Divide and Conquer or Divide and Decline?

We have a place, an everyday stake in American culture. Being immersed, we fail to notice what forces feed our culture and how those forces are directed. It just is. That culture is the sum total of ways of living and thinking built up by groups controlling its transmission over time and over generations.

Who has that control and what are they doing with it?

We know the results, the division we feel, the inequality we experience. We see it in our society, in our government. Nothing gets done. Our country seems like a ship that we don’t control. In truth, the chasm we feel and see is purposefully created by what we best can call conservative forces. In all cultural facets of our society, it is like a thrust fault, on the one side the upper-crust (the top 1%) pushing under the majority of us on the other side.

Perhaps, what best characterizes this gulf is the continuing Republican effort to separate us into makers and takers. The current task of Republicans is to try to make the financial collapse the fault of the working middle class people who took out mortgages they could not afford, conservative forces egregiously pushing ahead the narrative that the takers caused the crisis. For conservatives, maker versus taker is an underlying talking point, either in words or in effect.

But media helps too. Remember President Bush’s exhortation to Americans after he put two wars on our credit card, wars fought with some one percent of our population, “Go out to the shopping centers and consume.” I do paraphrase, but the administration’s operative encouraged Americans not to sacrifice for the wars, establishing consumption as patriotic. Even then the Bush administration promoted a sense of a Manichean struggle: Christian forces of good against evil. The media took the bait as well and led us into righteous consumption, with an attitude.

That media attitude is pro-business, accentuating an imagined corporate expertise and a Pavlovian consumer model. Leave science and technology to corporate makers in offering shiny, new products. We want – we need technology’s latest.

Apple, for example, has played a great new-release game. Media, as a witness, a champion, supports the dazzle of each Apple release.

The unveiling of the iPhone 6 and a bonus, the iWatch, gave focus to Apple CEO Tim Cook, representing the image of all top executives. In effect, it was CEO hype. A techno slight of hand centered on the magician, who, based on the media attention, alone acted to marshal the miracle products. The “Oohs and Aws!” were directed toward Tim, the presenter. All that focus, all that adulation toward one man.

In his masterful wake are the minions.

Vastly forgotten is the genius in the lab, the techs pushing beyond the cusp of tech currency, beyond miniaturization. There’s little thought of the near sequestration of some 300,000 Chinese Foxconn workers, some clocking in 100 hours a week to help produce the marvel.

They do not share the stage with Tim Cook. They are consumed by life, the fodder of techno-fads. It’s all reminiscent of a current culture of the elite, political leaders leaving their own memorials, CEOs, obscene, bloated estates. In future years, archeologists will find those memorials –glossy libraries of presidents past and palatial estates of plutocrats. The rest of us will leave either castaway techno toys or cast-off dreams.

But the consumer hype also helps set the stage for a conservative pitch, if not distractions, for the masses: The cult of the man at the apex; the Superman of achievement, easily elevated; the exalted celebrity.

Ah, but from whence these achievements? Has any slogan-quoter bothered to look? A class of makers, who stand above all others like gods; they have minion over takers. The ”industrious we” can attain those lofty heights, conservatives say, lest you lose heart.

Paul Ryan, running for Vice President in 2012, said that sixty percent of Americans are takers. “Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes,” he said. Ryan is a consistent attacker of food stamp recipients, with no mention of Wall Street fraud tanking our livelihood. He attacks the needy and the poor as lazy takers. In reality, Republicans are aligned with the plutocrats whose policies extract wealth from the masses. Beside the point is that Ryan himself was a “social security” taker.

As Republicans consistently vote down minimum wage efforts by Democrats, it means that the Wal-Marts and McDonald’s of the world are being subsidized by the taxpayer. We pay for food stamps, housing assistance so that minimum-wage workers can survive.

Fossil fuel subsidies to monolithic corporations like Exxon-Mobil shift taxpayer money to crony capitalists for so-called oil-depletion allowances. There is the pollution element: exploding oil tank cars that destroy towns are indirectly billed to taxpayers and consumers before bloated profits, mercury in our fish from power plant emissions, and toxic drinking water. Education spending, police services and infrastructure cuts due to tax cuts for the rich – all were stripped while taxpayers bailed out Wall Street.

And then there are the subsidies for science-based research and development projects going to basic research projects like NASA and the military. Who benefits from the tax-payer-based science and technology, from military products, the wars, and the space programs? How are we paid for the scientific breakthroughs such programs bring? Aren’t companies like Boeing and Lockheed getting free use of these technologies?

There are no clear-cut makers and takers. Only in the mind of demagogues like Paul Ryan, who for political purposes make this pitch. Only in the agenda of Republicans is this chasm deemed an active fault.  But we must also blame a corporate media that plays along with this game and a radical right-wing media like Fox News that play the Republican propaganda tunes.

We should all be in this together. History is littered with nations and empires which fell because division became the rule rather than compromise and unity. It has always been characterized by the elite, once in control, shutting out opportunity and privilege for the unprivileged.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.