“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So begins Charles Dickens classic novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” He was describing a time before his birth, the events leading up to and including the French Revolution, when the peasants in France suffered terribly under an oppressive and spendthrift aristocracy. The King and Queen, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, liked living high on the hog despite the fact that King Louis’ wars had nearly bankrupted his nation. Famine and starvation were widespread, taxation was murderous and life for the average French citizen was one of drudgery, disease and malnutrition. They would be the people experiencing the worst of times.
For the wealthy ruling elite, however, it was the best of times. The titled aristocracy liked dressing up in fancy duds and throwing incredibly lavish parties, living in mansions and palaces and collecting jewels, art and the wealth of the nation, leaving crumbs for the common folk. This tiny minority ruled with an iron fist and held the majority of France’s wealth. They despised the common people and considered them subhuman, useful only for whatever labor they could perform in the service of the royal-born, and the taxes that could be wrung out of their miserable hides to provide money for grand balls, powdered wigs and fancy carriages.
This went on for quite a while until the Queen, responding to the peasants’ pleas for bread, said: “Let them eat cake.” That was the last straw for the French people and they proceeded to kill all the aristocrats they could get their hands on, including the King and Queen, chopping their heads off. If you were a baron or an earl, a viscount or if you just had a few too many names strung together you were Guillotine material. The peasants went a little hog wild with the head chopping and soon their revolution became The Reign of Terror, with just about anybody eligible for a shoulder trim. When all was said and done, they wound up with an Emperor, a little swine named Napoleon who led France into a bunch of new wars.
More worst of times for hapless French citizens, while the surviving aristocracy once again lived it up on the spoils of Napoleon’s wars until that whole deal blew up in France’s face too. The monarchy was reestablished and it would not be until 1873 that they got to elect a leader of their own choosing, President Maurice de Mac-Mahon. They called this the Third Republic, even though the First and Second Republics were anything but republics. At any rate, it lasted until the Fall of France in 1940, ushering in the ultimate worst of times, the Nazi occupation. This was one of the major events of World War 2, which was pretty much the worst of times for the entire world.
So all this best of times and worst of times talk brings us to current times in America. Our own wealthy ruling elite have amassed obscene fortunes at the direct expense of the working masses, unemployment is rampant, people are being evicted from their homes and are being told they are not even deserving of medical care. A series of tax cuts to the rich have made it possible for the richest 1% of Americans to gather more personal wealth than the bottom 95% of their countrymen. In other words, a very, very few have more dough than almost everybody combined, just like France in the 1790’s. America’s wealthy elite are not titled royalty but instead corporate princes controlling the wealth of the largest economy the world has ever seen.
They got so used to handling everybody’s money they came to think of it as their own, awarding themselves bonuses from other people’s money and engaging in corrupt, incompetent and criminal business practices that led America to the brink of financial ruin. Then to bail themselves out of the trouble they created, they helped themselves to trillions of dollars from the United States Treasury, money that also did not belong to them, but to the workers of America who paid those taxes. Then they proceeded to return to their let-them-eat-cake business practices, using the money in complicated sleight of hand dealings that do not create a single job or produce any product other than paper profits for themselves, the very thing that brought them down and us with them in 2008, destroying over $5 trillion of America’s collective wealth.
Yet for these people it continues to be the best of times, while the rest of us are on the hook for a $1.4 trillion budget deficit. The rest of us are also starting to wonder why more corporate heads didn’t roll as the result of the economy’s near-collapse. Bad enough the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes (or any at all in many cases), now they’ve passed their tab along to us. These corporate princes infest our government too, making sure that the business of America remains business, and their corporations are given tax breaks and direct subsidies that make a mockery of their opposition to Socialism. The truth is that the wealthy elite opposes social programs for everyone but the 1% of the country who have the most assets and do not need the help.
They fought every progressive step that workers have been able to wrest out this place called America, from the emancipation of slaves to fair wages and safe working conditions to Social Security and even Civil Rights, preferring that workers remain peons in their service to be used up and discarded like so many pack mules. They declare themselves self-made men, neatly omitting the fact that it was the hard work, brains and dedication of uncounted millions of American workers who built this place and everything in it, including the gleaming skyscrapers that are their Ivory Towers. They despise those who made them rich and wish to share nothing of the great bounty created by the efforts of everyone working together. They sell our jobs to other nations and offer us less than subsistence wages to work in their box stores and fast food dumps. Our prosperity is disappearing, and we worked too hard to let it go without a fight.
Short of storming the Bastille with torches, muskets and scythes, this modern American royalty must be brought down. America was supposed to be the place with no peasants and no royalty. We are still a nation of laws and the law and American tradition is on the side of the majority. The gap between the haves and have-nots widens every day. Our nation must be reclaimed from those who start wars for oil wealth, manipulate our markets and money supply, empty our treasury for their personal gain and refuse to contribute to the greater society. There are honest ways to get rich and run a business, and then there is what is going on today, a very different sort of Capitalism; a cynical, rapacious and greedy exercise in amassing wealth by subterfuge with no products or productivity to show for it. The workers who made all this possible are left out of the equation to lose their jobs, their homes, their children’s health care and their dignity. Americans are under attack from our own countrymen, and soon there will be hell to pay. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.