No matter how you slice it what is going on in the United States today is in fact class warfare. I recalled recently a paper I wrote as a graduate student in the 1970s titled “A Few Drops of Phenomenology”. Never mind that there are books piled on top of books written on the subject by, among others, some of the most eminent philosophers of the 20th century I wasn’t then attempting to one-up those guys nor am I now. What I was trying to do then, as now, was to explain to myself the bewildering array of perceptions and actions centered on the same phenomenon, the same object, the same event, the same body of knowledge. It seemed at the time, and probably because I had never much thought about it before then, that nothing could be the same for everyone. Yet so much of what passes for discourse and the daily stream of events assumes such; something along the lines of normative agreement. We are all in this together, all men are created equal, common goals and values, all for one and one for all, united we stand, and all of that sort of social organizing which is little more than normalizing propaganda; these are the socializing mantras to which we are all subjected from childhood. These form the basis of the belief system we call the social contract.
I recently watched a video of a preacher, a Christian preacher in Louisiana, demean and demonize just about everyone who wasn’t present and who wasn’t like him and his congregation. He wanted everyone else, he shouted at the top of his lungs for all non-Christians to “Get Out!”. He meant out of the country, by the way. I’ve seen a few period newsreel films of Adolf Hitler addressing crowds during his rise to power in Germany and the Reverend Dennis Terry’s rhetorical style is identical. In the preacher’s audience was Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum who stood up and roundly applauded the hatred spewed by the so-called “preacher”. Of course, when the speech and Santorum’s presence was posted on the internet the candidate, who was shown being blessed in a laying on of hands by the “preacher”, backed away. Beep, beep, beep, beep!
Such pandering has become a style of politics and is reminiscent of George Wallace and his four presidential campaigns. Here’s what Wallace had to say after his first unsuccessful run for governor of Alabama in 1958. “’After the election, aide Seymore Trammell recalled Wallace saying, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?… I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.’” Here we are 54 years later and the same dynamic, the same corrosive rhetoric with cleaned-up language is being used across the board by candidates and their supporters. This time it is Muslims, and “foreigners” (read – Hispanics), gay rights, non-believers of whatever religion is at hand, people on welfare (Remember Ronald Reagan and his “welfare queens”?), health care, women’s health, birth control, gun control – the list goes on and on and on. And let’s not forget Georgia state Representative Terry England’s comparison of women needing to abort a stillborn or dying fetus to pregnant cows and pigs. The hot button issues of our national disaffection, dysfunction, disillusionment, and disintegration as a society never mind community.
Another example, as if we really need more, of social dysfunction is reflected in how certain cities, certain mayors, and certain police departments respond to the #occupy movement. Class warfare is when billionaire mayors such as Michael Bloomberg’s allow their police department to brutalize not only demonstrators but even the press. Another billionaire, Jamie Dimon, chairman, president and chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase donated $4.6 million to the NYC police department during last year’s #occupy demonstrations. Is it reasonable to ask what he got for his money? Between 2001 and 2011, Dimon’s company, J.P. Morgan, paid 4 billion – 877 million dollars in fines and penalties to various governmental authorities here and abroad for illicit financial activities. During the dust-up over the collapse of banks and the rise of #occupywallstreet, The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, himself a millionaire with a net worth said to be around $2.1 million dollars, criticized President Obama’s plans to reduce the deficit and charmingly characterized populist activity as creating class-warfare in the United States where, according to him, no such thing exists.
Which brings us to the pernicious American delusion of equality. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Princeton Professor Julian Zelizer on the topic of class warfare:
ZELIZER: Americans often and historically like to think of themselves as a classless society. There were even polls during the height of the Great Depression which famously showed that many Americans thought of themselves as being in the middle class, even those who were struggling with unemployment and who had nothing to subsist on.
There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it’s often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.
Here you have the belief system on which the American social contract is based and woe be unto those who would challenge this delusion with phrases such as “class warfare”. The haves, including the millionaire members (a majority) of the US Congress object. A protester’s sign during the #occupywallstreet summarized the argument: “They only call it class war when we fight back.”
Classlessness is the salving delusion for the American middle-class. Even though they don’t really belong to a middle-class they maintain the delusion with reinforcement from the mass media and politicians. In their own minds they live upwardly-mobile in a classless society a contradiction which constitutes a necessary delusion – the glue of the American social contract that binds us together as a society. This is the normative agreement which keeps things from getting out of hand and, at the same time, keeps them from getting better.
This essay first appeared at: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/