“Now we know who we are.”
Those were the words, my friend reported, that a neighbor said to her as they discussed the reign of Donald Trump.
And who are we? People talk about the emergence of blatant racism, the hate of immigrants, anti-Semitism, misogyny. What came up for me was: money.
Who we are, as a society, is money.
Friends from other countries have talked to me in the past about how Americans loved money more than other people. I must admit that for years I didn’t believe it. We all like things, I thought; some want more, some want less. Simpleton that I was, I didn’t think that Americans were so ahead of the game when it came to money. So I must thank Donald Trump for unveiling just how much money defines us as a society and a culture.
Money is a language that Trump seems especially fond of. While other presidents have said it was important for them to be compassionate, kind, and even God-fearing, Donald Trump loves to point out what a great business negotiator he is.
Even in nonbusiness matters, money is his way of doing things. How to stop the flow of migrants? Impose tariffs on Mexican goods. How to redefine our relationship with China? Impose tariffs. What to do about the farmers who then suffer from tariffs on China? Give them more money. What is he (and fellow Congressional Republicans) immensely proud of? The great tax break they gave to the wealthy and to businesses.
When you think of Mar-a-Lago, his weekly retreat, as opposed to rural Camp David where other presidents went, what comes up? Money. When I look at the fake hair color, I think of money. Gold is what matters. It’s a stand-in for self-respect, self-fulfillment, and a balanced perspective on your true proportions.
I suspect that’s true not just for Trump, but also for much of our culture. Sociologists tell us that the reason Americans don’t connect with socialism or communism and haven’t had revolutions despite the outrageous proportion of our GDP that goes to the rich is because, in our heart of hearts, we want to join the rich, and even the super-rich. We want to be on the other side of that gap.
I was at a chain store one early evening with only one cashier handling many customers. We waited a very long time. Just as I, at the end of the line, got to the cashier, a second one arrived and made the loud announcement—“I can take the next person”-though there was no one there. “Why is she here finally when there’s no one on line anymore?” I asked the young woman who was finally checking out what I’d bought.
In reply my casher gave me a card, photo above.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Next time you get $2.00 off because you had to wait,” the young woman said brightly.
I was taken aback. “I don’t want your money,” I finally said. “Just say you’re sorry.”
Only twice have I written negative customer reviews of a product I bought online. Instantly I was inundated by offers of discounts to take off my negative comments. Nobody apologized, nobody said it won’t happen again, just: We’ll give you money if you take it off.
There was a time when such offers were considered bribery; not anymore. Do we even blink when this happens? Haven’t most of us learned to talk this oh-so-American language?
In Citizens United vs. FEC, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are like human beings in terms of right to free speech, including political spending. I think we’re returning the favor and, in this country at least, human beings are becoming more and more like corporations.