18 November, 2014
The other day as I did my cardio warm-up at the gym, watching the TV screen attached to the elliptical machine, I saw a commercial that I found incredibly disturbing. It was for an organization called Wounded Warriors; a group that helps returning soldiers and their families. There were heartbreaking and heartwarming testimonials extolling the good work of the organization. Person after person spoke of how they didn’t know how they and their family would be able to cope with their new situation if it weren’t for Wounded Warriors. The commercial made me furious.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t angry with the organization (all I know about them is what I saw on the commercial), or with the generous citizens who send them money. And I certainly wasn’t angry with the returning soldiers or their families. I was angry with our government and our population. Why has the government abdicated the responsibility of paying for the long-term care and needs of the men and women (and their families), who have returned physically and or emotionally damaged from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… whatever it is? Why have they passed this responsibility to the individual citizenry? And why isn’t the public furious about this?
It reminded me of a conversation I had with some (at the time) new Canadian friends back in the ‘80s at the height of the AIDS epidemic. I had met Anne and Ian in Budapest (he was a physician, dean of a medical school, she was a professor of American Lit) and after returning home, we kept in touch. They loved New York; the theatre, the music, the art, and used the excuse of having a son at Columbia to make a couple of visits here each year. On the first of these after we’d become friends, we made a date to meet for a drink after they saw some Broadway show. They arrived at the restaurant, irate. They explained that after the curtain calls, cast members had stepped forward to announce they were collecting money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS… to help those stricken with the disease with their day-to-day and medical bills; so among other things, they wouldn’t lose their apartments and could afford food and their prescription drugs. As Anne and Ian railed about how offensive this was, I suddenly realized that though we had become fast friends in Hungary, there were many things I didn’t know about them. They’d seemed liberal and socially progressive, but maybe they were actually intensely homophobic. I tentatively broached that possibility. Anne and Ian were appalled at the suggestion. I’d misunderstood. They weren’t upset with the work of BC/EFA, what they were furious about was the need for the organization. “At home,” they explained, “there are government agencies in place to make sure people are taken care of in those ways. That’s part of the job of government.”
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a place for citizen-based charitable giving. We are in this, all of this, together. But the snowballing trend in this country of government abdication of responsibility for basically everything except helping corporations maximize their profits is another story.
And it’s fueled by the “I don’t want to pay taxes period” sentiment that initially exploded with the Tea Party. Back then “TEA” stood for “Taxed Enough Already”. But somehow that very simple, one-issue “grassroots”, potentially bipartisan movement has become the champion not of tax reform but of the elimination of tax (which is what funds the government and public works). It has also become the champion of every right-wing social issue.
Now, what’s interesting to me is how a “movement” that was supposedly about lowering taxes became obsessed with opposing gay marriage, gun control, women’s rights, abortion, etc. It doesn’t make sense. Until, as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were told by Deep Throat in All the Presidents Men, you “follow the money.” And following the money leads to the Koch Brothers… who by all accounts are the major bankrollers of the Tea Party and its candidates.
And why do the Koch brothers care about all these social issues? I don’t think they do. I think they care about eliminating government and about empowering corporations. But campaigning to make the rich richer, to eliminate all restrictions on what corporations can and can’t do, to cut every social program and safety net, and to even turn over road maintenance and schools and the care of our wounded veterans to the private sector probably wouldn’t rally the masses. However, “Don’t take away our guns!” and “Protect the unborn!” and “Marriage Is Between a Man and a Woman!” and “Science Is a Lie” and the like do.
So the social issues become a wonderfully effective bit of legerdemain that keeps the focus off the actual GOP/Koch Brothers agenda. It allows them to populate the federal, state and local governments with people who will, whether as true believers, or because they are beholden to their benefactors, or greedy, or just plain stupid, enact laws and appoint judges all the way up to the Supreme Court that further this very specific vision of America. An America where corporations and the super rich are free to do whatever they want with no accountability to anyone other than (possibly) their stockholders. It’s a vision that has nothing to do with what the Founding Fathers envisioned. It’s a vision that has nothing to do with democracy.
And they are accomplishing their goals. Politicians on both sides of the aisle embrace the corporatization of America, embracing them regardless of what is in the people’s best interests. The state of the economy is not judged by how the average citizen is faring, but by the Wall Street indicators. The Supreme Court is overrun with politically activist judges eager to do the job their benefactors placed them there to do. And through decades of cuts in education (and demonizing of learning), coupled with keeping the economy (as it affects the majority of us) in turmoil, they have produced an ever-growing citizenry that is either too tired or too beaten down or too lacking in the basic skills of critical thinking to become outraged or even informed about what they are really doing to our country… engineering a corporate takeover. A corporate coup.
And that’s how we have become an entire nation of Wounded Warriors.