Friday, October 18, 2019

The Other America: 1962–2019

Poverty & The Poor

The Other America: Poverty in the United States by Michael Harrington (1962)
Photo Credit: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

This book is still relevant more than five-and-a-half decades after it was published, to critical acclaim. In some ways, the lives of the poor have bettered; in other ways they have worsened. Things improved in America after Michael Harrington wrote The Other America (1962), which influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to publicly declare two years later an unconditional War on Poverty.

There was initial success until about 1978, and then America in the last 30 years began to regress, regardless of which political party was in power, thereby eroding any gains that the poor previously made. Under the politics of neo-liberalism, The War on Poverty became The War on the Poor.

The poor might not be as invisible as they once were, but they are still ignored and left without any say or any opportunity in how to better their lives. For more, see my recent essay, “Born Poor, Staying Poor” (May 10, 2018).

The poor, the less successful, the underclass, are still ridiculed and blamed for their poverty, even as the super-wealthy pile up bags of money in obscene, ingenious and immoral ways, doing so without shame or fear of conscience. As for the the middle-class, they are too busy trying to stay middle-class to worry about the poor, including a large group of working poor, fearing that they too are a step or two away from joining this ignoble but growing cohort of the downwardly mobile.

That this is taking place with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the political class of both parties, with few exceptions is a failure of great consequence, to be sure, and the people at the bottom feel it keenly. There is hope, however; Bernie Sanders being a bright example of an individual fighting the good fight, speaking the truth.  As he points out time and time again, the blame lies elsewhere, as ought the shame, if it is to be found among the wealthy and super-wealthy.

There is no doubt, and it is shown and proven in so many ways, that the poor are at the mercy of a capitalistic predatory system that has no mercy; its list of opportunists are many, including both the financial and religious fraudsters, as well as, of course, the political opportunists, who never fail to seize what is not rightfully theirs, using the cover of law (but not justice) to do so.

Then there are those that use the cover of religion to do their dirty deeds and to hide their rapacious appetites, which is to build a tower of money that serves no good purpose. Defending such actions as the excessive accumulation of money (as is common among the billionaire class)  says much about the persons who do so. I guess that what predators do. But is this the way we all want to live, among predators?

Yes, the poor will always be among us, but whether that is congruent and necessary to a healthy and sane society is highly doubtful. That only the few chosen ones are meant to be rich and the rest struggling to get by is a sure sign that something is wrong, terribly wrong. No, it is more than likely a sign of a sick society, one that is rotten and decaying on the inside.