This past weekend we witnessed liberal groups converge on the National Mall, perhaps in a mass ensemble race to outdo the previous attempt in late August. Back then, talk show host – now political evangelist – Glenn Beck was the center of the media universe as he rallied conservatives to brave global warming heat. The former wanted to Unite, wearing One Nation on its chest; the latter wanted to Restore or return to something lost, as if folks had dropped change and kept walking. Stephen Colbert and John Stewart, anointed Masters of Political Spoof, are somewhere in the middle – we think – mocking Beck with planned competing rallies later in the month. Some of us remain lost on the humor in that last effort. What’s so funny about the hot mess we’re in?
So far, we’ve had two very different ideological camps staging mass protests in D.C., comfortably ensconced in two divergent silos of ideas and thought. But, a common theme found in each rally is a growing sense of frustration driven by economic stagnation and fear over a rising inability to put food on the table and gas in the car.
Stepping out into both rallies that hot August day, it was evident that most folks were worried over money. There was a general feeling that Americans were losing the struggle for basic necessities, and many at the rallies were either fighting to make ends meet – or without the means to make any ends at all. Even hard charging conservatives joining Beck and Co. to denounce what they perceived as debt-driving Obama Administration policies were simply expressing fear over apocalyptic visions of insolvency. An insolvent, bankrupt America ultimately meant the loss of everything. And, when society reaches a point of nothing to lose, what else is there?
Interesting how all these folks mass grouping on the Mall had one significant trait in common: the desire for a higher quality of life. It’s doubtful you’d find even a handful of people opposed to a better standard of living at any of these rallies. But, what you would find is an infinite number of opinions about how to get to that point.
Some believe we need to freeze government spending and zero in on debt; others believe we ought to expand the level of funding and encourage deficit spending during times of economic discomfort. But, there was – and still is – a general consensus on the need for better jobs, better schools, better neighborhoods and a better quality of life overall. What we’re witnessing now is a great debate over the details.
What we can agree on at this very moment, regardless of race, background or viewpoint is that the income gap in the United States is widening in unprecedented ways. For the past 30 years, the rich have grown appreciably richer, while the standard of living for everyone else has fallen further into the dark abyss of income inequality. Which means a lower standard of living and the absence of a better lifestyle, better homes, better schools and any other amenity that makes collective citizenship a fruitful experience.
Says Slate writer Timothy Noah, fresh off a 10-part series titled The United States of Inequality: “A lot of people say, ‘So what if we have unequal incomes? We have a great deal of mobility in the United States. Anybody can grow up to be president.’ But in truth, social mobility has actually decreased over the last 40 years. There’s still a fervent belief that that is what defines the United States, but it is less true now than it used to be.”
And, to make matters worse, the chasm of that gap is wider than what we see in other developed countries, despite boasting the most powerful and productive economy on the planet. This recent “recession” has made that gap much more pronounced. The Forbes 400 list of Americans worth at least $1 billion got an income boost of 8 percent in 2010, while the net worth of American households and non-profits saw a drop of 2.8 percent.
That gap evolves while we’re either staging competing rallies in a race to show what media personality or organization can pull the most people in one location. Colbert and Stewart raise it to detached idiocy by making fun of what requires a sense of urgency rather than a punch line. Engaging in divisive and sophomoric head-butting over whose party or ideology is “the best” ultimately provides cover for elected officials unwilling or lacking the fortitude to address income inequality and the danger of diminished quality of life.
What would really make a statement worth paying attention to is if we all recognized the sameness of our condition and thereby forced a common, united response.