Today is Labor Day, and most Americans are busy doing the last hurrah of summer. Whether at the beach, the lake, the baseball stadium, or in the back yard, folks are cooking the brats and ribs and burgers, trying to pretend that the inglorious summer is not at an end.
That is how most people respond to Labor Day. It was once a day to celebrate labor and the working man, woman and child. It was an extra day of rest for the laborers who with sweat and muscle, make America go. It was in some sense a recognition that the little guy mattered.
Like most of our national holidays, it is seldom remembered as it was envisioned. It has become but other occasion to make potato salad, buy an extra few six packs, and loll around the back yard “enjoying” the day. It has always been, in reality, a day when women cooked more than usual, kids went wild to the near insanity of parents, and dad tried to snooze undisturbed by any need to mow or weed whack. Men and kids always get the better end of the deal.
In truth, I don’t recall as a child finding it any different than it is today. I grew up in a working class neighborhood, in GM town, otherwise known as Flint, Michigan. Most all our parents were factory workers or at least workers in service industries to GM. They were union folk. They were Democrats.
If my father was true to his classification, most didn’t think of themselves ironically as working class. We were taught that America was a classless society, and we believed it, no matter how untrue that was. We knew that in general, USA excepted, there were the rich, the middle class, and the working class. Below that were the poor.
The poor were a foggy group of misfits. Mentally and physically disabled, the drunks, those raised by unfit people who were never properly educated or socialized. The lazy, all those who were just “different” and unable to cope. The homeless, and all who through some unknown, unnamed catastrophic occurrence found themselves down and out, riding the rails, not able to hold down a “steady” job.
The poor were so far out of sight, that being working class was not acceptable. After all, the economic elites had historically insulated themselves from criticism by making sure that we all got that concept of “work ethic” somehow attached to the Protestants. They shamelessly appropriated Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” Together, both concepts diverted attention away from their excessive greed and self-designed right to live in extreme largess while huge portions of the world suffered terribly from want.
The average working class person had it drummed into their head that if they were not where they wanted to be, they had no one to blame but themselves. They hadn’t worked hard enough or frankly, they were not smart enough. Add racism to the mix, and the working class began to feel downright middle class, though they were never that.
Nothing has changed much. Racism has, if anything, enlarged. It’s almost okay to blame blacks again, since its so easy to mask it by hatred of that commie Obama. But there are others now. Latinos are fine targets with their immigrating ways. Muslims are even better, with their actively violent ultra right wing.
The economic elites have continued to be successful in turning inward the natural economic desires of the workers. It’s still all their own fault. The elites still have a right to own six homes and gild everything they own with gold just cuz it looks nice. Anyone who tells the worker differently is nothing but a low down scummy intellectual elite, which is just code for liberal Democrat.
Somehow they manage this while all the time going to those same elite schools and getting that same elite education. But they don’t use their education for the betterment of mankind, no they use it in the good old American way–to feather their own nests with excess. They sleep at night just fine, thank you very much, because they actually have bought their own rhetoric.
And the workers cling to God (but only their fundamentalist version) and don’t see that their version of racist/social conservatism is diametrically apposed to everything Jesus taught and died for. They are appalled when you suggest it. They can point out the verses you know, the ones they like a lot, that tell them that they are doing right to question the right of the so-called poor to be helped. They can find that in the bible, that there are poor and then there are lazy, and the lazy can get a job. God wants people to be prosperous, so if I got mine, I worked for it, like I’m supposed to, and you should work for yours. Cuz I found this verse in Timothy, or in Proverbs. I forgot the ones in Galatians and the ones in Isaiah, and the ones in, oh you get the idea.
And the workers are no longer Democrats so much any more. Their fundamentalist visions have been co-opted by Republicans who dangle the bait of abortion reform, stopping the perversion of gay rights, and all those other sexual things, and they now vote against their economic interests. They do this quite happily. They are right you see. Obama is the anti-Christ. He is not a Christian. He is not patriotic. He is not a citizen. He is a dirty, low down, Democrat, socialist, fascist, communist, baby killing, Muslim. He must be because they are white and they are right, and something has gone very wrong in Smallville USA.
They don’t see any of this of course. They munch the hotdogs and pop a top, and grin as the kids run through sprinklers, and wives yell out the back door, “is the charcoal ready yet?” It’s Labor Day. Oh it’s good to be middle class.