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William Rivers Pitt | Bank the Furnace: Melting the New Gilded Age

Gold melts quickly in high heat.

"The Bosses of the Senate," a political cartoon by Joseph Keppler. (Image: Joeseph Keppler)

Now I don’t know but I been told
If the horse don’t pull you got to carry the load
I don’t know whose back’s that strong
maybe find out before too long

One way or another
one way or another
one way or another
this darkness got to give …

— Robert Hunter

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I flipped the TV on at 3 a.m. to find something named Peter Popoff peddling small packets filled with “magic holy healing spring water” that, according to a number of provided testimonials, will cure all that ails me. Not just magic, but also holy, and healing, and spring water to boot. In packets, mind you. Not in vials, or cups, or eyedroppers, or ladles, thimbles or goblets … small plastic packets, like what you might get at Burger King, or during a short flight on the worst airline ever imagined. Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has activated the “Blessed Be” light. Please quaff your holy magic packets and place your seats and tray tables in their upright positions. The Rapture will begin upon payment.

We’ve always had snake-oil salesmen, but jeez, it’s getting awfully dense around here these days. Incoming presidential disaster zone Donald Trump just the other day blamed alleged Russian hacking activities on, “You know, this age of computer,” in which we have “too much speed.” We should probably get started hoarding and recopying all the books. Hell, climate scientists are running around right now like hyper-caffeinated chickens trying to stuff as much research as possible into servers residing in other countries, just in case Trump and his merry band of backward brigands decide to take a giant magnet to every hard drive that ever saw a dollar of federal funding. “Wrong!” the magnet will bleat as it obliterates data that could save us all. “Bigly wrong, get ’em out of here, NOT!”

Once upon a time they used to burn books. Now we can just delete them. Ain’t “this age of computer” just grand?

Here’s my problem, and it’s a bigly one. In my last article, I described the United States as “a machine designed exclusively for the purpose of extracting wealth.” The proof of this reality slaps us in the eye whenever we find the courage not to blink. A number of Republicans, cheered on by the denizens of Fox News, want to do away with food stamps for poor people because less than 1 percent of the funding for that vital program is allegedly used fraudulently, even as trillions of tax dollars are laundered and stolen by way of the Pentagon. That laundered and stolen money enriches people so wealthy that they don’t pay taxes and need whole islands where their money can lounge comfortably on the beach in the manner expected — out of sight and mind.

I know that capital is king, but I still have this itch. Maybe it’s nothing more than the last vestiges of the programming I’ve absorbed over a half century from school, television, movies, bad books and the lullaby lore of a nation adept at papering over its flaws and ignoring its crimes. That itch says, “Wait a damn minute, now. All of us are created equal. We have these rights nailed down by the 1st and 14th Amendments. I went to Washington, DC and put my very own two eyes on the documents that guarantee it. Countless people have sacrificed their lives and well-being to the care and maintenance of the ideas inked into those old pieces of parchment, because the ideas are pretty damned good.”

Maybe, just maybe, the reason why people of such great means and power spend so much time and money trying to undermine those enumerated rights is because the existence of those rights, even as a rag under glass in a marble building, is actively dangerous to their desires. The full frontal attack on voting rights alone demonstrates that everyday people fully cognizant of their own power are a genuine threat to a capital-coddled status quo that reigned long before “We the People” was coined by a quill.

They want their power back in full, they want it all, and Donald Trump is the perfect avatar for that well-heeled movement. They want the Gilded Age back, and if the trimmings in Trump Tower are any indication, they have found their champion. “Today, as in the Gilded Age,” wrote Professor Charles Derber, “we live in a world where a morality of personal responsibility rubs shoulders with a culture of greed and of flagrant social irresponsibility.”

They have their priorities. We have ours. The time has come to see if the ideas on those old pages still have some spark in them yet, some power and potential worth striving to defend. Is the struggle to find out once and for all worthy of the necessary efforts required?

How all of us choose to answer that question may very well become a defining moment in our lives, and in the life of this country. As for me, I choose the angry side of the barricades, and the chance to watch another Gilded Age come crashing down for all the same reasons the last one did. Gold melts quickly in high heat. It’s time to bank the furnace.

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