Belaboring the Obvious

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Ran across a curious little mockumentary...

... the other day, thanks to Netflix streaming--"The American Ruling Class," which features Lewis Lapham, editor emeritus of Harper's magazine, advising two fictional graduates of Yale on how to find out if there is an American ruling class, and how to join it if it exists. One graduate is headed for Goldman Sucks, while the other wants to write, and, hopefully, make a positive difference in society.

We can sort of guess how this will turn out--the vaguely well-meaning but mostly apolitical Yalie finally decides that he's tired of poverty and menial work and goes to work at Goldman Sucks, too, because he's sure that he'll be able to retain his altruistic impulses after decades of soul-numbing number-crunching and devising skeevy plans to benefit his wealthy clients.

We know he won't. He interviews dozens of the nation's movers and shakers, the crème de la crème of the American foreign policy/financial elite, and every single one of them lies to him about the existence of a ruling class, just bullshits him like a carnie barker ropes in a hayseed from the country (James Baker III turns out to be the lyingest, silliest manipulator of them all in that regard--he won't even entertain the question and simply dismisses it out of hand as specious, after trying mightily to make shit sound like Shinola). And the back story is filled in with extraordinarily ironic commentary from Mr. Lapham himself, including one telling aphorism, "Just so long as you understand that 'national interest' means 'self-interest.'" And, of course, Lapham means the self-interest of the elite themselves.

I found it odd that I ran across this curious little documentary just days before all the mounting frenzy--particularly in the mainstream news media--over the impending royal wedding in the UK. I realize it's a stretch, but, there's always been an impulse in this country toward monarchy, because the monarchy the Founders knew best contained an aristocracy (and there were probably as many monarchical loyalists during the American Revolution as there were rebels). Madison and Jefferson, particularly, warned about accumulated wealth approximating an "artificial aristocracy," and it sure looks as if wealth has created an American ruling class with the same inclinations toward anti-democratic behavior as any landed gentry in the United Kingdom. That those inclinations seem to be heavily weighted on the side of political conservatives in this country probably should come as no surprise, and even though that contemporary conservatism is fraught with all the signs and signals of an emergent proto-fascism, the roots are similar--one leader for life, ordering society for the benefit of those who would protect power at all costs, and for those who would benefit financially by doing so.

At virtually the same time, Washington was preparing for its own version of a royal ball, with the press invited to rub elbows with the courtiers of power and notables of the entertainment world--the jesters of our society today--the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. The dinner itself is always just a warm-up for the parties afterward, sponsored by powerful corporations and media outlets hoping that a free drink and a few canapes and the opportunity to kiss a celebrity on the cheek will induce some hapless dodo of a social-climbing reporter to think favorably of some rapacious corporate raider when word reaches him or her that said raider has probably broken five thousand-odd laws in the pursuit of profit, or to view some moral midget of a politician as a "real" human being worthy of polite respect because they have a pulse and are ever so slightly warmer than room temperature. Case in point: the Washington Post online "Lifestyle" section dutifully reports that "After the correspondents' dinner, Sarah Palin attends the Bloomberg & Vanity Fair cocktail reception at the residence of the French ambassador in Washington," and, that not being quite enough coverage of La Palin, also headlines, "Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attends the MSNBC party after the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington." And, lest the well-known Palin resentment be thwacked into bloom, the Post makes sure to note that Palin's club-footed dancin' fool of a daughter is also in attendance, "Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, arrives at the MSNBC after-party." Well, we're not sure of the order of those events, but, no matter, it's still the elite's version of pub-crawling, except that there are enough limos to prevent skinned knees and to avoid opportunities of bumping into the hoi polloi.

And, let's not be remiss in reminding everyone that this exercise in mimicry of aristocracy is arranged by the Washington, D.C., press corps. And, let's not be remiss in reminding everyone of who doesn't get invited to this soiree, or who has the good sense not to be associated with it even if invited: Seymour Hersh. Robert Parry. Amy Goodman. Ray McGovern. Chris Hedges. Vandana Shiva. Glenn Greenwald. Mike Malloy. Noam Chomsky. Greg Mitchell. Matt Taibbi. Michael Hastings. Robert Scheer. Bob McChesney. Barbara Ehrenreich. Alfred McCoy. Mike Davis. Mac McClelland.

There is a ruling class in this country, and the very largest measure of us have no say in it. If that seems to put the lie to this country as a true democracy, perhaps it's because we've been encouraged not to pay attention too carefully to the inner workings of power in this country.

On edit, if there's any question that the ruling class is sensitive about what the rest of us know about their comings and goings and doings, this should answer that question:

The response of the mainstream press to Wikileaks pulling back the curtain just a tiny bit is no different than that of the power elite. So much for an informed citizenry.