The “compassionate” conservative Christians who pretend now that a “liberated” market economy is an almost theological certain given have forgotten a crucial Biblical text: Not all who say, “Lord, Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bush Administration’s absurdly skewed tax policies—to cotton up to millionaires while leaving the middle class to disintegrate--is even more diabolical in what it has done (and not done) in South Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The Wallmartification of America (I’m tempted to call it Wallmortification for it is ending up doing) is surely a global disaster in the making.
It completes the malignant process I saw accelerating when I was paying my way through University by working summers in Detroit’s automobile factories. The automotive ruling class first derided Henry Ford in 1913 when he had the perception essential to a mass production economy: pay the workers $5 a day so they could afford Fords. In the 1930’s it was a business class given that unions were an affront to their power and a disabling sharing of decisions with the workers.
They bitterly gave into the sit down strikers but silently vowed to move their factories to the poorer South as soon as they could avoid the sanctions of the New Deal. For a brief flowering, in the 1950’s-1970’s, I saw the benign effects of the Henry Ford concept of making producers consumers of their own products. Assembly line workers in Michigan were buying summer homes and putting their children through college.
Then their globalizing schemes began as first the textiles factories and then durable goods factories moved into the anti-union South, a part of the country still licking its wounds over the licking it got in the Civil War. Poor whites were beguiled with the poison of racism, and the American Dream was terminally threatened. For until we find ways of extending economic opportunities on an escalating scale to the poorest corners of the globe, we are just being imperialistic in a new guise.
Few Americans realize that the concept of the “American Dream” was developed in the Depression as a kind of whistling in the economic darkness, an implicit guarantee that anyone in America could be a self-made rich man if not a millionaire. That Dream, of course, was only an updating of the central American myth of “The City on the Hill”, that absurd hubris that God, in his Christian covenant with New Settlers expected what came to be America would be a beacon to the entire world.
Over the centuries that became “Manifest Destiny” as we expunged the native inhabitants in the name of Civilization and enslaved Africans to make abundance for the few quickly possible. Needless to say, this involved self delusions so gross and endemic that few Americans had the inclination, never mind courage, to laugh at Fourth of July fatuities. A country that was born of double genocide has a great deal of unpalatable truth to repress and the American Dream ideology is the last phase of that self delusion.
Let no one pretend that Americans who bravely attempt to deal honestly with these self-destructive fantasies are enemies of the people. Far from it. They are the only true patriots in a culture that has turned Dr. Johnson’s aphorism that “Patriotism is the last refusal of scoundrels”.Throughout our history true patriots like Abraham Lincoln who tried manfully to heal the wounds that slavery inflicted on our grandiose notions of our Exceptional God-given destiny.
Mark Twain and William Dean Howells sounded the alarm when our self-delusions escalated from justifying the double genocide of red Indian and black African to justifying Teddy Roosevelt era incipient imperialism. When William Howard Taft justified the suppression of Filipino patriots who had just successfully thrown out the Spanish oppressors by saying we were just “bringing Christianity to our Brown Brothers”. Imagine. Filipinos had been forcibly Catholicized for three centuries when this feeble rationalization of imperial injustice was accepted by an American public hornswoggled for two centuries over our illegitimate birth as a Republic who killed Indians and enslaved Africans with impunity.
Because the entertainment media and a slovenly supine school system have created an American dumbocracy, most Americans are completely ignorant of the way U.S. Marines ruled for U.S. in the Caribbean and Central America in the early twentieth century, and how the CIA took over after World War II in eliminating democratic governments in Iran, Chile, Guatemala and so on, proving that even a conservative president like Eisenhower was dead right when he warned U.S. in his farewell address to fear the military-industrial complex.
Little could Ike have foreseen how grossly disproportionate the Pentagon’s budget is compared with the aid we give to emerging nations. And so ignorant are 99 and 44/100s of Americans of world history (that they float, aimlessly!) they truly believe that America is the “All Time Hit on Humanities Hit Parade” the fatuous formula enunciated by advertising eminence Fairfox Cone in 1957 when economists feared we were slipping into recession. Americans can never learn from the rest of the world because our Exceptionalism (devised over the years to hide from U.S. the appalling discrepancies between what we think we are and what we’ve really become).
So stupid is this voluntary blindness that we really think Canada’s “socialized” medicine is a trap we must avoid at all costs—those costs including the paradoxical greater national expenditure for health and declining health services. Or that the Scandinavian societies are crippled by their high income taxes. It is not paradoxical that this self-deluding Exceptionalism has reached its fever pitch in a Presidency where the incumbent flagrantly exhibits his own semi-literacy for electoral purposes (dumb voters can identify with a man who mispronounces words or “commits” solecisms) and glibly promises to leave no child behind while cutting the taxes needed to support such necessary changes in order to wheedle more electoral support from rich and/or complacent voters.
(Has there ever been a more disingenuous electoral slogan than “It’s your money”?—while simultaneously twisting Congress’s arms to get more wealth in the hands of the already superwealthy.)
But then what can you expect from a old rich dropout who went AWOL in the Texas Air National Guard (already a rich man’s option as the Champagne Squadron that never got within several thousand miles of Vietnam), who brags about his wasted Yale education, who drank and snorted to his fortieth year, when he became a serial bankrupt until friends got him a small stake in a new baseball team, the Texas Rangers, where this private enterpriser got the city of Arlington to pay for his new baseball stadium, and whose piddling grub stake (apparently a result of insider trading for which the SEC never punished him, his father being a powerful politician) miraculously flowered into a fortune he now flaunts in his Crawford ranch, pretending to be a rancher by doing photo ops clearing away brush. If that isn’t a parody of what the American Dream is supposed to be (hard, independent work rewarded), then this farce is turning into tragedy for America in Iraq and elsewhere. “Mission Accomplished!”
“Bring ‘em On!” Schoolyard bullying as international diplomacy. Kyoto? Bah. It would cost U.S. too much. International Criminal Code? Heh, they’re after American soldiers and diplomats. And so on. God Help Us. This man needed to be “saved”, as he glibly displays his calculated ignorance by insisting that Jesus is his favorite “philosopher”.
But the real American Dream (expanding autonomy bit by bit to the entire globe) needs to be hijacked from its cynical supporters, the neocons who looked into the future and saw that if we didn’t continue to control Middle Eastern oil, our days of hegemony were soon over. I even think that’s a valid assumption. It’s only the lying strategy of the Bush Administration that is ultimately going to turn us into a de facto fascist dictatorship.
(It’s his duty to protect U.S.--poor little us—after 9/11. Don’t worry. I’ll do a heck of a job. Believe me.) Perhaps the most significant truth the neocons have admitted to was the flagrant failure of the U.S. in the twentieth century to deal with dictatorships whenever they served our immediate economic interests, including Middle East oil. Big Oil has a lot of criminal collusion to plead guilty to. And not just refusing to deal with greenhouse gases. Or Cheney’s preferring secret Big Oil policymaking to raising admission standards and financing alternative energy sources
Now there are alternatives to the Walmortification of America. I want to describe two. One is base on Brian Knowlton’s “Turning out gadgets for a $2-a-day multitude” (IHT, December 31, 2005-January 1, 2006, p. 2. cols 1 & 2.). and the for profit architectural work of Martin Dunn who builds for the poor and disabled in the Bronx and Brooklyn. (Ibid., p. 15.) I do not mean to exclude Habit for Humanity or the Center for Architecture. But I want to point out that Wal-Mart’s dismantling the American middle class for its billionaire owners is not the only option open to fair-minded Americans.