The Contented Classes – When Will They Rebel?
By Ralph Nader
May 9, 2019
For all the rhetoric and all the charities regarding America’s children, the U.S. stands at the very bottom of western nations and some other countries as well, in terms of youth well-being. The U.S.’s exceptionalism is clearest in its cruelty to children. The U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate of comparable OECD countries. Not only that, but 2.5 million American children are homeless and 16.2 million children “lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.”
The shamelessness continues as the youngsters increase in age. The Trump regime is cutting the SNAP food program for poor kids. In 2018, fewer children were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP than in 2017. To see just how bad Trump’s war on poor American children is getting, go to the web sites of the Children’s Defense Fund (https://www.childrensdefense.org/) and the Children’s Advocacy Center (http://www.caichildlaw.org/).
Trump brags about a robust economy—still, however, rooted in exploitation of the poor and reckless Wall Street speculation with people’s savings.
Trump’s pompous promises during his presidential campaign have proved to be a cowardly distraction. He claimed he would take on the drug companies and their price gouging. The hyper-profiteering pharmaceutical goliaths are quietly laughing at him. Worse, Trump continues their tax credits and allows them to use new drugs developed with taxpayer money through the National Institute of Health free of charge—no royalties. Even though he talks tough, Trump lets these companies sell imported medicines manufactured in China and India with inadequate FDA inspections of foreign plants.
Torrents of Trump tweets somehow overlooked H.P. Acthar Gel, a drug produced by Mallinckrodt to treat a rare infant seizure disorder, which increased in price from $40 per vial to $39,000 per vial! Other drug prices are booming cruelly upward, while Trump blusters, but fails to deliver on his campaign promises.
For years our country’s political and corporate rulers have saddled college students with breathtaking debt and interest rates. Student debt is now at $1.5 trillion. Both corporations and the federal government are profiting off of America’s young. In no other western country is this allowed, with most nations offering tuition-free higher education.
On May 2, 2019, The New York Times featured an article titled, “Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry.”
When you read the stories of impoverished students, squeezed in all directions, you’d think they came out of third-world favelas. At the City University of New York (CUNY), forty eight percent of students had been food insecure in the past 30 days.
Kassandra Montes, a senior at Lehman College, lives in a Harlem homeless shelter. Montes “works two part-time jobs and budgets only $15 per week for food… [She] usually skips breakfast in order to make sure that her 4-year-old son is eating regularly.” Montes said: “I feel like I’m slowly sinking as I’m trying to grow.”
When you don’t have a living wage, have to pay high tuition, are mired in debt, and live in rent-gouging cities, where do you go? Increasingly, you go to the community college or college food pantry. In a nation whose president and Congress in one year give tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon more than the generals asked for, it is unconscionable that students must rely on leftover food from dining halls and catered events, SNAP benefits, and whatever food pantries can assemble.
The CUNY pantries are such a fixture in these desperate times that they are now a stop on freshman orientation tours.
As long as we’re speaking of shame, what about those millions of middle and upper middle class informed, concerned bystanders. They’re all over America trading “tsk tsks” over coffee or other social encounters. They express dismay, disgust, and denunciations at each outrage from giant corporations’ abuses, to the White House and the Congress’ failings. They are particularly numerous in University towns. They know but they do not do. They are unorganized, know it, keep grumbling, and still fail to start the mobilization in Congressional Districts of likeminded citizens to hold their Senators and Representatives accountable.
For Congress, the smallest yet most powerful branch of government, whose members names we know, can turn poverty and other injustices around and help provide a better life for so many Americans. These informed, concerned people easily number over 1 percent of the population. They can galvanize a supporting majority of voters on key, long-overdue redirections for justice. Redirections that were mostly established in Western Europe decades ago (For more details, see my paperback, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier than We Think).
These informed, concerned people—who don’t have to worry about a living wage, not having health insurance, being gouged by payday loans, and having no savings—were called “the contented classes” in The Culture of Contentment, a book by the late progressive Harvard economist John Kenneth Gailbraith. His main point—until the contented classes wake up and organize for change, history has shown, our country will continue to slide in the wrong direction. He said all this before climate disruption, massive money-corrupting politics, and the corporate crime wave had reached anywhere near their present destructive levels.
The question to be asked: Who among the contented classes will unfurl the flag of rebellion against the plutocrats and the autocrats? It can be launched almost anywhere they please. A revolution can start the moment they decide to prioritize the most marginalized people in this country over their comfort.