The message above was posted by Tim Boyd, the former mayor of Colorado City, Texas, in response to the record freezing temperatures ravaging his state. At least 23 people have died due to the failure of the electrical grid and cold weather. He has since resigned due to the public outrage that ensued.
It’s good that Tim Boyd was disgraced by his words. They were abhorrent, after all. But let’s not kid ourselves to think that what he believes is beyond the pale in America.
Let’s not forget about the Portland supermarket that just threw away mountains of “perishable items” after a winter storm knocked out power to much of the city. They then had the police guard the dumpsters from hungry people who also suffered from the power outages and simply wanted to forage for food.
But this is nothing new. On the contrary, it is standard practice. I saw it with my own eyes when I was a social work intern in Los Angeles with the houseless. The supermarket next door routinely doused their day old bread with bleach before tossing it in the dumpster, rather than give to those in desperate need.
When I drove across the US a few years ago I witnessed desperate poverty in scores of American cities and towns. Places sacrificed or carved up at the corporation’s pleasure. But there was also a prevailing cultural message that any suffering a person endured was the result of personal failure. Not the economic or material conditions one is born into. Not imposed poverty. Not racist, homophobic or misogynistic barriers.
America is a place where the idea of cooperation is routinely scoffed at, and the myth of individualism endlessly lauded. It is a place where the snide sadistic mentality of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is constantly rubbed in the faces of the poor, the historically oppressed and the disenfranchised, by the wealthy and powerful.
This is a place where televangelists preach prosperity as a sign of Divine favor. Feeding the multitudes, as Jesus did, is not the preferred parable. It is a place where celebrity billionaires like Oprah Winfrey present themselves as spiritual gurus and chide the suffering for not “taking responsibility for their lives,” while ignoring the entrenched systems of injustice that make life a misery for millions every single day. And it is a psychosis that has become internalized at every level of society.
So let’s not kid ourselves about Tim Boyd’s post. He did a great job at summing up the prevailing ethos of the American Empire, the last fortress for late capitalism. And let’s not pretend that the actions of that supermarket and the police in Portland were out of the ordinary. These are merely the symptoms of a diseased culture. An ethos of barbarism that has been elevated to a state religion. And the ruling class evangelizes the world with this propaganda by coercion and distraction. Endless militarism and wars abroad, endless cruelties and humiliation meted out on the working class and poor at home. The god of America is the power of wealth and its worship. And until this is reckoned with, none of its maladies will go away.
Kenn Orphan February 2021
*Title image is Portland police officers guarding the dumpster of a local grocery store. Courtesy of OregonLive.
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