In the early 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville noted how democracy and capitalism combined to foster an inordinate amount of envy in American life. “I never met in America with any citizen so poor as not to cast a glance of hope and envy on the enjoyments of the rich,” he wrote. The American’s envy, he went on, kept him in constant “anticipation of those good things fate still obstinately withheld from him.”
George McGovern experienced the direct effects of his advocacy of wealth sharing, which was greeted with hostility by hard-up Americans. So did Barack Obama when he said he supported “spreading the wealth around.” McGovern concluded that all Americans believe they will catch the gold ring on the Merry-Go-Round.
Unlike many other nations, particularly in Europe where the great disparity of wealth led Marx and Engels to write the Communist Manifesto and Socialism took root culminating in the Russian Revolution, this has never been a particularly popular approach to inequality in America. When Mother Gitlow, the famous Communist agitator, addressed a group of Irish workers in New York, she was shouted down and heckled.
The reason for this is that America is supposed to be the “land of opportunity.” American historian James Truslow Adams coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America. His American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
In a country that now has a worse class system than Britain, and where the worth of a person is determined by how much money and
how many possessions he has, the myth nevertheless persists. The tiresome repetition of the phrase, “the American Dream” by politicians of all persuasions, including Obama, has made it a meaningless platitude. America, which used to lead the world by far in college graduates, has dropped considerably behind other industrialized nations, largely because more and more Americans simply cannot afford higher education any longer. The once great California university system founded by Clark Kerr, boasting such gold-standard institutions as Berkeley and UCLA, was free. Now, with tuition increases making the cost prohibitive for many Californians, the American Dream in the Golden State is rapidly receding, much as it is across the country.
No matter how wretched an American’s circumstances, when told that taxes will go up for the wealthy, he is offended, firmly convinced that he will one day be rich and would not want the government taking away his money. Because of this it is very difficult to get Americans to act together in the furtherance of objectives that might benefit everyone collectively. The mass opposition to the health care reform bill, which would prevent insurance companies from cutting off benefits once you got sick, is a prime example of this absurd mentality, a product of the relentless propaganda designed to perpetuate the illusion that you can climb the social ladder in what is an increasingly stratified society.
Senator Claire McCaskill told Tea Party activists that the curtain had gone up after the election and that they should look to see who was really pulling the strings. It was the wealthy and powerful, whose objective is simply to get more wealth and power. The entire Republican platform now is to cut taxes for the wealthy and get rid of Obama, nothing else. If they could find another war, maybe with Iran, they would go for that as well.
Yet Americans, in a tie with Ireland for the lowest math scores of all industrialized nations, with lousy science and reading scores, have become a nation of illiterates and believe all the crap that is fed them by the endless propaganda coming from corporate America. Blacks, who at one point in American history made up a preponderance of the country’s college graduates, have descended into a world of illusion that has led to an increase in violent crime amongst young males in the inner city fueled by frustration and envy.
Obama needs to tell the American people that they are getting screwed and not to believe the bull that the plutocracy is selling them. If the deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to two years goes through, Obama will have his chance in 2012. He must put the choice directly to the Americans. “If you vote Republican again, you will get what you deserve.”