This column originally appeared in Northern Express on August 19, 2017.
There are days like this when I feel like the grouchy old man on his front porch in boxer shorts, fist in the air, veins bulging at the temples, screaming at the neighborhood kids, “This country is going to hell”. I’m not mad at the kids on my street. I’m mad at America and Americans. Yeah, I’m an American.
My general pissiness is attributable to the current state of Democracy and Capitalism. Yes, those two. Bottomline, they aren’t working right now. Can you think of any two more central belief systems that drive this country? Okay, sure, Freedom is up there too, but Mr. Freedom will have to wait for a future column.
Let’s fix this, right? But I have to wonder if that desire is equivalent to saying to your spouse, “I no longer find you physically attractive nor do I love you but I think we can work things out.”
We are not victims. We Americans have become suckers, fools, chumps, and pawns, falling for the polished pitches from candidates who say they care about the people they represent (okay, some do); corporations and their advertising campaigns which have convinced us of a dire and critical need for our laundry to be pleasingly scented; and sadly, our own laziness in hoping and believing that somebody else is watching out for our best interests. The human leaders of capitalism are serving the wealthy by financially supporting the human leaders of our democracy.
The Baby Boomers and Gen Xers allowed this. Does hope lie with Millennials? In their eyes, Mr. Capitalism punched Mr. Democracy in the face a long time ago. Last year, the Harvard Institute of Politics polled 18 to 29-year-olds, finding that less than half (42%) supported capitalism, while 51% actually opposed it and more Millennials had favorable opinions of socialism than those opposed to it.
I am old enough to see and appreciate this difference: the ideology of the America we were raised to believe in and what the country seems to have become as we were busy doing other very American things. Busy building low-paying careers, going into debt, being unable to fund our retirements, buying fidget spinners for our kids, and figuring out how to use our smartphones. I now have the perspective to see how certain forces have moved our collective national soul to a set of values that I don’t… well, value.
Could I say, in today’s vocabulary, that I no longer “identify as an American capitalist”? Whoa there! no, too far. I imagine that many Americans feel as I do. We still love our country, it just got really messed up, like that cousin who used to be so much fun at Thanksgiving dinners before his meth problem.
Democracy only works when the citizens actually vote for and engage with candidates who will dutifully represent the interests of their constituents and the nation. Our citizenry neither votes in significant numbers nor has any reasonable chance of understanding the complexity of issues for which candidates create dumbed-down messaging based on polling data, focus groups, and marketing tools. All of this messaging is being wordsmithed, massaged and funded by special interest groups who are more devoted to short-term gains of quarterly profits than the future of the American people. Oh look, Capitalism just swaggered in and messed up Democracy’s hair. Democracy has become such a wuss.
Capitalism. Oh, where to begin? It doesn’t seem to matter how well-intentioned political candidates of either party are when they throw their hat in the ring; once elected, they are systematically sucked into party politics, corporate lobbyists, and funding their own and their party’s next campaign.
I am no economist but I can see the results of the financialization of our economy and our American lifestyle. Corporate assets move around the globe, creating on-paper profits without any factories, products or jobs created. There exists, a financial economy with no ties to the supposed values of our people, no concern for the lives of Americans, and it thrives upon capitalism as regulated, or not, by Congress. Oh my, there they are again; Mr. Democracy and Mr. Capitalism playing musical chairs with only one chair.
What our morphed American version of rampant profit-driven capitalism has created includes:
- Corporate earnings only benefit those individuals and institutions who own stock in the company, CEOs whose compensation is directly tied to short-term stock performance, and the Wall Street institutions that finance the performance and get a piece of stock shares as they get traded.
- Corporate citizenship is a matter of public perception to be produced by the marketing department, not a core value to drive the decisions of the board of directors who are accountable to fund managers and shareholders
- The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We’ve heard this for so long that we fail to listen to the true implications of the statement. The poor also become less informed and less available to participate in this fine Democracy as they struggle to just survive. Damn you, Capitalism!
Do you see the watering down of American values? Do you miss the America you grew up believing in? I sure do.-MKR
Mary Keyes Rogers is the host of The Experience 50 Podcast for Midlife on iTunes. She is a consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and topic expert on the midlife experience. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org