Thursday, April 7, 2011

Commentary: This trickle-down stinks

Published in the Portland Phoenix

True free-market capitalism has lasted 30 years — barely half as long as its arch-enemy, Soviet communism. It began with Reagan chipping away at the social contract that bound us all together as fellow Americans, as human beings. Now, as funds "saved" by slashing programs for regular people are handed off to megamillionaire plutocrats as tax breaks, we can see clearly that the winner-take-all philosophy has bankrupted America morally, just as surely as it has punished her people financially.

That realization is taking hold among the rich — recent MarketWatch and Vanity Fair columns warn of dire consequences if the wealthiest one percent continue to neglect the suffering of the masses. The rest of us must now drive this point home. The risks if we do not are clear: Republicans in the US House of Representatives have just suggested slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — without canceling a dime's worth of tax breaks for the uber-rich.

As tax day, April 15, approaches, it is obvious that we live in an era of taxation without representation. The government takes money from the working class — the only people left who do not get massive tax breaks — and makes decisions that serve only the wealthy few.

Today, with endless war and limitless profiteering, America is in crisis. The Reagan-esque "trickle-down theory" appears ascendant, as politicians on left and right alike dole out government handouts to the wealthy and the corporations they own, while simultaneously eliminating government help for those who are the neediest. The stated promise — the vain hope — is that the rich will reinvest in America, creating jobs and thereby spreading wealth to everyone.

But we know that's not working — for decades now, America has been stripped of her wealth, her workers left to rising unemployment, their homes foreclosed upon, their children's schools gutted.

Self-serving politicians have co-opted the Tea Party movement, turned it into a pawn, a shill for corporate interests. The crowds that attend Tea Party rallies obviously do not realize that they are in a very real way demanding to pay higher taxes and receive fewer services, so that corporations can boost profits. Tea Party orators promote destruction of the social safety net that keeps children from starving, the elderly from freezing, and the poor from dying in the swamp of need. It is time for a return to the real Tea Partiers' values, for us to refuse to pay up without a voice in how our collective riches are allotted.

In Wisconsin, in Ohio, and in Maine, working people are finally standing up and reaffirming the true American ideal, one that generations grew up working to achieve: that we are all members of the same community, who thrive or perish together. We should not tolerate a nation in which corporations and the ultra-rich tread on the poor and middle classes, exploiting them by depriving them of fair pay, humane working conditions, and a decent education.

As the greedy, the heartless, and the power-crazed grow in influence, the American dream is turning into a nightmare. It is already a bad dream for far too many.

The real American dream — the one millions of Americans died striving for, perished protecting, and still work for today — is far from perfect. Still, it is a world in which some corporations are socially responsible, in which some of the wealthy recognize their private fortunes are built on the skills of the many, in which some of the privileged exercise what used to be called noblesse oblige but today goes by the name of public responsibility.

The real America is a nation in which every person has an equal chance to better his or her life, and by so doing also betters the lives of everyone around them. It is a nation in which we help our neighbors in need — knowing that when our day of need comes they will help us.

Today, as I prepare to pay my taxes to a government that does not represent my interests, I'm angry — and not just at the politicians and corporations. I'm angry at those who voted for Bush, for McCain — even, it seems, for Obama. We are complicit in our own ruin at the hands of the robber barons.

Now is a crucial moment for us to change course. The privileged, who have already achieved their fortunes by hook or by crook, seek to bar the door to us, to deny us our dreams forever.

It is time for us to stand up and tell the wealthy what, in fact, is trickling down on us from up there, where they sit, comfortable on their thrones. It is not prosperity, nor even opportunity. It's something very rudely different. And this trickle-down stinks.