Saturday, January 21, 2017

Goldman Sachs Wins Either Way

My FB feed fills with contempt today, as nearly all my "friends" lament His swearing in. I admit to sharing this poster from the IFC broadcast of "A Face in the Crowd," which is admittedly apropos no matter which side you're on for its post-HUAC pinko 50's Hollywood spin on cornpone homespun cant. But that's it. I may send my pals commentary as messages or as e-mails, but I am not furthering histrionics or hatred. Satire, naturally, no less than for the previous occupant on Pennsylvania Avenue

Paul Street reminds us in Counterpunch how one personality cult replaces another. Goldman Sachs still wins. The departing Oval Office occupant received the most contributions from Wall Street ever. Certainly his would-be anointed successor would not rail against those who paid her speeches. "For all their 'concern' for ordinary voters and beneath all their claims of bitter, personal, and partisan contempt for their major party electoral opponents, the Republican and Democratic 'elites' are united with the capitalist 'elite' in top-down hatred for the nation’s multi-racial working-class majority."

He accurately limns how class war plays out in the workplace, an often overlooked aspect among these elites. Even if they claim solidarity and sympathy, the literati, the tenured, and the sinecured lecture the millions, who it's doubtful half-hear them beyond the mainstream media, let alone the journals, reviews, and essays of the New York-based (well, maybe Seattle and San Francisco too, if they can afford their lofts) and Ivy League-educated creative classes. Street elaborates the critiques made by John Pilger this week and three years ago by Chris Hedges. Both scolds, sure, but both daring to call out posers. All three critique the condescension given the mocked white working class, which along with its diverse counterparts, gets shafted no matter who swears on Lincoln's bible.

Dismantling the claim that the Rust Belt and Bible Belt defected, Street counters that the Dems lost more working class votes in the 2012 and 2016 elections, outnumbering the GOP gains. In brief, Bernie might well have won. Second, neo-liberals Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, like Barack Obama, presided over the shift of wealth upward to an ever-narrower strata, as happily as their rivals.

The commentator denies a 99% divide. "Among other things, a two-class model of America deletes the massive disparities that exist between the working-class majority of Americans and the nation’s professional and managerial class. In the U.S. as across the world capitalist system, ordinary working people suffer not just from the elite private and profit-seeking capitalist ownership of workplace and society. They also confront the stark oppression inherent in what left economists Robin Hahnel and Mike Albert call the 'corporate division of labor'-- an alienating, de-humanizing, and hierarchical subdivision of tasks 'in which a few workers have excellent conditions and empowering circumstances, many fall well below that, and most workers have essentially no power at all.”'

He continues: "Over time, this pecking order hardens 'into broad and pervasive class division' whereby one class — roughly the top fifth of the workforce —"controls its own circumstances and the circumstances of others below,' while another (the working class), 'obeys orders and gets what its members can eke out.' The 'coordinator class,' Albert notes, 'looks down on workers as instruments with which to get jobs done. It engages workers paternally, seeing them as needing guidance and oversight and as lacking the finer human qualities that justify both autonomous input and the higher incomes needed to support more expensive tastes.'That sparks no small working class resentment."

An understatement. But I like how Street straightens out the under-reported divisions that drag down so many, even many in the non-working class system in status if not always in pay. I had a student who made over twice my pay with a h.s. degree, and he labored damn hard for that amount. Still, it sparked reflection about my years in grad school, my delayed hopes, my own struggles, and the two-plus decades in my position, about where the value lies in hard work. He earned a handsome salary but was gone often to Nevada on pipe-fitting projects, while I admittedly spent many hours then as now not only in a air-conditioned classroom, but toiling away at the relative ease of this keyboard.

Street does elide the bridge between whites and that multi-cultural majority of workers in total. Ravi Iyer at Civil Politics shows how Josh Quinn in Columbus, Ohio, one of those swing states both parties courted and both parties knew counted for the Electoral College, popular votes notwithstanding, convened his neighbors to talk it out, rather than fight it out, an encouraging move. And my wife and younger son plan to march tomorrow. Typically, she tried to join a healthcare protest last Sunday, but parking was so non-existent that it ended before she could find any. So she and my younger son in town went for tacos. Somehow symbolic of a Los Angeles liberal outing.

I am not sure how Street gets from this sort of "ought" to "is," to paraphrase my own elitist, Hume. However, Street's attention to how both parties manipulate populism to serve their capitalist ends, both sides strategically dismissing their deplorables and bitter-clingers, as one might coin a phrase or two, remains instructive. He concludes by citing Upton Sinclair, who battled for socialism in the same city where I teach working-class and immigrant students, first-generation and veterans many among them. Get away from "two wings of the same bird of prey." A few of them have still read excerpts at least from The Jungle, and in its original tabloid format, that phrase appeared. A lot of local students in my city are schooled as I write this to march and chant in two languages against the new president. I'd be happier if their civics lessons led to critical thinking and direct action beyond fealty to the other party. As it is, these children seem poised to follow the path of a maternal imprint.

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