I remember how I felt when the media announced the fait accompli that W would be the next president. Twice. This is worse.
I knew W’s presidency would be bad to live through, but with one abstract exception, I didn’t expect this one bad man and his handlers to have too sweeping an effect on my eventual grandchildren. He was obviously dangerous, as he had begun his first campaign by announcing that his mere being would restore honor to America and the office simply through the act of being sworn in as President. While we knew more or less what he would begin to do, his gang was clearly too incompetent to do much more more than a generation’s worth of damage to the planet, the people on it, and their economic and cultural civilization. All are resilient. The greatest lasting danger would be from his effect on the Supreme Court, but there was no way to tell exactly how that would play out. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
The morning of 9/11 was a moment to remember, as was the news of my company’s layoffs that I heard sitting at the same desk later that year. I remember crying when I heard about the engineer that kept the radio working at the top of the tower, and who went down with the building, and the same for those who lived through their posts in flooding pump houses in New Orleans. I was concerned for my best friend and family, who lived and worked in Manhattan, and later creeped out when I found another friend (his college girlfriend) had inexplicably stayed in bed that day rather than taking her scheduled weekly flight from NY to LA. These were affecting, but my feelings on such occasions were things that my grandchildren wouldn’t know for themselves until I would tell them the story.
My best friend is a great guy. Fun and funny, generous, caring and modest, smart as heck and talented.
The wedding guests in New Jersey’s most expensive country club all thought it was ironic when I toasted the groom as having been voted “Most Brain-damaged Freshman”. He was soon to be the youngest director at an investment bank on a meteoric rise. He was responsible for all the infrastructure that enabled a new kind of highly successful financial instrument — mortgage-backed securities. Sixteen years later, when the failed bank was bailed out by us all and then bought by one of the world’s biggest banks, he didn’t lose his job. He was promoted to be an even bigger exec at the new bank.
To me, he’s not a faceless monster. He’s my friend and I love him. His kids are brilliant and deserve to go to the best school in the city. He gives to charity. He vacations around the world — even brought me on a trip for my birthday. Living in Manhattan, he’s got two Ferarri, and he races one of them.
You see, a lot of investments aren’t performing well enough right now. There’s still a heck of a lot of money coming in, and it’s gotta go somewhere, so might as well spend it. Same thing, on a much bigger scale, for his bank. The bank is bigger than most countries. It may well be a monster: In my cable-company-like dealings with it, it certainly hasn’t treated me with anything like the dignity and respect with which my friend treats people.
This morning the media told me that the Supreme Court had overnight done away with a hundred years of precedent, and allowed corporations to fund political campaigns. They can’t be jailed, they operate in whatever country they approve of, run their own armies, and each corporation’s stated single responsibility is to accumulate power for itself. As of this morning, any one of them alone wields more political cash than can be raised by the entire voter majority combined. My best friend and his handlers are now running the planet. Remember the part in the first Terminator where it is explained that after being let loose, it only took the machines a millisecond to decide humanity’s fate? My eventual grandkids are going to know how I feel this morning, because they will live their entire lives in the corporatist world that begins today.
Also this morning, my wife received a chain joke emailed by her well-loved mother. It was in the form of a letter from a company owner announcing hard times. Distraught over how to choose who would be laid off, the owner went to the company parking lot and gave pink slips to those who had Obama campaign stickers. Funny, no? Here’s the thing: my wife’s parents just laid off a lot of people from their own company, and there’s no ambiguity about their own political views.