Times are tough all over

  • Jaime O'Neill


It's a crying shame how rich people are being treated these days. You hear a lot about their sufferings daily, especially if you read The Wall Street Journal. If black sharecroppers hadn't invented the blues down there on the Mississippi Delta a hundred years or so ago, hedge-fund managers and bank CEOs would be coming up with that genre about now. Instead of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," they'd be singing "Nobody Loves Me When I'm Up and Tax-Exempt." The blues ain't nothin' but a rich man gone sad.

Ever since this grim recession began in 2008, we've been hearing more about the oppressed rich folks than we have about any other segment of our beleaguered nation. We've learned that the wealthy are beaten down by the "class warfare" being waged against them. They put up with editorial cartoonists who depict them as swine, or as monocle-wearing clichés right out of a Monopoly board game -- a gross mischaracterization, of course, but one perpetuated by hack journalists who don't know the first thing about what it takes to be a fat cat, such as the sacrifice endured by the selfless job-creators who toil tirelessly on behalf of the ungrateful slobs for whom they provide employment.

Prejudice against the long-suffering wealthy has even spread to the Western heartland, with Occupy Wall Street protests being mounted in front of banks, courthouses and brokerage firms from Butte, Mont., to Boise, Idaho, Grand Junction and Longmont, Colo., to Taos, N.M., Phoenix, Ariz., and Tacoma, Wash.

People who once knew their place are getting uppity, forgetting entirely which side of the bread gets buttered. There was a time when rich people could count on Red State support, could rest assured they had the wholly appropriate gratitude of ranchers, loggers and miners, but now, even these people are beginning to act surly towards their superiors, showing a lack of proper respect for the Koch brothers and other selfless benefactors of the working class.

When it comes to fat cats, nobody knows the trouble they've seen. Recently, for instance, Jeff Immelt was on 60 Minutes. Immelt's the head of GE, a company that managed to eliminate thousands of jobs under his stewardship. In his interview, he expressed consternation that more Americans weren't cheering on the success of corporations like his. He honestly couldn't understand why any patriotic American wouldn't wish his company well -- even as he was telling Leslie Stahl that corporations have no civic responsibility, nor any patriotic duty. Corporations answer, he said, to a higher authority -- their stockholders -- who must reap ever-higher profits.

The happiness of stockholders is, of course, more important than the happiness of the people who make the stuff GE sells. Or who used to make that stuff before the making of that stuff was shipped offshore to places where people would make it for much less, and show a good deal more gratitude for the privilege of making it than the petulant workers back home, with their unions and their incessant demands.

And, as if the class warfare being waged against them wasn't bad enough, they also have to deal with the uncertainty created by President Obama's economic policies that keep them guessing about how much in bail out funds they'll get the next time they screw things up.

How can a hardworking CEO balance his personal checkbook for the coming fiscal year if he's not sure what his bonus is going to be? How can a guy make plans to buy that fourth vacation home in an economic environment this unpredictable? When Washington, D.C., has the power to deny the financial sector its God-given right to gouge its customers with any fees they can devise to increase their bottom line, what's a poor banker to do?

To add further insult to the injuries endured by the 1 percent, rabble have begun clogging the streets -- a bunch of smelly proles who won't take the hint provided by media disdain and mass arrests. They won't just shut up and go home, and they surely can't be bothered to go out and get jobs, or use the entrepreneurial spirit God gave real Americans to go out and start their own businesses.

Is it any wonder the wealthiest Americans have taken their various tax havens overseas, places where they can find the appreciation they can't find on these shores? At long last, my fellow Americans, I ask you, haven't the rich suffered enough?

Jaime O'Neill is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Magalia, a small town in the Sierra foothills of California.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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