My family came to the United States during the early 1990’s recession. My father had been a railroad engineer back in Russia, mostly working the geriatric section of the network, the track between Moscow and (then) Leningrad. In the States, he discovered to his chagrin that the railroads and the train industry were in the crapper, and so the only job he could find that matched his education and skills was for a custom air-conditioning company, which offered him $8.25 an hour with no benefits — provided he first worked for them for six months without pay, “as a volunteer”. And so, like many youngish Soviet immigrants at that time, my father became a livery driver.
Popular (official?) historiography of the 2016 Election has coagulated around the idea that Trump’s win represented a rebuke to the elites, liberals, “social justice warriors”, college professors, college students, Hollywood, feminists, scientists, artists, immigrants and basically anyone who doesn’t fit the increasingly narrow definition of a Real American — rural or small-town, white, Christian, poorly educated and poor or middle-class.
Over the ensuing months, think pieces multiplied calling on liberals to be more willing to “learn” and “listen”, and be more cognizant of the pain and anger of the the good people who populate America’s “heartland,” simple folk who have long been left behind and forgotten by the jet-set. Trump, we are told, is the result of “elites” ignoring the concerns of “ordinary Americans” who rot away in their ghost towns, devastated by the departure of sweet, sweet manufacturing jobs for China, India and Mexico, or else small businesses groaning under onerous regulations that won’t let an Honest Job Creater cut baby formula with melamine, like they do in China. Here is a good example , which talks about the resentment that the country has towards the city, the working class towards the professional class, those experiencing “economic anxiety” towards those who worry about police shootings. (It’s an early piece, but it’s a very good representation of the Liberal Remorse that we’ve been seeing.) Even Rawstory, a commie rag if there ever was one, republished one of those off of Quora via Newsweek. (“If the progressive movement in the United States does not learn to engage and speak to the people that disagree with its tenets without making them feel like backwards simpletons, it will never move forward without then having to take two steps back,” says the author after describing his father — his example of a Trump Voter — as a muscle-headed backward simpleton who decidedly isn’t interested in a dialogue with someone who embraces ideas different from his. “If progressives do not learn to create fresh common ground and alliances with those whom they are told hate them and all they represent,” continues the author, after describing how much his father utterly hates anyone who is a liberal, gay, person of color or immigrant.)
There was a custom in France during the times of the Ancien Régime of having low-born commoners — peasants and petty townsfolk — watch the King eat. For Louis XIV, who instituted this custom, inviting the poor masses to witness the majesty of the courtly dinner was merely one sensible way of promoting the cult of royal personality in an age before television, photography or daily journalism. Ironically, in the process of making his monarchy great and increasing the magnificence of the French Court, the Sun King essentially destroyed his country, plunging most of its people into decades of intense poverty (and ultimately, nearly a century of political turmoil, of which the Revolution was only the beginning). As the great bulk of the population got poorer and more desperate, while its ruling elite felt increasingly entitled to have the commoners finance every luxury imaginable, this tradition of royal display took on a decidedly sinister connotation. It surely seems bewildering to us why the King, his wife, and his nobles, all dressed magnificently, would gorge themselves on twelve-course meals of game, seafood, exotic fruit and fine pastries in full view of the multitude of their bedraggled subjects, who had paid for all of that and couldn’t even afford bread for themselves and their families. But if you asked the last Ancien Régime King, Louis XVI, about it, he would probably tell you that he was performing a public service; that the spectacle of the royal feast was ultimately more valuable to all his starving subjects than the feast itself was to him. Hence, it was only fair to make the starving subjects pay for it.
Far be it from me to suggest that the twenty-first-century America is anything like pre-revolutionary France (yet), I was reminded of this bit of historical trivia just before Christmas, when certain owners of yachts docked in Newport Beach, California threw a hissy fit over having their (comically low) docking rents raised to pay for necessary and long overdue repairs to the docks. Read more…
One of the biggest problems for Romney is that the man just can’t control his big mouth. (His running mate isn’t much better.) He speaks with a certain cluelessness that casually dehumanizes anyone who doesn’t fit his profile of a default constituent (white, male and wealthy), and then acts surprised when people react with anger and disbelief to his blooper du jour. The latest is, of course, his assertion that he does not care about –and therefore will not concern himself with, as President — the lazy, useless 47% of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, preferring instead to suck the government’s teat. His campaign’s attempts to walk back that statement — such as this one — only added insult to the injury, since they were clearly based on the assumption that the people who took umbrage at Romney’s statement are stupid.
That statement was, of course, based on a myth, and most editorials exposing it correctly point out that the overwhelming majority of those who don’t pay federal income tax still pay other taxes. I, however, want to approach the this deconstruction from a slightly different angle. Who are these 47%?
Let’s start with the lowest-hanging fruit. Read more…
People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress. Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?
— Alan Dlugash, partner, Marks Paneth & Shron, LLP, on Wall Street’s reduced bonuses this year
But the great Bakhtiyar, preoccupied always with care for the welfare of the royal subjects, did his best to set up such laws in Bukhara, that not one penny would linger in the pockets of its inhabitants, but would pass immediately to the Emir — that is, so the citizenry could move about with greater ease, their pockets not burdened with money.
— Leonid Solovyev, “The Tale of Hodja Nasreddin”
In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A Modest Proposal”, in which he argued that the poor Irish can alleviate their plight by selling their children to slaughter houses, where they would be turned into food. The solution would be a win-win: it would solve the Irish poverty problem, while meeting the need of the affluent for culinary innovation and rich food. Although my humble keyboard could never match the elegance and the sheer intellectual force of Swift’s pen, today I was nevertheless inspired to write a “Modest Proposal” of my own. Read more…