Before starting off on the Tea Party’s craziness, I would like you to examine some images from two nearly identical tragedies that occurred over a hundred years and several thousand miles apart. Later in the post I hope to make a connection between these twin horrors and the strange metamorphosis of the American right. Please bear with me.
Compare this Reuters photograph of the Tazreen Fashions Fire, Bangladesh – 2012 with the photograph below of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire:
|The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York – 1911|
|The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York – 1911|
The great mystery of American politics, a mystery which no one in the world can fathom, not even most Americans, is why so much money, hot air and spittle is being spent on literally paralyzing the American political system and making it impossible, not just to negotiate solutions, but to even have an intelligent conversation about solving the problems facing everyone, everywhere today. For that is what the Tea Party is really about: making first thought, then negotiation, and finally action impossible.
What is all this sound and fury covering up?
In my opinion it has much to do with where contemporary globalization is leading, the forces that it is setting in motion, which for historically minded Americans could elicit a bit of dèjá vu.
It seems to me that the globalization of today is in many ways similar on a world scale to the explosion of growth, power and sophistication of the US economy in the period after the Civil War, commonly called “The Gilded Age“. This was the period of the “robber barons” and viewed nostalgically by many of the American right as a paradise of anarcho-capitalism. This was a period of immense growth and innovation, but also one of enormous inequality, suffering and exploitation and financial crisis, all of it interpenetrated by an ubiquitous political corruption as the enormous new wealth so recently created set about purchasing and deforming to its benefit the institutions of American government: federal, state and local.
The excesses of the Gilded Age gave birth to a mass reform movement in the United States called, “Progressivism“. This movement, in a titanic struggle, bridging decades, among other things brought into effect: the regulation of interstate commerce, the breaking up of the monopolies known as “trusts“, laws regulating the purity of food and drugs, the rise of labor unions, laws eliminating child labor and in 1913, even progressive income tax, something which still causes intense indignation on the American ultra-right.
I would maintain that today the “Gilded Age” is happening on a global scale. The same viral growth and innovation; the same inequality, suffering and exploitation and financial crisis and similar corruption as rootless, multinational corporations evade much needed tax money and corrupt the political systems where they find themselves, world wide. And today we can add the more recent concerns for climate change and renewable energy.
Action and reaction, just as in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the grotesque abuses of the system brought forth a muscular reform movement to tame the beasts of the Gilded Age, today the feeling is growing all over the world that this new Gilded Age must also be brought under some sort of rational control and regulation. As the center of the world economic system, any general reform and regulation of globalization logically must begin in the United States of America.
That is what the one-percent are afraid of and that is why they fund and promote the paralysis of the American political system.
Just to show you the symmetry between the urge to reform one hundred years ago and to reform today, I’d ask you to take the trouble to read two texts, they are like the tiny samples taken to analyze DNA.
I’m sure you have heard about the terrible fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh a few days ago,which took the lives of over a hundred workers trapped in the blaze, (the color photo at the top of the page shows the aftermath) so the first text I’d like you to read, is about that tragedy:
(…) On the third floor, where firefighters later recovered 69 bodies, Ms. Pakhi was stitching sweater jackets for C&A, a European chain. On the fifth floor, workers were making Faded Glory shorts for Walmart. Ten bodies were recovered there. On the sixth floor, a man named Hashinur Rahman put down his work making True Desire lingerie for Sears and eventually helped save scores of others. Inside one factory office, labor activists found order forms and drawings for a licensee of the United States Marine Corps that makes commercial apparel with the Marines’ logo. In all, 112 workers were killed in a blaze last month that has exposed a glaring disconnect among global clothing brands, the monitoring system used to protect workers and the factories actually filling the orders. After the fire, Walmart, Sears and other retailers made the same startling admission: They say they did not know that Tazreen Fashions was making their clothing.(…) David Hasanat, the chairman of the Viyellatex Group, one of the country’s most highly regarded garment manufacturers, pointed out that global apparel retailers often depend on hundreds of factories to fill orders. Given the scale of work, retailers frequently place orders through suppliers and other middlemen who, in turn, steer work to factories that deliver low costs — a practice he said is hardly unknown to Western retailers and clothing brands. The order for Walmart’s Faded Glory shorts, documents show, was subcontracted from Simco Bangladesh Ltd., a local garment maker. “It is an open secret to allow factories to do that,” Mr. Hasanat said. “End of the day, for them it is the price that matters.” New York Times
A little over a hundred years ago something almost identical happened in the USA. You probably know about it, but read the following text to refresh your memory and to compare it with the Bangladesh tragedy:
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the second deadliest disaster in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three; of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was Providenza Panno at 43, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese. Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks – many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers. (emphasis mine)Wikipedia
The only real difference between the two fires is that today the money is not bringing poor immigrant women to America to do the sewing, they are sending the sewing out to poor women in their home countries.
The text I put into bold type, the reforms the Triangle fire produced, is the key, the symbol, to explain the energy and funds behind the Tea Party’s mostly successful struggle against rational thought in the USA today.
It is easy to imagine that we will be seeing more and more incidents like these sweatshop fires, some of them may cause thousands of deaths, pollute the atmosphere or spread disease in much the same way that the financial crisis that began in the USA has spread around the world. Today, unless the world cooperates to regulate, what goes around, comes around.
Now it happens that there is only one state in the whole world that is still, for the moment at least, potentially powerful enough to be able to bring this situation under some sort of control at home and abroad, and this state is in theory a democracy that is elected by its citizens to serve them.
That state is, of course, the United States of America.
Now, for the state apparatus of the United States of America to bring the situation under control in America and to a great extent around the world, all the branches of the state, executive, legislative and judiciary would have to be in nearly total alignment, as they were during World War Two.
Keeping that from happening, paralyzing the political system, with racism and paranoia so that unity is entirely unthinkable except around “supporting our troops” to defend the “homeland” against the threat of “terrorism” is what the Tea Party movement and every move of Fox and Kochs is about.
So that is what it is really all about: it is about not legislating and not getting things done… to paralyze the government of the United States of America at a critical time in its history and the history of the world at large. To prevent the system from flushing itself out and regenerating itself. To cut the wires of the burglar alarms so they can sack the house, the house of everyone in the world, in peace. Their peace.