There was once a time when you knew where you stood. The mega wealthy, the Hearsts and the Rockefellers and the Morgans were very powerful and used their wealth to further their interests. They bought newspapers, hired muscle, politicians, judges, even started wars.
Pretty much same as today, you say?
Not quite, because at least back then they had the subtlety to keep pretty much out of the limelight, and even their hired political lackeys would pretend to be working for the ordinary joe.
Now, however, we have the surreal scenario of the plutocrat class not only having all the money but actually demanding that the rest of us, under the threat of some Fox News applied collective Chinese arm-burn, say it’s a good idea.
The pinnacle of this recent movement was, of course, the nomination of Mitt Romney, a good man (I’ll get back to that in a minute) who actually felt obliged on the campaign trail to stand up for the civil rights of corporations.
Think about that for a moment. In an age where the western middle class is genuinely fearing, for the first time since World War II, that its living standards are actually in reverse, the nominee of one of America’s two great parties felt an obligation to step in and stop billion dollar corporations being bullied by poorer people, including many of those same middle classes now fretting.
And here’s the thing: I think Mitt Romney is an honest, decent man whose values told him that those businesses were being harassed by someone and he felt it was unjust. He genuinely saw them as the victim. He’s like the guy who sees Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, and thinks “Poor Lucy! She must be so exhausted having to trick Charlie Brown and make him going flying through the air every time!”
It wasn’t always this way. In the 1950s, Eisenhower and Churchill, both in office, and hardly doyens of the hard Left, saw mass society-wide membership trades unions as legitimate actors on the economic stage, with just as much right to be there as business. Both men sided with business, but saw society as a careful balancing act between capital and labour where both sides had to be able to walk away feeling they’d gotten their slice of the pie.
Now, you have an appalling lack of grace from the mega wealthy, where many plutocrats not only believe they should be free to use their resources (wealth) to further enrich themselves and their class, but then get indignant at the middle class for using its great resource, government through democratic elections, to pursue its class interest.
This leaves us with the jaw dropping scene of the mega wealthy feeling genuinely aggrieved, pointing fingers at people economically far beneath them and accusing them of “class war” for wanting things such as employment rights, universal health care or minimum wages.
It results in the grotesque spectacle of a US Republican Party, a party founded on the principle of righting one of the greatest wrongs of human history, now reduced to regarding the taking of food assistance from low income families and stripping them of low cost health insurance as a noble aim worth pursuing.
It is, quite simply, appallingly bad manners of the part of a class that should know better. A class that seems to lack, for want of a better word, class.