I have a hard time watching cable news these days. I was a CNN junkie for a while but the thrill wore off even before this election season began in earnest. With election mania underway, though, there’s no chance I will return as a regular watcher. I simply can’t stand listening to the blathering of candidates and my stomach actually turns watching the TV talking heads take these folks seriously. Of course, it’s hard to completely avoid the news and, of late, Occupy Wall Street is a regular feature. Best I can tell, cable news appears to be perplexed about this growing movement. The “fair and balanced” view is not that charitable, but even the mainstream news just seems to be bewildered. What are these protesters really protesting? Why isn’t the movement’s message more coherent? Meanwhile, the movement grows and spreads.
I’m stunned why anyone would be perplexed. Over the last decades, wealth in America has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller percent of people. Hence the movements reference to “We are the 99%” — the others. While the stock market and real estate run of the late 90’s and early 00’s was routinely characterized as benefitting all Americans, the reality was otherwise. The crash that followed revealed the true reality. There are two Americas and as a country we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge one of them — America’s large and growing underclass. In the last year or so, the national tax policy debate makes me even more pessimistic about our country’s future. Even amidst the economic meltdown, the upper middle class (me included) and American gentry class are managing just fine. Sure, our portfolios and homes are worth less than they were, but our kids still attend private school and drive their own cars. Meanwhile, 43 million Americans live in poverty.
I certainly believe in the ideal of the American dream; hard work can lead to a wonderful life. But I also know that the fortune of one’s birth family matters even more than hard work. That’s just a reality. While there is generational movement between the classes, the barriers to such movement are immense. I am among the fortunate, born to college educated parents, raised in the suburbs. Sure, I have worked hard throughout my life and in that sense earned the good fortune that has come to me. But I never delude myself; I began life with a head start. I am grateful for that start, yet I also know that I am obliged to find ways to give back, including paying a whole lot of taxes. Why wouldn’t I?
So, back to Occupy Wall Street. Do people have the right to be angry at what Wall Street represents? Absolutely. The folks that ran our financial institutions helped drive this country down, some with dishonorable intent, others through simple negligence and carelessness. And for the most part, all of those financial tycoons remain obscenely wealthy while millions continue to suffer from their actions or inactions. But beyond that outrage, the simple fact remains that America is a country of have-a-lots and have-nots. And too many people, in my opinion, find it easier to cast blame on the have-nots rather than be thankful for their own good fortune. I think that’s just shameful.