Divided, Distracted, Downtrodden: The Social and Political Reality in America Today

Consumerism1

W.J. Astore

The American people are being kept divided, distracted, and downtrodden.  Divisions are usually based on race and class. Racial tensions and discrimination exist, of course, but they are also exploited to divide people.  Just look at the current debate on the Confederate flag flying in Charleston, South Carolina, with Republican presidential candidates refusing to take a stand against it as a way of appeasing their (White) radical activist base.  Class divisions are constantly exploited to turn the middle class, or those who fancy themselves to be in the middle class, against the working poor.  The intent is to blame the “greedy” poor (especially those on welfare or food stamps), rather than the greedy rich, for America’s problems.  That American CEOs of top companies earn 300 times more than ordinary workers scarcely draws comment, since the rich supposedly “deserve” their money.  Indeed, in the prosperity Gospel favored by some Christians, lots of money is seen as a sign of God’s favor.

As people are kept divided by race, class, and other “hot button” issues (abortion and guns, for example), they are kept distracted by insatiable consumerism and incessant entertainment.  People are told they can have it all, that they “deserve it” (a new car, a bigger home, and so on), that they should indulge their wants.  On HGTV and similar channels, people go shopping for new homes, carrying a long list of “must haves” with them.  I “must have” a three-car garage, a pool, a media room, surround sound, and so on.  Just tell me what mortgage I can afford, even if it puts me deeply in debt.  As consumerism runs rampant, people are kept further distracted by a mainstream media that provides info-tainment rather than news. Ultimately, the media exists to sell product; indeed, it is product itself.  No news is aired that will disturb the financial bottom line, that will threaten the corporations that run the media networks, that will undermine the privileged and the powerful.

The people, kept divided and distracted, are further rendered powerless by being kept downtrodden.  Education is often of poor quality and focused on reciting rote answers to standardized tests.  Various forms of debt (student loan debt, credit card debt, debt from health care and prescription drugs costs, and so on) work to keep the people downtrodden.  Even workers with good jobs and decent benefits are worried.  Worried that if they lose their jobs, they lose their health care. So much of personal status and identity, as well as your ability to navigate American society, is based on your position.  For many it’s lose your job, lose your life, as you’re consumed by debt you can’t repay.

Divided, distracted, and downtrodden: It’s a recipe for the end of democracy in America.  But it also serves as a roadmap to recovery.  To reinvigorate our democracy, we must fight against divisiveness, we must put distractions behind us, and we must organize to fight for the rights of the people, rights like a better education for all, less debt (a college education that’s largely free, better health care for everyone, and far less emphasis on consumerism as a sign of personal and societal health and wealth), and improved benefits for the workers of America, who form the backbone of our nation.

We can’t wait for the politicians.  Most of them are already co-opted by the moneyed interests.  Meaningful change will have to come from us.  That is, after all, the way democracy is supposed to work.

11 thoughts on “Divided, Distracted, Downtrodden: The Social and Political Reality in America Today

  1. We are conditioned from an early age that if your not number one, your nothing. All of what you discuss is the product of this conditioning. I once heard from a family member, “Show me someone who doesn’t mind losing, and I’ll show you a loser”. COMPETITION is what divides Americans. COOPERATION is not a significant operative word in our culture. That is, unless it’s used in concert with teaming to win. A zero sum game plays well in America. I care strongly about America. It has terrific social potential, if democracy returns to the hands of the people. Unfortunately, and other than a business transactions, Win-Lose deals are the usual goal

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  2. A government subsidized ( without debt) higher education for all is what made this country great following WW II. That subsidy was called the GI Bill and those thousands of veterans who used that subsidy were a major factor in building the economic powerhouse that offered jobs to all. The Democrats, starting with William Clinton, and the Republicans, starting with Ronald Reagan have succeeded in tearing down that powerhouse economy with their support of the falsely named “free trade agreements” have succeeded in dismantling that powerhouse leaving behind a burned out shell that offers only Walmart and McDonalds and obesity.
    Let’s start to rebuild that powerhouse by calling your congressmen today to have them kill the latest Obama “free trade” lie the Trans Pacifric Trade Agreement, which will destroy what is left of our national sovereignty.

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    1. My dad benefited from the GI bill using it to become a top notch electrician. Unfortunately, any time a proposal like this or other such proposals (universal health care/single payer, retirement benefits), the cries of socialism spring up. Result is, our quality of life, chances for improvements worsen.

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  3. “As consumerism runs rampant, people are kept further distracted by a mainstream media that provides info-tainment rather than news.” William J. Astore

    “‘Let us get nearer to the fire, so that we can see what we are saying.’ — the Bubis of Fernando Po” (epigram to Chapter One of The Meaning of Meaning, by I.A. Richards and C.K. Ogden)

    Unsurprisingly, my epic narrative poem, Fernando Po, U.S.A., contains an episode devoted to precisely this topic of voluntary mass delusion remorselessly exploited by the ruling oligarchical collective through their kept political and media puppets. Hence:

    Boobie Infotainment
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    Some chose to place a saintly crown
    Upon her dead blonde head,
    While others felt relieved at last:
    “She’s better off,” they said.
    A woman born of others’ needs:
    An unreal life she led.

    The tabloids built an image up
    To vend to those who dreamed
    Of two deadbeat aristocrats
    Unreasonably teamed:
    A fable for frustrated lives
    Vicariously beamed

    Into those households where the proles
    Preferred their rubbish crass
    Along with propaganda “news,”
    Leaked from and to an ass,
    Delivered by celebrities
    With tits or balls of brass.

    Thus Marilyn, Diana, or
    Maid Monica will do —
    Along with Michael Jackson and
    Dead Elvis Presley, too —
    Distracting ‘Murcans from the bad
    And ugly larger view.

    Just so did Bush and Blair concoct
    Some “coalition” fun.
    They’d have a go at poor Saddam
    And set him on the run:
    The mad dog and his Englishman
    Out in the noonday sun.

    This illustrates a lesson that
    Some liars never learn:
    Do not believe the lie yourself
    Or else you’ll surely burn
    And find your ashes dumped into
    A small ceramic urn.

    As Hayakawa wrote, we have
    This thing, the Empty Eye:
    A Technicolor campfire on
    Which Boobies now rely
    To dull the pain with images
    That pass too swiftly by.

    The Eye emitted “content” both
    Innocuous and bland
    And pushed it past the limits of
    What Boobie brains could stand,
    Inducing thought rejection all
    Across the Boobies’ land.

    The pictures came and went too fast
    To process on the fly,
    So Boobies felt upset but they
    Could find no reason why.
    The only thing they knew is that
    They felt compelled to buy.

    With nervous systems stunned and jazzed
    They couldn’t bring to mind
    Some cartoons from the past that told
    Of just this Boobie kind:
    A salesman of the bait-and-switch
    Who robbed a sailor blind.

    He’d beg a meal from Popeye then
    This Wimpy guy would say:
    “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for
    A hamburger today.”
    Which meant, of course, that he had no
    Intention to repay.

    King George the bumbling Boobie, too,
    Worked things the selfsame way.
    He waged a war on nothing down
    But promised that some day
    Some other one would come along
    And all the costs defray.

    “When Tuesday comes, I won’t be here,”
    He snickered as he spent.
    “I’ll eat my burger now and get
    Those lenders to relent
    Till I can high-tail out of town
    And stiff them for the rent.”

    The Infotainment tabloids, though,
    Saw no need to retort.
    They liked the dead-blonde pictures that
    They showed around for sport.
    Convinced that only “good news” lies
    Deserved a full “report.”

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006, 2009

    Now, back to your regularly scheduled prose discussion and analysis …

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    1. Thanks, Mike. Don Henley did a pretty good job in “Dirty Laundry” — “Can we film the operation/Is the head dead yet/You know the boys in the newsroom have a running bet/Get the widow on the set, we love dirty laundry.” That’s from memory so there may be a word or two wrong there …

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      1. Colonel Astore: I just wish to say I enjoy your posts. They are thoughtful and informative. My dad benefited from the GI bill using it to become a top notch electrician. He served during the Italian campaign (88th Infantry, Blue Devils under Gen Mark Clark). He said to me several years back, and if you will excuse me, I will state his exact quote. “I don’t know what those assholes in DC are doing and have been doing. They are ruining this country. This is not what I fought for almost 70 years ago nor why I left a brother on Normandy.” (My uncle Frank who died during the D-Day invasion). America, I truly think, is disintegrating and collapsing. This is happening for many of the reasons (and others as well) you state in this piece. Frankly speaking, I am not sure we can reverse course. I simply do not see the political will. I will also bluntly state that the politicians are corporate whores. They are given huge amounts of money to go and do their bidding. They don’t care about the average American. And it matters not if a D or R is after their name. They have theirs and screw the rest of us. It’s pretty despicable when the Senate is basically a millionaire club. There is a huge disconnect between politicians and the rest of us. And they are very cynical in using the divide and conquer method using wedge issues such as guns, abortions, etc. This demonstrates they are not interested in uniting us. (Hell, they refuse to work among themselves). What is needed is critical thinking by Americans so that we can come together, but this skill is woefully lacking in our society. Thanks again for your work.

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  4. The two political parties have done an outstanding job of distracting, dividing and confusing the people with the assistance of TV news and entertainment industry without solving national problems, only making things worse through foreign interventions at great cost in wasted lives and resources. National security is far more than military prowess.

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  5. Divisions are usually based on race and class. (mostly economic class …) Racial tensions and discrimination exist, (and conveniently are positively correlated with economic class — diversity! is it correlated with social and economic class?) Look to the past for a few clues …
    “Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.” (James Madison)

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