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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

 
First they came for the air traffic controllers ...

by Tom Sullivan

"Nothing makes people more stupid and foolish than money and fear,” the creator of The Wire told the Guardian. David Simon spoke about what drives him, and about his new mini-series, Show Me a Hero.
Set in the 1980s, the show examines a community split over a plan to build public housing in the upscale -- predominantly white -- east side of Yonkers, NY. It was a breakdown driven not only by race, but by fear and money.

Simon sees the dispute as allegorical of the political dysfunction in an America that no longer knows how to solve its problems. The period coincides, he believes, with the breakdown of the social contract in America, the triumph of capital over labor and the unpairing of tides and boats that had risen together in a postwar America we had come to believe was normal.

This is a point forcefully made by ex-Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich in his recent film, Inequality for All. He dates the busting of the labour unions and the rupture of the social compact to Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. From then on, the idea that a market-driven society would mutually benefit those who held the capital and those who provided the labour was no longer in place, he says. For Simon, this is the point at which the shared community of interests that walked side by side as the American economy surged after the second world war came apart. The collective will that bound together communities, cities and, ultimately, America started to erode. 
“What was required in Yonkers was to ask: ‘Are we all in this together or are we not all in this together?’ Is there a society or is there no society, because if there is no society, well, that’s the approach that says ‘Fuck ’em, I got mine’. And Yonkers coincides with the rise of ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ in America.
“That’s the notion that the markets will solve everything. Leave me alone. I want maximum liberty, I want maximum freedom. Those words have such power in America. On the other hand ‘responsibility’ or ‘society’ or ‘community’ are words that are increasingly held in disfavour in the United States. And that’s a recipe for cooking up a second-rate society, one that does not engage with the notion of collective responsibility. We’re only as good a society as how we treat those who are most vulnerable and nobody’s more vulnerable than our poor. To be poor is not a crime, except in America.”
A guy I knew in the T-party once insisted that there is no society, just as Simon describes. And if there is none, by that logic how could he bear any responsibility for it? T-party members may clasp copies of the U.S. Constitution to their breasts, but they've lost its spirit after rejecting the document's first three words. There is no we in their America, just I and me. And community? Sounds too much like communism. And an excuse for low-caste Irresponsibles to collect a government check for not working.

The view portends a grim, decidedly unexceptional American future in which doomsday preppers barricade and arm themselves against their neighbors while the rich retreat to lush, gated sanctuaries protected from both by armed security.

The thing is, as more Americans slip out of the middle class and find themselves struggling to get by, they are catching on to the barrenness of that future. The Moral Monday movement caught on by bringing together a diverse community to call out the depravity of the ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ culture of Wall Street's Jordan Belforts, and among ALEC corporations out to strip America for parts.

But David Simon doesn't believe We the People are quite there yet.

“I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ‘I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me’. 
“It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.”
First they came for the air traffic controllers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an air traffic controller.
Then they came for the factory workers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a factory worker.
Then they came for the schoolteachers, the firefighters, the cops, the academics ... .

.