For a person who generally—but not always—swings “left” on the social and political spectrum, holding a “discussion” with a hard right-winger can be an extraordinarily frustrating experience. To most on the right—including “poor whites” and those who blame “socialist government” for the destruction of American “values” that they do not necessarily uphold themselves—the individual is solely responsible for overcoming the pitfalls that accompany living in a world where it is the majority demographic which ultimately decides who succeeds or fails, and how. Naturally, they are at an advantage in this situation. Those on the left see the inherent unfairness of such a “system,” and support to methods designed to provide more “fairness,” the success of which is more a matter of opinion and partisanship than occupying any factual context. After all, it is easy to support laws and programs if someone else is perceived to be affected by them.
The particular discussion I had is fairly typical. The person in question had the good fortune of acquiring a high-paying manufacturing job during the post World War II industrial boom, when the U.S. was the breadbasket of world—until Japan and China muscled in on the action, and those high-paying jobs with generous benefits and pension plans started to disappear. It is easy now to disparage others who never will have access to the good fortune that others enjoyed for so long. As usual, this right-winger prefers to explain the issues others face as personal faults, not as an institutional one. I often hear the phrase “how I was raised,” but never about the fortunate conditions in which they were.
Today, the U.S. economy places much less emphasis on making things that other countries purchases at prices we set, but on services (often to sell cheap products from overseas) and financial gimmickry. There is a very limited “opportunity” market in this economy—even those with technology degrees must “compete” with foreign workers who are “less expensive”—and it is usually the luck of the draw who “succeeds” or doesn’t. It certainly doesn’t “hurt” to be in the right place with people “like yourself”—that is to say, if you are Caucasian, and preferably with a good “profile.” Of course, employers who feel they need to diversify their workplace find some value in hiring the best of the rest, but they are a dime a dozen and easily dismissed and replaced.
While I would agree with this right-wing person that there are some people who just don’t have the proper work ethic, this society can easily instill a sense of frustration and ennui, especially when people of a certain group sense they are more the object of suspicion and distrust, which prevents them from being “employable.” People on the right more likely (but not exclusively) possess these dark places in the mind, avoiding even knowing or understanding the point of view of the “others” who don’t “fit in” socially (meaning racially) with their world. At the airport I encountered a “clique” of white yuppies who were just lounging around blocking the access door to the ramp; when I exited the door I looked at them with annoyance, and a couple of them responded with “What’s his problem?” smirks. When I returned, one of them was rudely “crashed out” right in front of the door, which was a controlled access point. I had step over and stretch out to activate the door; again I did nothing except glare at these self-important people with contempt. As I was walking through the door I turned around and saw that one or two were looking at me with that smug self-satisfaction of the “privileged” class; I then was unable to resist the observation out loud that here was bunch of conceited Nazis, which lighted up a face or two with dismay. I actually have an “opinion.”
Personally, I do not live in a world of illusion; if people I encounter every day view me with “suspicion” because of my “ethnicity,” why would they think I am capable of doing anything that requires competence, let alone “intelligence”? This person I conversed with chooses not to recognize making the same “assumptions” in himself, if not necessarily concerning me, but others he regards as lazy “freeloaders.” What do people know about me? I can say categorically that is clear that no one really “knew” me when I was growing up. People thought I’d be dead or in jail long ago.
If there was any positive thing I learned from my youth, it was self-reliance, and although I am grateful for whatever assistance I can get, I’ve never counted on or based my planning on it. Unfortunately, I wanted “things” just like everyone else did, and credit cards “helped” me acquire some of those things, but at a “price” that was far beyond my means. I eventually entered into a debt consolidation program, which was good for the banks, but “bankrupted” my living conditions.
Yet even out of that negative experience came a positive. Since I couldn’t purchase anything on credit from then on, I learned to live frugally (sometimes extreme frugality), and the pay-off was that when I was finished I had a certain amount of money a month that I could do what I wanted with. Initially I went on spending binge for things I wanted before but couldn’t afford, but after I satiated those needs, I decided to put it in the bank. I am still living like a miser, because I know I’ll never be able to save (much) money again upon the resumption of anything other people would recognize as “normal” life.
But right-wingers like Rep. Paul Ryan believe that people like me have only themselves to “blame” for their position in life because they are “indolent,” are ill-educated or don’t have a “life coach” to steer them on the narrow road set out for them by Republicans and their corporate billionaire paymasters who fear the “common people” focusing on a common goal. Unlike what the ignorant with their stereotypical beliefs might assume, when I set my mind to a certain goal, I can be extremely disciplined in achieving it. One day I decided that if I was having trouble saving money in the bank, I was going to at least try to save as much change as I could. I saved $1,200 in coins in a year, and now it is helping me save cash in the bank. I set my mind to composing 1,000 posts on my blog within six years, and through hard and dedicated work that goal is well within sight. I decided I was going to save as much money in the bank as possible, and I’ve disciplined myself psychologically to avoid all unnecessary expenses. Now I become angry with myself even if I have to spend five dollars for an expense I hadn’t budgeted for. While I haven’t exactly been eating more “healthy,” at least I’m eating less unhealthy food.
Yet still there are people like the one I was holding this “discussion” with who still believe the myths being propagated by people like Rep. Ryan and his so-called “expanding opportunity” plan, which has nothing to do with “expanding opportunity”—in fact, I’ve read the whole thing (and half of it is referrals to right-wing sources), and never once is how to “expand” opportunity for those on the bottom rail discussed—because that would mean interfering with the “privilege” of “real” Americans. As I noted before in a previous post, the intent of the plan is to save money by simply giving states “block grants” instead of the federal government administering programs for the needy. This is especially dangerous in “red” states, which obviously have different “standards” about who “qualifies,” plus many would probably refuse the grants based on “principle.” In other states, the grants would just be used in place of state programs as budget cutting measures—thus increasing, not decreasing, the level of need.
“Opportunity” too often has little to do with qualifications. Often “surface” considerations are more important than substance. When I was working at a sports apparel warehouse, the so-called Chief Operating Officer (a “made up” position if ever in a company of no more than 50 people at its peak) did everything she could to undermine me because she didn’t think I was “smart” enough to run the shipping department, but she wasn’t successful until after she forced the warehouse supervisor who supported me in the position to quit because of her constant interference. “Opportunity” had nothing to do with my qualifications—after all, I had a college degree—but based upon my “appearance”; I just didn’t look the “part.” That turned out to be, of course, a tall white male.
Ryan and people like him never takes into account the fact that we live a very stratified society, where according to one part of society (the privileged majority, naturally) one is perceived to acquire “opportunity” at the expense of another. But it is more complicated than that. The sales and customer service office at this sports apparel warehouse was full of people with college degrees, but who couldn’t find employment in their majors, and making money below the median level. People with high school degrees should be in those jobs, yet right-wingers think that with a little more self-motivation, they can “advance” to the jobs that these people spent four years of college to get and can’t? Because so much of our domestic goods manufacturing base has gone overseas, our economy has become hopelessly skewed toward low-paying service jobs and manufacturing that is often fighting a losing battle competing against low-cost Asian-made goods.
I am so sick of Republicans who claim to be “sensitive” to the issue of poverty and low-incomes when they are not. They should be talking about the growing income disparity between the rich and everyone else, but that would mean they would have to “bite” the hand that feeds them. Ryan’s hypocrisy is so great that he argues that poverty rates are overblown because some people rise above the “official” poverty rate after receiving government assistance. But it is because they are below the poverty rate that they are receiving assistance! Ryan’s “plan” then would underestimate the poverty level, which then would be the reason why Republicans would reduce poverty program money in the budget, and many people who received aid would not do so now, and the end result would be that the poverty rate would rise! Stupid.
And let’s at least stop kidding ourselves—or this person I was holding this discussion with—about this; the median income in this country is $33,000—which means that that half the population earns less than that amount. In 1978 that might have seemed like a lot of money, but it isn’t now. Who sets those wages? Are we not always told by Republicans and businesses that paying living wages forces job cuts or business closures, because not enough “profit” is made, or that business owners have no “incentive” unless they are making as much money for themselves as possible? And you want to blame the people mired in those jobs?
Of course Ryan, who lives in fantasy world like other right-wingers who have no idea of what they are talking about, insists that families with children on low incomes can “save” any significant amount of money—or like this right-winger, get a second job and just be a slave to work. Ryan would even create a whole new bureaucracy—which he calls “life coaches” and “providers”—to tell them how to save money, which is easy to suggest but difficult in practice given all the “unexpected” expenses that one may encounter in life. It is absurd and unfair to expect families to make the same sacrifices I have made without causing great harm. Ryan, like other “conservatives,” always apply the most negative traits and motives to people who are forced to live on the lower end; they never give people who want to earn their keep their due as human beings, the possibility that they might actually have something called “pride,” but are forced to accept low-income jobs rather than go on unemployment or go on support. No, they are just “bums.”
I get the feeling that this person puts me in that “group.” But I’ve learned a lot about life since I left home, an impossible situation for a person who was naturally introverted and always lived in a state of apprehension. I am constantly given “advice” that is useless to me, or doesn’t reflect the reality that I live in. For example, I don’t need “advice” to find all those cut-rate establishments to find cheap goods; I’ve been doing that for years. My lunch at work consists of a 33-cent cup of soup and 50 cents worth of crackers a day that I purchase at Big Lots, and I tend to shop for clothes at Goodwill. I don’t feel “sorry” for myself that I need to do this, since I have all the things that I need—books, music, movies—to make life “enjoyable,” except that I need a place live bigger than a closet that I can enjoy it in, since on the “affordability” scale, even a studio apartment around here would eat-up 60 percent of my take home pay.
But while I don’t feel “sorry” for myself, I do take my own experiences into account when I speak on the issues regarding those the right ignores except to beat on for political propaganda purposes. I think it is deeply offensive to expect people who work a full-time job to have to slave at a second job just to get by (as I have been “advised”) instead of being paid a livable wage. That is not a reflection on them, but on our society and the personal greed of a certain segment of our society—especially those like Mitt Romney—who get rich not doing anything more “useful” than manipulating borrowed money into more money, and do so by cutting jobs that real people need to survive. I am deeply contemptuous of people who think this is “right.”