Yes, it’s that bad. However, both in terms of symbolism and actual culpability Wall Street is an excellent place to start.
From the golden moment when Walter Wriston of First National City Bank (now known as Citibank) conceived the CD as a way to skirt rules for commercial banking and compete for profits with investment banks, the financial industry has been, in the words Matt Taibbi famously used to describe Goldman Sachs, “a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” The really bad news is that thanks to Republican and some Democratic political enablers, a poisonous right wing media and supinely complicit mainstream press, an occupying army of giant vampire squids in the form of global corporations, finance, concentrated wealth and military-industrial hegemony has sealed us in under a dominion of conservative government policy for several decades now.
Uninformed citizens repeatedly voting directly against their own interests are complicit too. One might say that in the same sense that climate scientists identify a “tipping point” after which efforts to reverse the effects of human-produced warming become useless, so we seem to be at a tipping point in the basic structure and essential nature of our society. It’s hard to imagine, given the occupation of the federal courts by reactionary judges, the stranglehold on the electoral process by unfathomable sums of campaign and lobbying money, the current Republican assault on voting rights across the states, the dominance of radical conservative media, a seemingly entrenched structure of lax regulation and wealth and power pampered taxation, dwindling economic and political power for the middle class, working class and poor and a disparity in wealth historically unprecedented in America, and comparable only to ancient empires now, that there is room left to veer in the direction of suzerainty by concentrated wealth and power and the forces of regression before passing the point of potential reversal.
For instance, though the reasons for it are many and at times complicated, even a gifted politician like Obama, elected with a compelling electoral landslide seems all but powerless against this entrenchment and metastasizing radicalism. But the Occupy Wall Street endeavor, despite being alternately ignored or disparaged by the clay-footed Washington press corps and media hack-a-tocracy is a green shoot of righteous defiance, and by the way, entirely point-on in its identification of the source and the epicenter of corruption of democracy and manifest class war.
The media boobsoise with its customary unoriginal lack of flair has taken to denigrating the participants in New York by repeated identification of them as “college students and aging hippies.” This is not entirely accurate, if interviews with various adult unemployed workers (some formerly employed on Wall Street) and other persons clearly neither in college or hippies of any age is any indication. But to the extent college students comprise the majority of occupiers, one finds it odd that student status is used by the stuffed shirt commentariat as a pejorative, given this is a demographic not only freest to spend extended amounts of time exercising its First Amendment rights, but also one greatly affected now and in the future by the continuing repercussions of the economic crash, the abominations of the financial sector and the social plague of locusts the class warriors of the right deliver daily.
Purely in terms of nomenclature I am not convinced one can be a hippie beyond the temporal confines of the 1960’s, though one could be correctly described as a former hippie perhaps. Again, this attempt at denigration of a supposedly unorthodox segment of citizens by a careerist press tells one a lot about the pitiful prosaicness of our currently enfeebled Fourth Estate. One supposes an electrified gathering of wing-tips, golf shirts, Dockers, polyester and mixed fabrics would be a gathering warranting coverage by this not-so-serious-as-they wish they were-set of observers. For the record, let’s note the fact that the Tea Party crowds were over-represented by white shoes and belts and rotund asses did not deter media from crawling all over them with coverage, and even credulously accepting the entirely contrived Tea Party reinvention of what is obviously none other than the usual hard-right Republican base.
But Occupy Wall Street, like the revolt against the war on the middle class by a hostile Republican governor and legislature in Wisconsin is a rare and welcome blast of push-back against an agenda of repeal of a century of American progress, and its accompanying feudalist restoration. Awakening the large slumbering mass of American citizens by such essentially educational exercises as Occupy Wall Street and the Wisconsin protests to a clear and irrefutable understanding of who has consistently put a knife to the throat of their way of life with continued impunity strikes me as invaluable, and one of the few sources of genuine hope and promise for pulling the country out of the maw of a mendacity and irrationality about to swallow it whole. Acknowledging a defanged and anemic elected political class, these movements reflect an understanding of the reality that it is really up to an enflamed activism and informed electorate now, before the tipping point finally is passed.
Indeed, I am hoping to see a widespread but targeted movement of physical occupation of the offices or headquarters of all sorts of iconic malefactors, from global corporations to Fox News to right-wing think tanks to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform to the Republican National Committee to the Chamber of Commerce to every voter disenfranchisement organization and iterations of the Tea Party or any other prominent representative of this de-facto theft of the nation and its soul. Raise such a ruckus, make such a display of dissent, in the real spirit of the Arab Spring that it forces the media coverage and forces the message until the majority of Americans can’t miss it. Because hackneyed as it may seem to carry out such venerably old-school public demonstrations, effectively countering and eventually neutering the powerful messaging and propaganda machine on the right is an inescapable necessity, because in the end that machine has been and continues to be the real source of this radicalized minority and its moneyed constituents’ power.
The calculated and invidious onslaught against modern government by the American right, while ideological in political and propaganda form actually is not ideological at all to the extent it really is not about philosophy of government but about very real self-interest and vested economic priorities and power. These forces understand that government in the modern era, as construed and articulated by Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt acts as a countervailing power to concentrated wealth and extraordinary corporate power. Modern government is the only entity both in size and power able to protect the individual’s interests, rights and sovereignty in a modern state and modern economy against larger private forces that would crush them (and currently are crushing them). That is the true nature of the anti-government assault, not the putatively rarefied and historically caramelized version of philosophical small government or principle.
TR, FDR and Wilson all were prescient and correct. TR, emphasized that “only the national government” is capable of exercising “needed control” over the economy, saying, “This does not represent centralization. It represents merely the acknowledgment of the patent fact that centralization has already come in business. If this irresponsible outside power is to be controlled in the interest of the general public, it can be controlled in only one way–by giving adequate power of control to the one sovereignty capable of exercising such power–the National Government”
Wilson said, “I feel confident that if Jefferson were living in our day he would see what we see: that the individual is caught in a great confused nexus of all sorts of complicated circumstances, and that to let him alone is to leave him helpless as against the obstacles with which he has to contend; and that, therefore, law in our day must come to the assistance of the individual. It must come to his assistance to see that he gets fair play; that is all, but that is much. Without the watchful interference, the resolute interference, of the government, there can be no fair play between individuals and such powerful institutions as the trusts. Freedom to-day is something more than being let alone. The program of a government of freedom must in these days be positive, not negative merely.”
Observed FDR, “Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912, saw the situation more clearly. Where Jefferson had feared the encroachment of political power on the lives of individuals, Wilson knew that the new power was financial. He saw, in the [concentration of wealth in the hands of a few], the despot of the twentieth century on whom great masses of individuals relied for their safety and their livelihood, and whose irresponsibility and greed (if not controlled) would reduce them to starvation and penury….”
“Just as in older times the central government was first a haven of refuge and then a threat, so now in a closer economic system the… ambitious financial [corporation] is no longer a servant of national desire but a danger. I would draw the parallel one step further. We did not think because national government had become a threat in the eighteenth century that therefore we should abandon the principle of national government. “
Taking a good look around the nation today, rather than rolling over in their graves, TR, Wilson and FDR likely would commit suicide, assuming dead people can kill themselves if they can roll over. In any case, keep it up Occupy Wall Street. Power to the people indeed…be they college students, aging hippies, Wisconsin school teachers , Michigan firefighters, bank managers, lawyers, stay-at-home moms and dads or even New York City cops.