Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Rise of the Robber Barons

When I talk about Florida, having lived there for a few years, I typically refer to it as a 3rd World Country. Florida lost it’s 1st world status a while back--if it ever had it.  For me, Florida fell into 3rd world status right about the time the “hanging chad” entered our vernacular.  Oh it’s fine to vacation in Florida, but don’t travel too far outside one of the major cities or resort areas.  Make no mistake, it’s 3rd world. Yes, I have many friends and family in Florida, so hope they will forgive me.  Please know that this is nothing personal and if you don’t agree with me, that’s fine.  I’m just basing my opinion on my three years of observation, not a lifetime of living there.  Many people love Florida. And in the end I’m just using Florida as a metaphor. Hopefully the rest of the country will understand.

I always think that Florida residents will eventually lift themselves up and out of their 3rd world status...but then something happens to make the news and the entire world watches as Qurans are burnt, vigilantes shoot neighbors,  alligators the size of small dinosaurs march the street, and of course terrorists are trained at local airports.  I realize that the Floridians who live there may actually like it that way.  It’s exhilarating to live in the wild wild west.  It’s exciting to never know if you are actually involved with organized and trained law enforcement or just part time, small town militant thugs hired to keep the peace.    It possible that more than a few American’s, perhaps just over half, may actually want live on that brave frontier.  Hey, let’s abandon law and order, holster a revolver and head into town.  Not all of us, however, have that cowboy spirit.  Many of us simply want to live in peace, stay healthy, raise our kids, tend to our hobbies, and have a beer on the weekend. Politics never enters that equation.  Sure, I’m joking, but not by much.  I’d like to shrug off my problems with Florida with a laugh, but it’s a rather nervous laugh.   And again, at the risk of being accused of hate speak, I’m not writing this post is simply rag on Florida.  I’m writing it to sound a  warning to the rest of the country.  If we behave like we are a 3rd world country we will become a 3rd world country. It’s a self fulfilling prophesy. Ironically, one of the current heros of conservative thought,  Rudolph Giuliani,  learned this rule in New York City of all places. And he did something about it.  If you let your citizens break windows and write on subway cars they will break more windows and write on even more subway cars.  If you keep your house clean and in good repair, people who come to visit your house will keep it clean and in good repair.  If you disrespect your own house, everyone will disrespect your house when they come for a visit.  There are many more analogies in this lesson and perhaps I will list them later...but the real story awaits...

For the longest time, we have been, or the United States has been,  heralded as the fabled city upon a hill.  We should be proud of what the entire world thinks of us.  Not arrogant, but proud. It’s different.  Regardless, the vision of what we represent (life, liberty) and the opportunities (a chicken in every pot) have long been the attraction of the US, the land of milk and honey.  Perhaps we no longer present as much liberty, as say in Europe, or as much opportunity, employment (it’s now technology vs industry) as a country, but we still are held in very high regard.  We are still great, to suggest we are not great, is an opinion I find hard to understand.  But, friends, we’ve been fooling ourselves into believing that we will continue to be that fabled city.  In fact, if we follow the script, the current recipe, for making America great [again], we will do just the opposite.  We will no longer be the city upon the hill. We will become Florida.  Countries like France will invite our best and brightest to come live with them (that just happened).  And sadly, of course,  in about 50 years, Florida will be underwater.  That’s still a metaphor.   And remember, not everyone in Florida will be underwater. Those who can afford it will simply  lose their investment and live elsewhere.  A few resort cities will build huge walls and become resort islands. The rest of the Floridians will become refugees or will be sorted out of the gene pool.  Can you say Great Flood?  These poor souls will only be remembered as sinners and referenced only in some parable about God some 20,000 years from now.  Meanwhile, the true sinners, locked behind the walls of water and debauchery that is Palm Beach, will live on.

For the longest time most of us in the United States has seen only 1st world problems.  Many of the problems that plague the 3rd world, are now right on our doorstep.  Corruption. Pollution. Failing infrastructure. Divided classes.  The list goes on.  Again, we need only look to Florida to find representation of what this grand social experiment of making us great again will look like in the future.  In Florida, the haves will still have.  Everyone in Palm Beach will continue to have their vacation home cleaned, their pools vacuumed weekly, their lawn mowed, and their trash removed.  They will have access to clean water, abundant power, and a guard at their front gate.  The have nots, will have much less. I hope the have-nots are listening because it’s the haves that are now running our country and they want even more. They are a new breed of Robber Baron and they will want an even bigger share of our American pie.  Perhaps you haven’t taken a trip to Palm Beach and driven through one of their exclusive neighborhoods...oh wait, unless you are one of the have-nots that work for less than minimum wage on the inside you are not getting through gate because another have-not is standing guard, at less than minimum wage.  

That brings us to the wall.  The current haves seem to want all of us to live inside that gated community.  A country that is gated.  Except the gate is an illusion.  Don’t think for a second you are actually going to live inside a real gated community, or will even want to.  Right?  You live in Florida, it’s paradise, right?  No, it’s paradise if you live in Palm Beach.  The rest of Florida is a hot, sweaty, sandy place, with bugs, and alligators.  There are also sinkholes, hurricanes, and far more snakes than cows...and there are a lot of cows in Florida, just under 2 million.  To live in Florida is to pretend you are a part of the dream. And perhaps twenty or thirty years ago, you were a part of that dream.  But the rising tide didn’t lift all boats. The rising tide only advanced the rich.  Slowly but surely, your piece of Florida was eroded.  And that’s not a metaphor.  Most of the beaches are rebuilt, year after year.  Beaches attract the money.  Meanwhile,  the haves continue to take and the have-nots continue to be took.  And the sand is pumped back every year.  Floridians are waiting, hoping, and praying, for the tide to rise and lift them too all.  That water is still rising friends.  But it’s not lifting you up.

We own this country.  We the people.  We own the park land.  We own the infrastructure.  We own the education system. And we own a lot more...but that’s true only if we own the government.  We no longer own the government.  That wall that the government wants to build across our border, or the executive order to keep immigrants out, is not just a wall to keep "them" out.  It's a wall to keep you out.  That wall stems the coming tide of immigrants that will continue to keep our country democratic. Diversity built this country...literally, not figuratively.  Talk to any ethic group about their role in the American story and you will gain an understanding of how diversity built this country. The wall, on the other hand,is a last ditch attempt at the most sinister gerrymandering one group in power will ever dream up.  And it’s not the republican party, by the way.  It’s the party of the rich. The party of the have’s.  It’s the party of rich white men.  It’s a party I aspire to be in, it’s the American dream, except I would never do so on the backs of the less fortunate.  And I’ll caveat that by saying it’s the party of the unselfish rich white men that I aspire to.  Not the ones who have just taken over. 

Although their interests are similar, the unselfish haves would rather see the individuals they exploit living healthy and above the poverty line rather than, sick, impoverished, and used up. There will always be more cheap labor to exploit, why put one extra cent into a labor force than you have to? This is the struggle.  Back to the robber barons from history class.  They still exist and they will always refuse to show you their their tax return.  Of course they will want to see your tax return to know exactly how much they can take from you and ensure can’t make any significant gains on them. Try to remember the USA is our brand.  We represent the American dream.  We are real and our dream is real.  Our brand, however,  was stolen by a developer named Trump. Who’s not even a developer.  He’s a con man delivering the American dream through his name.  He sells his brand, which is really our brand, worldwide.  Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, all names of Robber Barons, and you can now add Trump.  Except these other men, actually built something, actually made the country rich and productive, as they feathered their coffers, on the backs of our diversity. Trump is only interested in his own enrichment.  He is exploiting the American dream and want’s to control our part of it within the walls of the  theater of his making.  With a lot of help from Twitter.  It is a puppet show at best.  It will weaken us.  It will not make us stronger.  That’s not his objective. Think about it.  Making America great is his brand, it makes him rich.  Making America strong is us, we the people. That’s to be avoided at all costs when you are the one in power.  
To my friends on the left I say embrace this theater of democracy and protest peacefully.  To my friends on my right I say embrace this theater of democracy for what it is, a puppet show.  Think of what comes next and let's move there quickly.  At no time in our history has the United States of America been so alive and also so near death. These are exciting times.  Our democracy is either stronger than it’s ever been...or it’s buckling at the knees.  This is a true test of our strength so long as we can recognize that it’s We the People who own it.  Not those who run it, or those who would like to own it.  That’s Russia.  We are heading in that direction.  And while we are at it, remember there is no need for violence of any kind.  Political violence belongs to the third world.  The third world creates it.  The third world is what many are trying to escape  when they see our beacon of light upon the hill.  If you struggle to make ends meet.  If you wonder how you are going to pay the rent or put food on the table or take your kids to the doctor.  Think about the 11 million in this country who are already here illegally.  What do you think they are eating?  Where do you think they are sleeping? How are they paying the bills?  They don’t seem to be complaining.  That's because they have no time.  They are trying to make a better life for themselves. They are chasing the American dream. You can too.  It doesn’t start by keeping them out.  It starts by recognizing that it is you that is being kept out.  There is nothing to fear. We are in the majority.  We are the 90% of the population, the have-nots.  Although we are legion, we have no power if we cede ownership of our Country over to this new generation of robber barons...the ones that are corrupt, pollute, exploit, divide us into classes, and fail to fix our infrastructure.  At least the robber barons of yesterday fixed our infrastructure. Think about it.