“Aussie, what are you doing?”
“Everything. The heat, thunderstorms, Henry the Foreign Menace. What about you, Boss?”
“During severe thunderstorms I like to go to the small bathroom that has no windows and hang out there. It feels safer.”
“You know what, Boss? This world is a scary place. There’s something to be afraid of everywhere you look.”
“Maybe. You know what I think, Aussie? There’s one big one; the others are important, too, but not like the one big one.”
My friend, the journalist Jon Katz, likes to quote one of his journalist mentors from way back: “There’s only one story, and it’s about the rich screwing the poor.” For me, that’s the big story. In over 40 years the middle and lower economic classes have made almost no headway in salaries and lifestyle; too many in this rich country can’t afford decent housing, nourishing food, and medical care. The other stories are good stories, maybe important stories, but often I feel they hide the main story in this country.
So, what about the latest instance of police violence against a young man of color hanging out in his garage and not hurting anyone?
What about the Delta variant of the coronavirus that may have us reaching back for masks and curbside pick-ups again?
What about our leaving the people in Afghanistan to their fate, not to mention Hong Kong?
What about Bill Cosby?
The hundreds of graves of Indigenous children found in Canada?
Republicans voting down a committee to investigate the events of January 6?
All important, all valid, causing us to cringe, sigh, shake our heads, even weep. But they’re not the big story. The big story remains the rich screwing the poor, be they African American farmers, white miners in West Virginia, or undocumented families right in my own back yard.
In fact, if the culprits had to put their heads together and figure how to conceal the massive robbery that takes place in broad daylight every single day, how to disguise their corrupting influence over government, or generally how to sacrifice the wellbeing of so many for both the power and the playthings of the few, they couldn’t do a better job than creating the daily front page of every major newspaper.
Look at that front page now. Everything I mention above appears there, but not the biggest story of all. We get upset and worked up: How did Bill Cosby get out of prison after testimonies from so many women? What to do about Trump’s heading down to the Texas/Mexico border? The uproar about how American history is being taught, and whether or not a highly respected African American professor will get tenure or not in a North Carolina school. The articles themselves repeat the word uproar all the time, the word defines us. They want us to feel upset, they want us to feel righteous indignation.
And—they don’t tell you that the rich are screwing the poor. They don’t tell you much about who pays the real price for our cheap clothes, our inexpensive dishwashers, the actual cost of cars, the implications of cheap food and cheap restaurants, the quick delivery of Amazon goods.
They ignore the fact that we can solve the challenge of poverty if we make that a top priority, just as we can solve homelessness. Other countries have narrowed income discrepancy, and so can we. They don’t tell us that at the price of cutting down our costly lifestyle, we can feed all our children and take families off the streets. We can narrow the range between haves and have-nots and make it into halves and haves-a-little-less. The media makes these sound like intractable, unsolvable problems, but that’s not the case.
Alleviating poverty is simply not our goal, and if you doubt that, look at the decisions we make and implement all the time.
Meantime, the puppeteers are lighting cigars and congratulating the media and each other on the diet of red herrings they continue to provide, headlines that cause us to be at each other’s necks, that cause us to despise folks who’re like us only of a different political party, a different race, a different religion, a different place in the country.
Sometimes we win the battles, sometimes others do. But who wins the big one? Who wins the war?
And where do I find that answer in the newspapers?
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