December 20, 2010

Last Tuesday night, a fat, rumpled, unemployed 56-year-old man named Clay Duke invaded a Florida school-board meeting and put on a clumsy show of violent political theater before killing himself. Duke brandished a gun, commanded all the women to leave, spray-painted a large red “€œV”€ (for “€œvendetta”€) on a wall, muttered something about high taxes, and then fired several rounds at the room’s remaining males, failing to so much as graze anyone. Duke finally shot himself in his big fat unemployed head.

The school district had fired Duke’s wife Rebecca a year earlier, and her unemployment benefits had recently expired. Rebecca Duke claims her husband was an expert marksman but also a “€œgentle giant”€ who probably purposely missed his human targets at the school board. “€œHe didn”€™t want anyone to get hurt but himself,”€ she told a reporter. “€œThe economy and the world just got the better of him.”€

Relying on ellipses as if they were holes in his brain, Clay Duke had left the following message on his Facebook page before his half-assed shooting spree:

I was just born poor in a country where the Wealthy manipulate, use, abuse, and economically enslave 95% of the population. Rich Republicans, Rich Democrats … same-same … rich … they take turns fleecing us … our few dollars … pyramiding the wealth for themselves. The 95% … the us, in US of A, are the neo slaves of the Global South.

The same day as Duke’s bungled rampage, the Rockefeller Foundation released a report stating that between March 2008 and September 2009, a staggering 93 percent of American households had endured at least one major economic “€œshock.”€ Replete with cheesy earthquake metaphors, the study was titled “€œStanding on Shaky Ground: Americans”€™ Experience With Economic Insecurity”€ and defined an economic shock as either a sharp rise in expenses or a steep decline in income.

The “€œShaky Ground”€ report is the first study I”€™ve seen that mirrors what I”€™ve observed over the past three years. Ninety-three percent sounds about right. While government agents and their various mouthpieces are lying that unemployment is under ten percent and that the recession ended in June of 2009, it seems as if 93 percent or so of the people I know are worse off financially than they”€™ve ever been. And they all seem grimly resigned to the idea that things have only begun to get bad. It’s as if they all sense the country is hurtling full-speed toward a cement wall and are closing their eyes as they await the awful impact.

“€œFor me, the American Dream now consists of dreaming that one day I”€™ll be able to get out of America.”€

So amid a climate where 93 percent of Americans have experienced economic shocks, the only thing surprising about the Clay Duke incident is that it seems so isolated. The only similar recession-related freakout I could remember was from last February, when Joe Stack flew his tiny plane into a Texas IRS building after having inveighed against “€œthe rich”€ and “€œbig brother”€ online. There have been other such scattered incidents, but not the sort of epidemic one might expect given the recession’s breadth and depth.

Confounding those who”€™d like to pretend that only right-wing bigots engage in psychotic public outbursts of political violence, Clay Duke was a big fan of Media Matters, and Joe Stack’s online manifesto ended with a solid-Red endorsement of communism.

Worrying about food, shelter, and being exploited appears to transcend political boundaries.

I”€™m not a communist”€”I don”€™t dig their style”€”but neither am I a capitalist in the sense that I”€™ve never owned any means of production beyond a home computer. I have always existed in this economic system as a worker. Over the years, this role has felt increasingly dehumanizing.


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