Roosevelt explained the politics of what he sought for the country in this way: “The true conservative seeks to protect the system of private property and free enterprise by correcting such injustices and inequalities as arise from it. The most serious threat to our institutions comes from those who refuse to face the need for change. Liberalism becomes the protection for the far-sighted conservative. … Wise and prudent men–intelligent conservatives–have long known that in a changing world worthy institutions can be conserved only by adjusting them to the changing time. … I am that kind of conservative because I am that kind of liberal.”
President Obama has failed to explain to the American people that the wealthy class has become the bully terrorizing the rest of us. His failure is due in part to his close relationship with those bullies. He has already raised nearly $100 million for his re-election campaign and is expected to amass more than $1 billion for his re-election effort. Such money does not come from the bottom 80% of Americans. It comes from the very wealthy, the same ones who have gamed the American economic system for their own benefit at the expense of everyone else.
But there is another thing I have learned about bullies since I was a school kid. Bullies don’t like to be exposed and confronted. If there is any hope for us in the future, it will come only from massive exposure of the way the economic elites have gained control of this country, and how they have done so, followed by a confrontation they cannot avoid. They have bought our politicians, who are willing to do their bidding. Perhaps three-fourths of the Congress, as well as the president, can be expected to help the wealthy elites maintain their strangle-hold on our economic freedoms. Only if we stop being passive and apathetic about politics, focused primarily on consumerism and entertainment, can we become organized sufficiently to defeat the interests of the wealthy elites.
The American people need to understand why the real unemployment level is nearly as bad as it was in the Great Depression, and why our government manipulates the statistics to make us think otherwise. The people need to understand that the true “nanny state” is not the one that gives a pittance in unemployment benefits and Medicaid to those who need the help, but the one that bails out the banks and other financial institutions that have become “too big to fail,” while it leaves everyone else scratching for the scraps that may have fallen from the moneybags filled from the public trough by the wealthy.
Even if we don’t have a president or more than a handful of politicians who will tell us the truth about how this country has come to be controlled by about one-tenth of 1% of the most wealthy, the American people are still capable of understanding what Adam Smith realized 235 years ago–that concentration of economic power leads to the concentration of political power. The only way around this circumstance is for the people to fight the elites, understand the dynamics of the economic-political system, and vote into office politicians who will reverse this economic concentration of power. It’s time to identify the bullies, take names, expose their game plan, and beat organized money with organized people.
There are many groups aiming to organize people to take back the country from the wealthy elites. They include groups of organized workers, business leaders, veterans, students, those from the faith community, civil rights workers, women’s rights advocates, immigrant rights defenders, LGBT supporters, environmentalists, academics, artists, celebrities, and other community activists. Do an internet search for an affinity group that appeals to you and start working. If we challenge the bullies together, they can be defeated.
©Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San MarcosEmail | Print