“We Have Found New Homes for the Rich": The Underclass Won’t Wait to Join Obama’s "Everybody”
by Joe Natoli
These earrings have surely been set there since birth, at the center of the ear lobe, so that now this young man – I call him Class Warrior – has the look of a young Queegueg. He stands in front of me at a Circle K station. His body has been ritualized at birth; call it tradition or La Familia or “social engineering.” I have adopted the market conservative’s view of any directive that constrains and limits our “personal choice” or the free play of rational markets as “social engineering.” We are now in a market inspired post-history state of mind so there is no danger of history as a social engineering force. We are ritualized, if you will, in a tradition that Tea Partiers describe thusly: The American people, given their guaranteed freedoms, will thrive in a democratic, capitalist environment which allows individuals to strive toward ever greater achievements, innovations and the efficient production of needed and valued goods and services.
A “capitalist environment” has socially engineered us as demonstrably as whatever tradition centered gold earrings in the middle of this young Class Warrior’s ear lobes. Doubtlessly all traditions and all platforms of belief go on now only in reference to and in the shadow of a ‘capitalist environment” which does not “engineer” but “liberates” through competition, a zero sum competition in which one individual does better at the expense of another. Winners thrive, achieve and produce while losers fall back and find solace in default traditions or turn their marginalized status into a platform of dissent and revolt. Class Warrior has the look of a mestizo, more clearly preferring his native American roots than European Spanish, but he may be pure Apache or Papago or quite simply 100 percent un-vanished American. It may be that now the greatest transgressive spirit hangs on the identity of Mexican, of Chicano, of those here in the “capitalist environment” of Arizona who are all under suspicion. Everyone in Tucson now that looks Mexican is suspected of being illegal and must show proof to the contrary. I expect anger and it’s here standing right in front of me.
It is surely the ‘capitalist environment” that has engineered the bloody politics of revolt that is summed up on the back of the black T-shirt he wears: “CLASS WAR WE HAVE FOUND NEW HOMES FOR THE RICH.” The image is of a graveyard, of row upon row of white crosses on a black background. “Look at this,” he tells me, showing me a swatch of cloth attached to his belt like a native American loin cloth: “WARNING! RICH SCUM BEWARE! CLASS WAR COMING SOON TO A STREET NEAR YOU.”
I say we’re in a tug of war in this country and only the rich are pulling. He likes that. “We should have it,” he says. “We don’t have it. But we will.” He’s clearly enrolled in a school that’s growing, call it “The Only Way to Break Free of the Hold the Rich Have on Us is to Bury Them” school. One of the tenets of this school is that no one with wealth and power wants to alter that state of affairs nor will they allow others to do so. The tea party at this particular school is what Millennials might refer to on Facebook as “harsh” and Class Warrior might be targeted as a “hater.” Class Warrior is wearing on his person his response to Gov. Jan Brewer’s stringent immigration law. But a T-shirt is not a vote and only votes, you say, can “re-engineer” things. I’m a graduate of the school that observes how corruptible voting has become in a “capitalist environment” in which the bottom 40% of national income earners don’t vote. Maybe the poor disenfranchise themselves by not voting. Maybe their block vote would trump the power of money, would speak over the “speech” of the wealthy. But money is “speech” and money is what the wealthy have and the poor don’t. No, I don’t think voting in a plutocracy leads to the kind of re-engineering that this young Class Warrior wants.
But if he thinks we are in the U.S. close to the kind of revolt we saw in Tunisia, he needs to take a closer look at the “capitalist environment” which has not only influenced his revolt – say “manufactured” it – but also manufactured the avid Tea Party legislators voted into office in 2010. Poll the top 20 percent of national income earners and you will hear the prime directives that shape their thinking, the nuts and bolts of a market conservative engineering project that has only been weakly countered since Reagan: Liberals are all about the “Nanny” society which regulates, coddles and diminishes competitive spirit from cradle to grave. Intrusions of Big Government spread a virus of “Moral Hazard” from coast to coast. Liberal nannies should get out of the way and allow “the invisible hand of the market” to dispense economic justice by allowing each to compete and win, or, fail. All that needs lawn maintenance is a “level playing field” Even Liberals recognize this equality, else they would be serious about a redistribution of the wealth. Even Liberals seem to support the view that a sizeable wealth divide has no effect on the even contours of our playing field.
The next 40 percent of national income earners – call them the middle class – do not display the solidarity of the top 20 percent. An unknown but growing percentage of these are so-called “Independents.” They clearly see themselves as the proud possessors of an “independence”inspired by the rugged individualism of the American frontier spirit. Think of a lineage here from Natty Bumppo’s wilderness foraging to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliance to Gordon Gekko’s “I”ve Got Mine, You Get Yours,” to Oprah Winfrey’s self-empowerment via a personal “will to power.” Unfortunately, these self-willed designers of personal destiny do not escape the shaping forces of global marketing and advertising, most potent instruments of social engineering. Choices are become conceivable within the intricate and subtle and effective web of the “capitalist environment.” The most insidious aspect of such branding is the packaging of a “free-to-choose” component, a kind of reverse “caveat emptor.”
“Independents” are also attached to the laissez-faire independence of the conservative market ideology. In the same fashion that Independent voters fight any and all attempts to fetter their independent personal “free to choose,” market conservatives fight the intrusive power of the Federal Government. Markets and rugged individualists share a fierce independence that separates us from a European interdependence whose public/societal concerns implemented through governmental intervention thwarts individual and market freedoms.
All this smacks of socialism to the “Independent” and so any politics designed for social/public benefit and not subject to personal veto, say for example, “Obamacare,” is condemned as socialist. Liberals run from any socialist accusation and in doing so have allowed a politics of plutocracy to run the middle class into anxious and desperate straits and to totally submerge an underclass that remains stigmatized as “Losers.” In such a wealth divided society these “Losers” are the threatening nemesis of the “Winners,” a vast horde of undeserving, unmotivated, uncompetitive supplicants who remain crippled as long as “entitlements” are provided by government. “Tough Love” which leads to a “Creative Destruction” would in a totally unchallenged “capitalist environment” dispose of this “Loser” class. What is written on the garb of Class Warrior tells me that he does not believe in what President Obama recently expressed: This idea of bringing everyone together and making sure that everybody is contributing, everybody is responsible, but everybody also looks out for one another -- that's the idea at the heart of our last campaign. That's the idea at the heart of this campaign. That's the idea at the heart of America. It remains as clear to me as evidently to Class Warrior that Obama’s “everybody” here is focused on that middle 40 percent who vote, 20 percent of whom at least are “Independents” and thus crucial to his re-election. The “Underclass,” some 70 million Americans, do not join the “everybody” category until the dominating American cultural imaginary of “I’ve Got Mine, You Get Yours” becomes “Everybody Looks Out for One Another.”
Another consequence of Liberals running from any mention of socialism is that a socialist critique of the Wild West “capitalist environment” we are presently in would take Liberals from defense and provide them with an offense. It would move them from “useful idiot” status to a real challenge to plutocracy’s politics of moving us further and further to the right. Liberals have long been like Ciceros in the Roman Senate: providing cover for ruthlessness by haranguing a litany of noble and compassionate considerations which assuage the conscience of a society that must always think itself exceptionable regardless of its ruthlessness. Small, meaningless gestures which have not deceived or detoured Class Warrior.
Let’s say these class warriors are also Independents of an extreme degree: they are finished with American society as it now stands as a plutocracy. Let’s also say they are the young, as young and hopeful of transformative revolt as their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya. But do we not also have among the young, call them Millennials, an extreme form of personal politics that is compliant to market ideology and not socially revolutionary? For these Independents, “change” has the magical force of Abracadabra.
Obama the Candidate became attached to this aura of magical change, a not quite White Knight who would sweep aside “business and history as usual” so that each voter could mold a national politics out of personal choice. Perhaps Obama the Candidate shared this belief himself. Obama the President, however, seems to be transitioning to a realization that calling for change may not indeed change any of the powerful forces in play. Part of that transitioning also seems to include a realization that a pragmatic approach can be like logic in a madhouse order of things and that it changes nothing but merely adopts an “efficient” madness.
Hopefully, that realization may lead to a critique that would take temper Obama’s pragmatism and move him closer to Class Warrior. The Millennials’ faith in personal design and their reduction of offline life to online life does not bode well for any recognition of the “capitalist environment” that Class Warrior has already seen through, hopes to go around and now hopes to remove. Nevertheless, these Independent Millennials may more accurately describe the American populace of the future while Class Warrior may find himself in one of the private prisons our “capitalist environment” provides for a profit. Toppling wealth and power in an already well-establish plutocracy demands more than a T-shirt logo and more substance that a tweet.
While it is clear that the Millennials’ cyberspace domain has been increasingly colonized by market ideology, it is not clear how deeply social networking rather than long embedded political unrest and historical memory affected the Arab Spring revolutions. An accelerant in the way of a more effective means of communication is not itself the fuel – which I take to be the aggregate forces of injustice, oppression, tyranny and impoverishment . These are forces that have not, as yet, made deep inroads into the U.S. population, although where they have, as with Class Warrior, temperatures are rising.
If the Republican mission to deny Obama a second term succeeds and we then experience two terms of market conservative rule in all brackets of government, my Tucson Class Warrior and his compatriots may swell some American Freedom Square. This would depend of course on whether middle class Independents get over the illusions of individual freedom and autonomy, young Millennials bring off line society into their cyber “social” networking, the middle class turns its critical, disapproving eye from the Underclass to the Upper class, and that Upper Class loses their corporate identity as a “person” and the identity of their money as speech.
I don’t mention the bottom, Underclass, non-voting 40 percent of Americans whose anger or bewilderment or fears – or all three – are as likely to turn them toward the Tea Party, a faux grassroots movement that gets a lot of media coverage, as toward a burgeoning class warfare movement in Tucson that gets no coverage. Any view of our “capitalist environment” reveals both the difficulties of Class Warrior’s campaign against the rich and the incentives for such an engagement. Perhaps if we could have a serious discussion on the role plutocracy has played in this young Class Warrior’s life we could possibly pre-empt a performance of his T-shirt speech.
—Tucson Arizona, April 2011
Joe Natoli is a member of Bad Subjects' production team. Class war t-shirts available from morelikethis.ebay.com and crustpunks.com . Tea Party sign from Arturo Aldama archives.