Big Brother in the Aisles of HyVee
Repeat a lie often enough, the conventional Nazi propaganda wisdom ran, and it will become an accepted truth.
This last Veterans Day weekend, I couldn’t watch a sporting event, listen to a car radio, or even go shopping at the local grocery store without hearing a Great American Lie repeated over and over.
Sports announcers, radio talk-show hosts, commercials, and even a recorded voice blasted into the aisles of the HyVeee supermarket told me again and again that I owed my great American “freedom” to veterans and current enlistees of the U.S. military – in other words, to the Pentagon.
We are free to attend football and basketball games, I was told, because of our military veterans, thanks to the U.S. military.
We get to go shopping, the recorded voice at HyVee instructed me, because of “our” military. So “thank a veteran.”
Leaving my local grocery store last Sunday, I almost expected to see U.S. Marines guarding the perimeter of the parking lot so that terrorists couldn’t slaughter grateful citizens as we tried to purchased provisions. Was that an Army Rangers team in the frozen foods section?
Liberty and Justice for Some
And how much cherished freedom do U.S. Americans really enjoy in the U.S.-American “homeland,” home to the largest mass incarceration system in human history and to a giant, burgeoning, and lethal corporate police and surveillance state? Some Americans seem to have quite a bit more liberty than others, that’s for sure. Real freedom exists mainly for the nation’s upper One Percent, which owns well more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth. The holdings include much of the political class and a highly concentrated corporate and commercial media that generates images and narratives that “manufacture [mass] consent” to that savage inequality while selling an endless stream of consumer goods that help ruin livable ecology.
The selfish and reckless financial manipulations and transgressions of the wealthy Few carry few criminal penalties even when they clearly ruin the lives of millions of Americans, but poor inner-city drug dealers get sent to prison for years for selling piddling amounts of narcotics. Rich people who purchase, use, or sell illicit drugs hire fancy lawyers to stay out of jail and he felony record databases. Hence the penetrating title of Glenn Greenwald’s neat 2012 book: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.
Another useful volume on this highly racialized class hypocrisy is Matt Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in an Age of the Wealth Gap (2014). Taibbi exposed a “legal schizophrenia” that relentlessly punishes the poor but shows mercy for Wall Street. Reflecting on the Obama administration’s refusal to arrest top banksters, Taibbi found that the U.S. legal system exhibits a two-faced double standard – “letting major systemic offenders walk, bypassing the opportunity for important symbolic prosecutions [but]. . . putting the smallest of small fry on the rack for negligible offenses.” After detailing numerous cases of massive high-level financial fraud that escaped prosecution, Taibbi showed how ghetto residents are strip-searched for “blocking pedestrian traffic” and how public assistance applicants are forced to let drug-spooking investigators poke through their closets and cabinets. Poor U.S. women get jail time for lying about whether they live with a boyfriend or receiving welfare overpayments. The police arrest a man for carrying a joint but not a banker who supplies international drugs lords with billions of dollars.
The Public is Powerless
Meanwhile, the nation’s political system amounts to an open plutocracy wherein concentrated business power generally gets whatever it wants from government while the progressive, left-leaning and social-democratic working-class majority almost never gets any of the policies it desires. Majority opinion is technically irrelevant in a nation where the (ex-)citizenry has been turned into a “corporate-managed electorate” (Sheldon Wolin) whose supposedly meaningful input comes for two minutes in a voting booth in carefully stage-managed big money-major party-narrow-spectrum and candidate-centered electoral spectacles once every two or four years.
Corporate and financial cash, connections, personnel, and blackmail have gummed up the workings of the nation’s political, legal, educational, and criminal justice systems. This plutocratic sickness runs through U.S. politics and society like bad cholesterol. It chokes the arteries of the body politic, turning “our” ballyhooed “democracy” into an empty shell.
Don’t take it just from an openly Left radical. There’s a considerable mainstream political science and investigative journalist literature confirming that the U.S. is a de facto corporate and financial dictatorship in which the wishes of the populace are regularly cancelled and insulted by concentrated wealth. Summarizing the basic findings of this literature, distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Martin Gilens (Princeton) report in their new book Democracy in America? that:
“the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest group – especially business corporations – have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless…The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves…Majorities of Americans favor specific policies designed to deal with such problems as climate change, gun violence…inadequate public schools, and crumbling bridges and highways…[and favor] various programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes. Most Americans also want to cut ‘corporate welfare.’ Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies [and programs].”
Thanks to this “oligarchy,” as Page and Gilens unabashedly call it, the United States ranks at or near the bottom of the list of rich nations when it comes to numerous core indications of social health: economic disparity, intergenerational social mobility, racial inequality, racial segregation, infant mortality, poverty, child poverty, life expectancy, violence, incarceration, depression, mass literacy and numeracy, environmental sanity, and more. Economic globalization and labor-displacing technology are part of what plagues the U.S., Page and Gilens note, but “all other advanced countries have faced [those] same pressures” and “nearly all of them have done much better than we have at” limiting inequality.” Those countries have used “a range of egalitarian public policies to spread the gains from trade and technology more widely, allowing many more of their citizens to benefit.”
Thanks to the ideological power of the American oligarchy, moreover, U.S. business elites have advanced the false notion that workers and the poor are personally to blame for their