Our America on Our Mind

When I saw the oily executives from BP and its drilling partners, Transocean and Halliburton, testify before the Senate May 11, I was reminded of another confrontation of business with government.

Last December, President Obama summoned the heads of the nation’s banks to the White House in a charade of toughness. Displaying their respect for the President of the United States, the executives of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup didn’t think it important enough to show up.

In their minds, what’s the big deal? They’ve more important things to do than meet with just another president they assume they’ve bought.

It was the same on Capitol Hill last month. As the three CEOs were being treated to a congressional melodrama, they knew that little that really would affect their compensation would remain on stage when the curtain fell.

As oil continued to explode out of the Gulf floor and began to land on its shoreline, the leaders of companies responsible appeared because they had too. They shifted the blame to everyone else. But they knew who owned whom in that room.

Don’t you people realize, they could think, we own you. You people work for us. Do you know how we treat employees who don’t tow the company line we’ll feed you?

As if to rub their face in it, only five days after being “grilled” by its Senate servants, Transocean, the Swiss company that owned and operated the oilrig that sunk into the Gulf, announced it would shell out $1 billion in dividends to its shareholders. Now that’s cynicism.

In the same way, health insurer WellPoint could announce bald-facedly in the very middle of the debate for insurance reform back in February that it would raise rates in California as much as 39% on March 1. It looked the government that was acting as if it would do something (one they believed they were paying for) square in the eye and said: “We dare you to do anything about it.”

The Congress did its song and dance and passed a watered-down bill that would deliver thousands of new customers to WellPoint paying any rate they could get away with. We were supposed to feel blessed.

The real America has been so taken over by corporations that there’s no shame, no need to hide the fact, any more. Companies used to have to appear patriotic, concerned about others.

No more. Now they’re convinced the American people will let them get away with anything.

The January rejection of corporate spending limits by the Supreme Court ensured even more of this. The Court went far beyond the case before it to overturn important precedents, building on the premise that corporations have the rights of people.

Obama was right. It was: “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

The tea party crowd that corporate lobbying firms such as Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity created will divert the anger anywhere but back at corporate bosses. The mainstream media, led by Fixed News, will cover tea party antics as if they are the most important movement in the history of the Republic.

This is America. It’s not the ideal that we hold in our minds, that we so desperately wish were so. It’s the real one out there.

If we knew our American history better, we’d see that it’s always been the real America. By 1886, when the Supreme Court did away with 230 state laws that had been passed to regulate corporations, it had already accepted the argument that corporations were “persons,” and their money was property protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, supposedly passed to protect the rights of African American people.

As Howard Zinn points out: “of the Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court between 1890 and 1910, nineteen dealt with the Negro, 288 dealt with corporations.” (A People’s History of the United States)

This isn’t the America we are to have in our minds. We are to believe the meta-narrative repeated by every president and taught by the official histories that have always protected us from knowing our history. We want to believe this, and that makes it easy.

The recent amendments proposed by the Texas Board of Education are, again, merely more blatant about rewriting history in the name of an ideal America in official minds — blatant because they have the power to get away with it in public. In the past it looked less manipulative.

That meta-narrative says that America warmly accepted the tired and poor of the world to its shores. We’re not to notice the history of how groups were welcomed with suspect and derision so that even the Irish had to prove they were white folks to fit in.

The recent Arizona laws are just more blatant political ploys, diverting our attention from corporate greed into believing that our problems are brought on by these immigrants. There’s little talk of actual cases where someone’s job was taken away by these workers.

So the political narrative has shifted. We get scare tactics about how they are using up our services without paying for them in their blood, sweat, and minimal wages.

Recognizing that there are two Americas isn’t to get discouraged but to grow up. When those who prefer to see things as they aren’t criticize those who see the real America, they claim that these realists don’t really love their country.

But there are two kinds of love. One is that of a little child for its parents. The child believes they are perfect, know everything, and can do no wrong.

There’s another that’s grown-up. It sees its parents’ faults, foibles, and sins, but it loves them in a mature way.

It doesn’t need to cover up problems. It loves them enough to participate in the work of solving, healing, and bringing out the best in the object of its love.

Grown-up love motivates progressive LGBT activists.