It’s no secret that six members of the Walton gang — the Walmart Waltons — have more wealth that the bottom 40 percent of American households. This is up from the 30 percent more they enjoyed in 2007, before the economy crashed and the gap between rich and poor widened to Grand Canyon proportions. In another era, statistics such as these would spark strikes and rioting, and the growth of a third party that would force Democrats and Republicans to make laws that ensured decent wages and benefits.
But this is our era — the era of privatization. deregulation, downsizing, offshoring, union-busting, bankster fraud, of government for and by the corporations. An era of low expectations, dim prospects and dead ends for millions of young Americans who will spend their lives paying off student loans and sweating blood to make less, in real dollars, than their grandparents made for simply doing an honest day’s work.
It didn’t happen overnight, the dismantling of New Deal laws that had lifted tens of millions out of poverty, largely by making it harder for the owner class to buy politicians, exploit workers and dodge taxes. And it couldn’t have happened without help from the gullible middle- and lower-middle class Americans who had benefited from those laws.
I refer to those who believed Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” pitch, even as Reagan and his bosses were laying the groundwork for a new gilded age. And, much more recently, to liberals who thought Barack Obama’s “hope and change” promise was more than just campaign rhetoric. Any Obama fans out there want to defend the chief’s nomination of billionaire tax dodger Penny Pritzker to head the Commerce Department? I didn’t think so.
Obama was an investment. Pritzker — The Atlantic called her Obama’s Mitt Romney — and Obama’s other rich backers knew their investment would pay off in a big way if he was elected. They took care of him when he ran for president. Once elected, he took care of them.
The point is that many Americans are still in denial about their declining fortunes, just as they’re still in denial about Obama, who long ago became a whore for the Pritzkers of the world. As Cornel West recently said, “When [Obama] came in, he brought in Wall Street-friendly people – Tim Geithner, Larry Summers – and made it clear he had no intention of bailing out homeowners, supporting trade unions.”
But many people detest that sort of talk, they’d rather be in denial. Only denial can explain why Obama’s non-wealthy backers didn’t turn against him when he bailed out the banksters, or why a mob of Walmart’s $9-an-hour associates haven’t tried to roast the Walton clan over a slow fire fueled by cheap clothes from China.
Footnote: Bruce Springsteen is fan of John Steinbeck and knows that solidarity among workers only happens when quality of life for the majority sinks so low it can no longer be endured. He knows there will be no large-scale reaction against corporate thieves until Walmart “associates” and their fellow wage slaves — that’s most of us — are as desperate as Steinbeck’s Okies. The Boss has finally discovered irony!