Yes, yes. Come one, come all. Bring your children and grandchildren and poverty wages down to your nearest Walmart to take part in, and bear witness to, the stampedes and mauling of your fellow Americans.
It’s an American tradition, after all. Whether you’re clobbering an old lady with a less-than-accidental elbow-jab to the ribs, or forcing your way to the front of the line by pretending there’s someone up there waiting for you, rest assured that by the time the weekend is over, you will have reportedly participated in the continued decline of western civilization.
Within this mosh pit of consumerism– there will be winners and losers, but mostly losers by the measure of capitalism.
There will be disappointed faces leaving stores empty-handed, unable to recognize that supply-side economics has failed to meet their demand for a $38 blu-ray player, a 32″ flat screen for $98, and that set of towels that are evidently this year’s hottest gift idea? To you, I say, “it’s not your fault.”
It’s not you. Your failure to acquire the perfect bath towel, or afford an X-Box One might leave you feeling inadequate and unable to compete in the crush of the crowd that has only gotten larger and more desperate in recent years as supplies never meet demand in what is Exhibit A in the fallacy of supply-side economics. And this continued failure of Reaganomics is only creating more fear and distrust of each other, as a recent poll indicates, ”Americans Don’t Trust Each Other Anymore.”
There’s no single explanation for Americans’ loss of trust.
The best-known analysis comes from “Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam’s nearly two decades of studying the United States’ declining “social capital,” including trust.
Putnam says Americans have abandoned their bowling leagues and Elks lodges to stay home and watch TV. Less socializing and fewer community meetings make people less trustful than the “long civic generation” that came of age during the Depression and World War II.
University of Maryland Professor Eric Uslaner, who studies politics and trust, puts the blame elsewhere: economic inequality.
Trust has declined as the gap between the nation’s rich and poor gapes ever wider, Uslaner says, and more and more Americans feel shut out. They’ve lost their sense of a shared fate. Tellingly, trust rises with wealth.
Crime rates fell in the 1990s and 2000s, and still Americans grew less trusting. Many social scientists blame 24-hour news coverage of distant violence for skewing people’s perceptions of crime.
Can anything bring trust back?
Uslaner and Clark don’t see much hope anytime soon.
Thomas Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar launched by Putnam, believes the trust deficit is “eminently fixable” if Americans strive to rebuild community and civic life, perhaps by harnessing technology.
After all, the Internet can widen the circle of acquaintances who might help you find a job. Email makes it easier for clubs to plan face-to-face meetings. Googling someone turns up information that used to come via the community grapevine.
But hackers and viruses and hateful posts eat away at trust. And sitting home watching YouTube means less time out meeting others.
It just so happens there’s a free-market solution to all our fears and distrust of one another:
This is corporate America’s America.
I reluctantly accompanied a friend to a Walmart Black Friday sale in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. I’m good in crowds and know how to navigate around, and through, the bargain-seeking hordes, so I was both security and moral support for the event.
A $178 HP laptop is how real America gets by. Add it to our accumulated life assets of a microwave oven, a television, an alarm clock, telephone, and you might get a grand total of $300 in trade-in value. Who needs a raise in the minimum wage with these depreciating assets pumping up such an impressive and enviable net worth?
What I witnessed wasn’t so much a distrust in each other(not including the seemingly nice guy who casually cut in front of us, or the girl who called my friend a “bitch” under her breath for not getting out of her way fast enough), but a collective desperation. Like a Social Services waiting room with less intrusive forms to fill out and a few more bucks in their pockets. People were still helping each other find the right line to stand in, or pointing them to the workers handing out store vouchers. People sharing their stories with one another of the insanity of it all. Communicating face to face, and even heart to heart.
When the underpaid store clerks, some wearing “Volunteer Security” vests, began to unwrap the $2 DVDs, the crowd that had gathered all around the store began to push toward the center. No one was trampled, but the sight and sounds of that many people clamoring for a bargain could best be described as a less-than-orderly mob. They weren’t throwing Cabbage Patch Kids to the crowd, so the euphoric buzz of consumer hopes quickly wore off.
I eventually went to my car to wait for my friend to pay for her cheap goods. I sat in my car right out in front of the store for what seemed like an hour. As I watched the faces of the people entering and leaving the store, I saw whole families coming in and out. I saw the father of an Indian, or Pakistani family racing his four kids through the parking lot and seen on his face the face of every smiling father in the history of fathers in one instance. His young daughter was running with them, but she turned back for her mother who was obviously not one for running, opting instead to let her ‘boys be boys’. I was piggy-backing their moments. There were African American families, Asian families, Europeans, women and children– young and old. I saw smiles and an overriding sense of brotherhood every second I waited outside. This is America– the real America. The America the polls and right wing politicians tell us is unworthy of relief and therefore greed is the only way to survive. The America the media wants us to believe is growing more and more distrustful of each other.
As I was sitting there I noticed a young woman looking for someone coming out of the store. She eventually waved for me to roll down my window and asked me if I had jumper cables because her car battery was dead. My first instinct was more cautious than suspicious. My second was, “yes and yes.” As I pulled around to her car, we first had to push her out of the spot to get to the engine. Five people of different races and backgrounds– Black, White, Asian, Hispanic– all rushed over to push the car and save the day.
When we parted ways, we all sort of peeled off and nodded to each other like the end of Oceans 11, as if to say, “This is the America we know.”