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Understanding America’s
class system

Joe bageant
Joe Bageant is the author of Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from
America’s Class War. His newest book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, deals
with America’s permanent white underclass, and how it was intentionally created.
To be released in September in Australia and October in the United Kingdom.
Rainbow Pie is available for preorder from Amazon-UK and Amazon-Canada. In
Australia, the book may be pre-ordered at www.scribepublications.com.au
© Joe Bageant, 2010

ColdType
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2 | ColdType | September 2010


Honk if
you love
caviar
JOe Bageant

H ❝
ow about them politi- gives the political class something to aim
cal elites, huh? Five mil- for. To that end, they have adopted the
lion bucks for Chelsea The truth is ruling elite’s behaviors, tastes and life-
Clinton’s wedding, 15K that when we styles, with an eye on becoming mem-
just to rent the air-con- are looking at bers. Moreover, it is a molting process
ditioned shitters – huge the political that begins with the right university and
chrome and glass babies with hot water elite, we are connections, and culminates in flying off
and everything. No gas masks and waxy looking at to Washington with the rest of your gen-
little squares of toilet paper for those guys. the dancing eration’s most privileged and ambitious
Yes, it looks big time from the cheap seats. monkey, not young moths.
But the truth is that when we are looking the organ They make enough dough to at least
at the political elite, we are looking at the grinder who fake it until they make it. Fifty-one of
dancing monkey, not the organ grinder calls the tune the 100 members of the US Senate are
who calls the tune. Washington’s political at the very least millionaires – probably
class is about as upwardly removed from more than that, since multi-million mil-
ordinary citizens as the ruling class is from lion dollar residences and estates are ex-
the political class. For instance, they do not empt from the official tally. For instance
work for a living in the normal sense of a in the House, Nancy Pelosi’s net worth
job, but rather obtain their income from is either $13 million, or $92 million, de-
abstractions such as investment and law, pending upon who is counting. Why they
neither of which ever gave anybody a her- bother to shave such large numbers is a
nia or carpal tunnel. By comparison, the mystery. Thirteen million, ninety two mil-
ruling class does not work at all. lion, the difference is not gonna change
Moneywise, Washington’s political class our opinion of Nancy. Our opinion being
is richer than the working class by the that the broad is loaded. More than load-
same orders of magnitude as the ruling ed. The comparatively poor members of
class is richer than the political class. This Congress, like Barney Frank, are near mil-

September 2010 | ColdType | 3


Joe Bageant

lionaires. His publicly declared net worth


is $976,000. For the life of me, I cannot see ❝ ❝
Deep in the
of US opinion came together in one of the
greater bipartisan efforts in modern US
how they get by. history. There was nothing to do, they all
Along with the habits, the political class
boiler room, agreed, but buy up $700 billion in “toxic as-
adopts the ruling class’s social canon and the Goldman set” investments. “Otherwise,” they proph-
presumptions, especially the one most nec- Sachs black esied, the world would end. Meaning that
essary for acceptance: That the public has bag crew had the ongoing national Ponzi scheme they
the collective intelligence of a chicken. OK, wired up the have always sold to the American people
so it may be very hard to disprove that at “economy” as the US economy, would finally crash.
the moment, but we must maintain at least with enough And in case there were any skeptics out
some egalitarian semblance here. Anyway, explosive there among the unwashed, the public was
as a group, the political elites think, look “financial reminded just how much they stood to
and act alike, and act toward their own in- instruments” lose – which was everything. Deep in the
terests. That makes them a class. to take out boiler room, the Goldman Sachs black bag
every working crew had wired up the “economy” with
Screw the proles, just count mook’s home, enough explosive “financial instruments”
the money or retirement to take out every working mook’s home, or
savings retirement savings, which the medical in-
This political class stands between all of us dustry was already sucking up at an alarm-
down here and the tiny minority in the rul- ing rate. Something had to be done before
ing class waaaaaay up there, wherever the the health care industry got it all, and repo
hell up there is. No use to squint. You can’t the family ride.
see it from where we are. That comes in Yessiree, it was gonna be a “systemic
mighty handy in denying the existence of collapse,” by god, and if you needed proof,
a ruling class. just look at the way both George Bush and
On the other hand, you do not need to Barack Obama agreed that some Ameri-
see an egg-sucking dog in action to know can corporations were too big to let sink,
what to expect – or not to expect. The therefore it was time for the public to start
track record of the political class is an open bailing out the boat. Meanwhile, the royal
book. As the layer of millionaires buffer- economists were unanimous in that this
ing the elites who pay for their campaigns, “rescue” was going to require another 10
they’ve done their jobs. They approved the trillion bucks somewhere down the pike –
Bush administration’s massive tax cut for a very short pike. So it must all be damned
the rich. They dropped the per-child tax serious and we gotta do this thing. Right
credit for families with incomes less than folks?
$20,000. They “reformed” prescription In an unusual display of common sense,
drugs right out of Medicare. They reformed the American public said “Bullshit,” by
health care into hundreds of billions of in- margins of three or four to one, depending
creased profits for the insurance industry. upon region. That did not bother political
However, the American political class’ and economic elites much. What the fuck
finest moment came in September 2008 do the proles know anyway?
when the financial greed machinery of Then, in midstream, the political and
American investment houses went tits up. economic owning classes switched horses,
The Republican and Democratic parties, after realizing there was more gravy for the
major corporations, and manufacturers kingpins in buying up banks and big indus-

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Honk if you love caviar

tries. It was unconstitutional, but what the


hell, that’s what Supreme Courts are for.
The proles mumbled and peered into their

The main
ry. That Lindsay Lohan dated fellow rehab
client, snowboarder Riley Giles, yes, that
can be remembered. That the Republicans
TV sets for explanations that never came. thing is that signed off on similar, if smaller giveaways
Of course, partisan opposition being the smoke has under Pappy Bush and Clinton – well,
what it is these days – a blood-soaked now cleared, that may as well be ancient Egyptian his-
ditch of snarling hyenas – Obama’s elec- the money is tory. So is the fact that the both parties
tion meant the GOP needed to denounce in ruling class forced banks to make high rate home
the new Democratic president for display coffers, and a loans to people who people who did not
purposes. Or at least shit in the Oval Office, spin the bottle qualify, because the inflated home values
and then blame him. So most Republicans game for a few during the expanding bubble would make
holding office in 2008 were forced to ar- prosecutions billions for big investors who knew when
gue publicly against “troubled asset relief,” is underway to to get out. Should they stay too long at
“stimulus packages,” and the huge bailouts. entertain the the fair and go bust, they would set up the
Besides, somebody had to unfurl the mot- crowd for the howl of “too big to fail.” The administra-
ley banner of a “self balancing free market,” next few years tion, which has no more a clue to what
at least widely enough for the GOP to hide makes the economy tick, would then
behind in the back room where the real rush them pallets of money. That’s what
deals are always cut. The place where the a banker calls a win-win situation: when
weapons companies propose systems, us- the banker holds both ends of a winning
ing congressional representatives and gen- deal.
erals as sales reps. Where it is understood Meanwhile, elite Republicans still
that, as John Kenneth Galbraith pointed needed a beef with the new black guy
out near the end of his life, when it was safe on the block who had just kicked their
to tell the truth, “stockholders are just ap- ass and was still very popular at the time.
pendages, someone to hold the bag for the The best they could come up with on the
corporations, and stocks are just gambling bailouts was that they had been allowed
chips for hedge funds and Wall Street,” and too little input. “Obama won’t let us play
for the suckers who think they can actu- with him. Bwaaaaaa!” A smokescreen of
ally outwit High Frequency Trading – a.k.a. course, since he was doing exactly what
High Speed Fraud. (Thanks to reader Brent they would have done, handing Republi-
B. for sending me that one). can bankers every bit of money the people
Ah, but I have digressed. What else is had and a helluva lot they didn’t have,
new? The main thing is that the smoke has but could make payments on for the next,
now cleared, the money is in ruling class oh, 100 years or until the final miserable,
coffers, and a spin the bottle game for a few smoking collapse, whichever comes first.
prosecutions is underway to entertain the In the end though, nobody in Wash-
crowd for the next few years. Public burn- ington disputed the ruling class’s right to
ings in the national town square of media dictate policy. After all, the political class
always draw a crowd. agreed with the ruling class’s major prem-
ise: The public does not know shit, never
Bwaaaaaa! Obama won’t let us play has, never will. Also that it is best not to
get the public too riled up, not because
Fortunately, for both parties, there is no the public has any power (power is money
such thing as an American political memo- in America and the elites have it all now),

September 2010 | ColdType | 5


Joe Bageant

but because elected officials would have


to answer brainless questions from people ❝
Once the
wealth than the bottom 45% of the rest of
Americans combined.
such as Tea Partiers. Or Ron Paul cultists. I have seldom met an American who
Gawd!
public was thought this is a good thing, and seldom
buried in such met one who understood how the ruling
Howard, won’t you please a maelstrom class got so rich. Simply put, it was through
come home of legal constant cultivation of bigger and more
paperwork, labyrinthine government, creating legal
America has always had a ruling class, and computer and technical complexities to sluice money
it has always bullshitted the world that it transactions, nationally and globally in their direction,
doesn’t. But at least the ruling class of the modeling, etc., and to cover their asses in the process. The
past was interesting and varied, because it was easy results are such things as 3,000 page health
diverse sorts of Americans were getting to argue that care bills (defining which corporate elites
rich. You had Texas wildcatters in the “oil the world get which parts of the cake), or the 2,000-
bidness.” You had Southern cotton and had become page NAFTA and its 9,000 tariff product
tobacco aristocrats guzzling bourbon, fon- so complex codes.
dling their stock portfolios and their black that the skills Once the public was buried in such a
maids. You had industrialists and Califor- and brains maelstrom of legal paperwork, computer
nia and Florida real estate hotwires, Bos- to operate it transactions, modeling, etc., it was easy
ton Brahmins and New York financiers. were extremely to argue that the world had become so
There was the bootlegginç  g inside stock rare and those complex that the skills and brains to oper-
trader Joseph P. Kennedy, not to men- who had them ate it were extremely rare and those who
tion Prescott Bush moving financial assets were fucking had them were fucking geniuses. These
around for the Nazis during WW II. They geniuses are people who dwell in such airy realms
were products of varied educations, or in that we should pay them vast amounts of
some cases, no education. They came from money and never question their decisions.
many regions, back when America still That’s how we got such oblivious duds as
had distinct cultural regions, before it was Timothy Geithner (who never held a non-
completely homogenized and stratified for government related job in his life) running
maximum capitalist efficiency. the Treasury, and tens of thousands of the
  Whatever they may have been, they Empire’s pud whackers, ranging from petty
were seldom dull. I would love to have legal commissars, on up to the Alan Green-
known Howard Hughes, a man who could spans of this world – a bumbling arrogant
direct a film, and build the largest aircraft old fart who never had a clue but under-
ever built, the 200-ton, all-wood Spruce stood the rules: Look enigmatic and blow
Goose, not to mention the busty Jane Rus- whichever administration is in power.
sell’s underwire bra. Stop and consider In fact, capitalist natural selection for
Bill Gates and the other colorless puds of mediocrity is how British Petroleum got
today. Almost makes you miss the robber Tony Hayward, who was unfortunate
barons. enough to be tossed out of the boat onto
the media beaches of public awareness in
Think Tony Hayward gives a shit? his briefs. If ever there was a specimen of
the slimy corporate salamander, we saw it
You hear it all the time these days: The in sniveling nakedness right there. Report-
top one percent of Americans own more edly, the salamander will receive $18 million,

6 | ColdType | September 2010


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plus annual pension payments totaling $1


million per year, the possible forfeiture of ❝
Corporations
cess to education are now our fundamen-
tal class delineators. Higher education is
which makes good news copy to cover BP’s now for the privileged. And that privilege,
ongoing negligence, theft and intimidation.
do not go away; almost regardless of profession or career,
So the public howls and throws eggs at the they just morph is a future that depends on government.
straw man, who has been making $1.6 mil- along, sucking Liberal or conservative, it matters little. In
lion a year and is now sitting on his yacht up generation fact, this privileged class votes Democratic
“trying to get his life back.” Does anybody after more predictably than the working class,
really believe Tony Hayward gives a shit? generation’s Hispanics or Blacks.
Oh, there may be some news of BP’s de- money So when educated liberals look up
mise, its “absorption” by another corpora- from their copy of The Nation or the Jon
tion or something similar to Enron, sold off Stewart show, they behold a chilling sight:
piecemeal to other massive corporations Beefy mobs waving teabags and demand-
at a bargain prices, while everyone was ing tax cuts to help pay for new schools
watching the saga of the mediocre white and bridges, Sarah Palin emerging from
collar criminal, Ken Lay. You’d think we’d the ashes of the McCain campaign to be-
learn. Corporations do not go away; they come the high priestess of the uncurried
just morph along, sucking up generation tribes, with a Mormon named Glenn Beck
after generation’s money. exhorting millions of fundamentalists to
seize the country. They feel that something
The rabble at the gates has gone terribly wrong with America.
Immediately they conclude that it is
You never hear them say it, but neo-con- the American people’s fault through their
servatives understand that they have a backwardness, incomprehension and mis-
mean streak down inside. They also know directed anger, and that maybe it serves
if they want to share in the national plun- them right for not rallying behind the fly-
der, they must win hearts and minds. They ing progressive standard. (I’ve been plenty
must look pious and sound right while guilty of this myself over the years, and am
lying through their teeth and picking our now a recovering American liberal, well on
pockets. In other words, they have an as- my way not to conservatism, but toward a
tute grasp of American politics and busi- strumpetocracy, government by strumpets.
ness – which are the same thing, of course. It’s a real word, Google it.) Not that the
Most educated American liberals, how- progressive flag was actually flying; Ameri-
ever, believe simply being progressive can liberals threw down their standard 40
makes them, by default, the nation’s sav- years ago in the rush for comfortable tech-
iors – morally and intellectually right in all nical, teaching and administrative jobs in
things. As proof, they read more and, al- government, universities and non-profits.
legedly, are more open minded than most “Ah yes,” they wailed, the people have let
conservatives, except when it comes to us down. They are absolutely disgusting!”
their daughter dating a redneck named liberals agreed. And they still agree. Read
Ernest who lives in a trailer court behind the comments on Huffington Post or Daily
the strip mall. They are certainly among Kos.
the educated class in a country known Or look at the arrogance of Barack
for its lousy schools and a dull, sated and Obama’s characterization of American
unquestioning public. Education and ac- heartlanders “clinging to God and guns.”

September 2010 | ColdType | 7


Joe Bageant

Which we do. However, implicit in his


statement was that both God and guns
are indicators of an ignorant loser class.

Never will it be
a mild speed like buzz, a super erection
lasting hours, lactation and suicidal ten-
dencies. Phew!
When opponents scalded him for his re- asked publicly Big Pharma makes billions more in the
marks, he justified them by pointing out just what name of alleviating the people’s suffering.
he had said, “what everybody knows is psychic anguish Obviously many millions are indeed suf-
true.” Meaning everybody in his class, our society fering, but if that is the case, then Ameri-
the educated liberal class. Hard to be- is suffering can society is suffering. Never will it be
lieve their predecessors were the point from. Because asked publicly just what psychic anguish
men and women for the Scopes trial, the the answer our society is suffering from. Because the
eight-hour day, unions, anti-McCarthy- is capitalist answer is capitalist industrial commod-
ism, Cesar Chavez, Negro civil rights. industrial ity disease, and the psychic pathology of
commodity Americaness. That would mean consult-
Big dogs eat first disease, and ing Mr. Marx, who predicted much of it,
the psychic or Arthur Barsky, who brought the defi-
The ruling elite stays in power through pathology of nition up to date.
the patronage both parties offer their Americaness For Americans, self-examination is
supporters. They hang onto or follow not just rare, it is nonexistent, which
their party’s leaders much the same as one source of our pathology. Missing
remoras cling to big sharks, and pilot fish from our national character is love of the
accompany sharks, happy to get the left- common good, and our collective civic
overs. Both parties provide their activists responsibility toward one another. But
and followers with livelihoods, through if we acknowledged collective responsi-
programs or legislation that just happen bilities to the individual members of our
to make the rich richer. society, then we would have to deal with
One good example is the psycholo- the issue of class in this country. Better
gists, doctors and social workers who to medicate the entire nation. To do that,
initiate the process of getting half the you need big government.
country on anti-depressants or mood In the process, the already rich get
stabilizers, a term that should scare the richer and the rest of the middle class
hell out of anyone who grasps the con- commissariat becomes more dependent
cept of the corporate state. They get their upon the rich. As conservative editor
jobs through government funding, or re- and writer Angelo M. Codevilla, pointed
search that defines behaviors as illnesses out in a July 2010 article: “By taxing and
requiring powerful psychoactive drugs. parceling out more than a third of what
One new favorite is ODD, opposi- Americans produce, through regulations
tional defiant disorder, in which children that reach deep into American life, our
act like – surprise, surprise – the young ruling class is making itself the arbiter of
assholes that children can sometimes be. wealth and poverty.” A third is more than
Teenage rebellion becomes a psychologi- enough to tip the scales at their will.
cal disorder. Diagnostic manual symp-
toms include “often argues with adults,” Keep ‘em dazzled with f
an unheard of behavior of teenagers call- ancy foot work
ing for antipsychotics such as Risperi-
done. Side effects of Risperidone include Meanwhile, there are the rest of us. That

8 | ColdType | September 2010


Honk if you love caviar

great throng of squawking, family loving


folks, professionals and peasants alike,
libertarians, patriots, people who wor-

Because the
predicted – things to which we must re-
spond immediately. Most of us just give
up. Which again, is what the ruling class
ship god and those who loath religion – revolutionary wants us to do – become a uniformly pli-
people who still believe that hard work is destruction ant mass.
the road to success despite the evidence, of the current Because the revolutionary destruction
people who know differently because economic of the current economic system, bad as
they sell used cars or work for the US system, bad it is, would crash the country’s economy
Post Office – citizens who rightfully sus- as it is, would even more quickly than the current pro-
pect that government taxes merely feed crash the cess of theft, we are not likely to see an
the beast, or who believe, again rightly, country’s outright revolution that overthrows the
that no politician truly represents their economy ruling class. Look at the sorry assed “Tea
interests, and that the government is even more Party Revolution,” which will have to be
now in the business of social engineering quickly than allied with the GOP (which its backstage
for economic purposes. Fundamental- the current leadership has been anyway) in 2012 if it
ist Christians, gays, small businessmen, process of wants to be even a small factor. Media
Hispanic Americans, organic farmers, theft, we are noise about the Tea Party doth not a rev-
pro-lifers and abortion supporters, union not likely to olution make, and it certainly does not
workers in the North and Southern an- see an outright overthrow the ruling class, who do not
ti-unionists, school teachers and stump revolution that mind the wrath of the rabble, so long as
preachers – we all feel threatened by our overthrows the it does not get in the way of the money.
government. ruling class And besides, the ruling class holds all
At the same time, in order to keep revo- the money, not to mention the media that
lution at bay, and the military in cannon informs the populace as to what is going
fodder and defense industry in contracts, on in our country. It controls our health
we have been heavily indoctrinated to be- care, our banking and retirement funds.
lieve America leads the world in all things, It controls our education or lack of edu-
and that the rest of mankind lives less cation, and it controls the price, quantity
prosperous, less free lives, coveting our and quality of the food we eat. It controls
“lifestyle.” In short, they are lesser people. the quality of the air we breathe, and
Still though, we have in common that soon, through pollution credits, even the
none of us like the idea of a ruling class. price they will pay for that air. Most im-
We did not from the very beginning. Yet, portantly, it holds concentrated legal and
we no longer take effective action, be- governmental authority, not to mention
cause it has become impossible to identi- the machinery of both parties to grant
fy what we might do to change anything. itself more authority.
Instead, we react to events. That is what In the face of all this stands a very di-
the ruling class wants, because if we verse public, which regardless of what
are reactive, then outcomes can be con- some might claim behind a few beers, is
trolled by controlling the stimuli. Keep not about to take up arms or use force
‘em dazzled with foot work. So the stim- to unseat the ruling class. When your life
uli keep coming at us faster than we can and your family are so utterly controlled
think. And they are presented as fate, or by persons and forces that you cannot
the result of “fast changing world events,” even see, you don’t take such risks. That’s
or a banking collapse no one could have not gutlessness. It’s common sense.

September 2010 | ColdType | 9


Joe Bageant

Therefore, you are left with a rigged


game called legislative action. This is ❝
a portion of
pened to their country – that it has been
bought and paid for by an elite class in
an invisible power process, masked by a nation that is supposed to be classless.
another process called public relations
Americans are They are beginning to realize that, when
strategy, which feeds it into yet another
beginning to it comes to actually governing our coun-
process called media, that makes “news grasp the truth try, we are powerless as individuals –
decisions,” as to what you need to hear about what has even members of the political class – and
or see. And there’s plenty you don’t need happened to serve the overall will of its true owners.
to hear. For instance, NPR, the New York their country It’s been that way so long we’ve become
Times and thousands of other outlets – that it has conditioned to accept it as a natural state,
refuse to use the word torture to de- been bought something we cannot change, and do not
scribe waterboarding, preferring instead and paid for by even know how to question, because, like
“aggressive interrogation methods,” un- an elite class in the atmosphere, it’s just there.
encumbered interrogation, free inter- a nation that is The higher truth is something we rec-
rogation, or similar euphemisms. NPR’s supposed to be ognize when we encounter it. We may
justification for sugarcoating US torture classless not have the right words, or all the facts,
is, “”the word torture is loaded with po- but we can feel it in our bones. Intuition
litical and social implications.” is the first glimmer in the distance. It goes
Ya think? unsaid that we always have the choice of
not looking in truth’s direction, or not
Truth is a hard road to travel looking for it at all. Seldom is it a pleas-
ant sight, which is the chief sign that it
After decades of hyper-militant consum- is truth. Even the best of it arrives to the
erism and its attending alienation, and a sound of ominous bells.
national consciousness spun from pure I think about that young reader, Brent
capitalist bullshit and mirrors, it is testi- B., who takes time to email me now and
mony to the American people that they then. Today he wrote, summarizing the
can still see to piss straight, much less only thing of which I am certain:
recognize any sort of truth whatsoever. It’s a hard thing to know the truth in this
Yet, a portion of Americans are beginning world, it’s like something inside of you dies,
to grasp the truth about what has hap- but sometimes you still have to know it.

10 | ColdType | September 2010


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