Friday, December 12, 2008

Last Door Standing

The day after Thanksgiving a mob on Long Island pushed down a Wal-mart entrance door while trying to get at the goodies inside, killing a store employee in the process. Horrific as it was, this was a scene at the end of the story, not the beginning.

The story started in the early 1960s, and on a very positive note. Thousands upon thousands of Americans took action to bring about equal rights—in employment, voting, housing, marriage, and public accommodations—for black people. Some, including whites, traveled to the implacable south to stand with blacks, and some were beaten and killed.

This movement then added opposition to the War in Viet Nam. Movement activity continued into the early 1970s, by which time the War skidded to a halt, Civil Rights Laws were enacted, and the selfless activists as well as those who soldiered in ‘Nam just as selflessly were exhausted.

They turned inward and labored to make something of their lives, which had in many cases been interrupted by the violence and commotion of almost a decade. That was only human, but it went too far. It ran past the ideological Pres. Carter and became pure selfishness. Pres. Reagan’s 1981 “morning in America” focused on getting what you can for you and your family. “YUPPIES” stood for buying only the best products with their gobs of money. They were self-reliant (or they thought so, ignoring their fancy, expensive educations, etc.). They expected everyone else to be self-reliant, too, even if they grew up in the inner city or in rural poverty. By 1987, Michael Douglas as “Gordon Gekko” could announce, “Greed … is good.” Personal excess was stylish.

While many accept that personal excess was part of the 1980s, nothing changed in the 1990s, except that it became more widespread. Bling was good. And greed on Wall St. became, instead of fictional exception the normal.

So we come to the mid and late 200os. People of color and women are now accepted as equal parts of society, but material gain is everything. There is nothing wrong with cobbling together a “derivative security” that rests on insecure mortgages for its security, so long as you can sell gobs of it. Marshmallow puffery supporting cotton candy. No one is personally responsible for the house of cards. Your Lexus or Escalade makes you a person to be dealt with.

We have come to the end of this story. Thousands of people, at considerable personal sacrifice campaigned for both presidential candidates, more for Mr. Obama. The financial system, whose ideological roots lie in a movie Wall St. brought to life, has crashed, forcing a conservative Republican president to approve of massive nationalizations of corporations. People are preparing for layoffs not seen since the 1930s, and for living on less. Christmas 2008 will be the last splurge, and its memory must last. Jdimytai Damour, 34, of Queens, NY, described as a large but gentle man with dreadlocks, gave his life for it.