Confronting the Faceless With a Laugh, a Fist, or a Sneer?
I’ve been getting a little snide lately. I don’t mean snarky or sharp, rude or angry; I have no problem with being any of those. I mean mean, resentful and snippy toward people who just get in my way. And if you’ve been the target of that, and you aren’t responsible for this mess we’re all facing, I want to apologize.
You see, I’ve been getting kind of frustrated. I’m frustrated because the rich continue to get richer, and the rest of us aren’t getting anywhere fast. I’m tired of worrying about whether my family’s bank balance will get us to the end of the month without a late payment or a bounced check, and I know I’m not alone, because I look around me and I see people cutting out the fat in their budgets, trimming down to necessities, and still walking around with that tight look of exhaustion and desperation. Last week I followed my gleefully loping preschooler into a Saks Fifth Avenue for the first time in my life, and I knew it was a mistake from the moment I stepped foot in there and I felt the eyes of the sales staff on my unpressed clothes. But I couldn’t help looking. Do you know how much they’re charging for a men’s dinner jacket? $4,000! Their trenchcoats are thirteen hundred bucks a shot, and you can get a pair of “distressed” jeans for $700. Good God. Clearly, there must be people who shovel this kind of cash out for their wardrobe, because somebody’s selling it. But is that you? The statistics tell me it’s not you. It’s not you or you or you, either. It’s someone with a lot of wealth, and that someone has been grabbing a bigger and bigger share of the wealth lately. While a lot of people are struggling, a few people are so deep in the dough that they can’t think of any way to better spend their money than on a $700 pair of jeans made to look like “distressed” and a $4,000 dinner jacket. What kind of dinners do these people attend? Don’t tell me the money these people have is in proportion to how hard they work for it. Don’t tell the guy who washes their dishes all day at the restaurant that. Don’t tell a surgical intensive care nurse that. Don’t tell their illegal immigrant gardeners that. I’m tired of running just to keep even, and I can see it elsewhere, I hear it elsewhere, I read it elsewhere, a lot of you are running yourselves ragged too, and it seems to just be getting tighter and tighter. Just a little push more, and you’re going to hear this sound without direction of ten million piggybanks breaking, all at once. You know, it gets me tired, and when I get tired I get stressed, and when I get stressed I get angry, and when I get angry I can hold it in for a while, but when I get angry enough and somebody steps in my path and says some little thing that annoys me or even just makes me pause to spend a minute to respond, I let loose some kind of snide remark. Why? Just because she or he is there, present, right in front of me. And that’s not right, and it’s not what I want to do in my better moments, and if I’ve unleashed venom on you lately I’m sorry. I apologize for it, because you’re not really what I’m angry about or at, and you didn’t deserve it.
But you are in front of me. What really gets me angry, deep down angry, isn’t in front of me, and it never sees the brunt of my fury. I’m not talking about the rich. I don’t understand filthy rich people, I don’t get the $4,000 dinner jackets and the $1300 trenchcoats, but understand that I’m not talking about the rich when I’m talking about what really gets me going. What really gets me going is what these people do. Not what the simply comfortable do, not what the straightforwardly rich people do, but what these filthy, disgustingly, obscenely rich people do. I’m talking about the people who the New York Times frets over in its elitst way for not being able to sell their $48 million mansions for the profit they feel they deserve.
And it’s not their obscene richness that gets me riled up. It’s not their rotund wealth. It’s what they’re doing with it. The nation got a sneak peek when it was revealed that one of their lackeys, Norman Hsu, had assembled $850,000.00 in donations to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, $850,000.00 that the Clinton campaign divested itself of when Hsu’s fall from grace became public. This wasn’t Norman Hsu’s money. Norman Hsu, you should understand, is not one of the megarich. Hsu is simply a figure who portrayed himself as power broker with the political powers that be. His job was to collect donations from the hugely rich, combine them, and offer them on a silver platter to politicians like Hillary Clinton, but by no means limited to Hillary Clinton, oh no.
But let’s pause for a moment and consider what that figure of $850,000.00 represents. That’s more than 1 percent of all of the $63 million in donations that Hillary Clinton has received as a presidential candidate during the entire 2008 election cycle so far. No one person, whether representing himself or a class of moneyed interests, should be able to own more than 1 percent of a presidential candidate. But Norman Hsu did. And he’s just the little bundler that couldn’t. He’s just the schmuck who got caught in the end. How much of the Hillary Clinton candidacy is owned? By whom? You know by whom — it’s by the same people who are spending $4,000 on a dinner jacket and $700 for a pair of jeans that someone else ripped up for their kids. Do you think it’s just Hillary Clinton? It’s not — but thanks to the donations given in these bundles in huge amounts, the central point is that any presidential candidate who is going to succeed is going to have to take cash in bundles from you-know-who. Hillary Clinton is not the point here. The point is that no matter which candidate wins, the $4,000 dinner jacket people are going to win. It makes me furious that a miniscule number of ultra-wealthy people have gone about owning the presidential candidates in 2008. But all we’ll see of that is the occasional glimpse when somebody in their ranks screws up and lets the bundling show by mistake — there’s no law that mandates reporting of bundling. You can’t see it. I can’t see it. It’s invisible. It’s inscrutable. The people who are buying this country can’t be seen doing it. They’re faceless, doing it all safely from behind their gates and walls and security fences. It’s the invisible actions of these people that generate my rage. Because my rage has no outlet, sometimes it is diverted to someone who is not at fault, and I’m very sorry for letting that happen.
I am angered down to my core by the actions of certain people in our government who are spying on citizens, building vast databases of information on law-abiding Americans by seizing information and possessions from people without the warrant that the United States Constitution clearly mandates. I am enraged to see politicians and the media tycoons associated with them stoke the flames of unwarranted fear in the American public in order to justify their actions. But the politicians and media tycoons are surrounded by bodyguards to keep the unwashed away. They don’t even read their own mail, so I’m never going to reach them. My fury at the betrayal of their oaths of office and their responsibility for being given the use of the public airwaves and rights of way will never reach their faces. They’re faceless. Where should that fury go? I have a thousand pounds of fury without a destination.
I am worn down by the four-year-old fact that our nation’s leader and his lackeys and those among his followers who knew better but just wanted a fun war that some other parents’ kids would have to fight lied, obfuscated and looked the other way long enough and hard enough to start a pointless war that has made things worse. And this man, and his lackeys, and those of his followers who knew better, are still wearing the mantle of Patriot. I can’t drop my jaw any lower. I’m beyond rage on this one. I’m numb.
All this anger, this rage, this disbelief, this numbness of the past seven years has no outlet because it’s all been about the concentration and use of power by the faceless, walled up, unresponsive, and unaccountable. I’ve just been bottling it up, and storing it, and stuffing it, and still it builds up and I can’t contain it and it just leaks out my eyeballs. It’s broken me to the point that I don’t even have a meter to measure my anger any more. My sense of humor is broken. My creativity is at a low ebb. And every new abuse of the constitution, every new authoritarian action, every new violent act carried out in my name, every new death, every additional percentage point of a candidate’s soul bought hardly even registers with me any more.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling. I see it in my friends, who used to find themselves shouting about this kind of thing but now just shrug and look down and to the right, quietly, with shoulders raised. I see it in the disorganization of activist groups that don’t know which faceless, walled-off target to pick, leaving it to vultures like the ANSWER Coalition to scavenge off our desire to protest to promote the liberation of the Philippines and the cult of Ramsey Clark in national marches. I read it in your comments here every day. The despair is heavy.
This is where I am. To the extent that you’ve personally taken the brunt of my anger, sadness, and hopelessness I apologize, because that’s inappropriate. Even if I disagree with you, you’re not the problem. The problem is the set of faceless, unaccountable people in power and institutions at their command. That’s where my energy has to be directed, I know.
But how do we counter the powers of our age when our rage has curdled into indifference?
I don’t know the answer. I don’t have a strategy. But I have an intuition that tells me the answer has something to do with laughter, and something to do with song.