If the dust only wouldn’t fly

   “The squatting tenant men nodded and wondered and drew figures in the dust, and yes, they knew, God knows. If the dust only wouldn’t fly. If the top would only stay on the soil, it might not be so bad.

The owner men went on leading to their point: ‘You know the land’s getting poorer. You know what cotton does to the land; robs it, sucks all the blood out of it.’

The squatters nodded—they knew, God knew. If they could only rotate the crops they might pump blood back into the land.”
– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

The plains of American promise have become a wilderness, sucked of their sustaining dollars by those who have moved on to riper riches, and abandoned by those whose dreams are as dead and dry as the grey sand that bites at their eyes. It’s the dust bowl of upward mobility, blowing in rolling black blizzards over the dried, overworked earth of middle class labor that once yielded bumper crops of opportunity. Now, the middle class is an icon, a legend, like Jesus or the Fountain of Youth, easy for many to believe in, but hard to prove ever existed.Opportunity Dust Bowl

Indeed, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said in a New Hampshire debate, earlier this month, that the term middle class “is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon.”

“We’re a country that doesn’t allow for titles,” he said. “We don’t put people in classes. Maybe middle income people.”

Today, the empty space where the “middle income people” used to be has been taken by bankers and bailouts, the honest hard work moved to China and other emerging economies. “Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores,” President Obama noted in his State of the Union speech, Tuesday. “Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled.”

These days, we are all Okies, but unlike the Great Plains farmers of the 1930s, the former middle class doesn’t have an emerging domestic economy out west in which to seek their fortune. Instead, we fade into the streetscape, the coffee shops and bars, the food banks and food stamp lines, and watch the dancing shadows of the capital gainers and offshore bank account holders, disappearing below a distant sunset horizon.

“Now, the banks aren’t bad people. They’re just overwhelmed right now,” the One Percenters say, echoing GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s words to a Florida audience, last Tuesday, as they continue their march away from the dying middle class.

But even depression era, dust bowl land agents knew that wasn’t the case. As John Steinbeck writes, in Grapes of Wrath:

“No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

Who owns the American Dream? Is it scrawled in the cracked earth of the middle class’ economic dust bowl, or locked away in the safe of the one percent, earning $50,000 a day in interest and dividends?

The money for the middle class recovery has to come from somewhere, and it’s not coming from the capitalists who are more concerned with creating wealth than creating jobs.

Bitter Tea Party shouters and stimulus doubters destroyed the political will for public funding, and the private capital that funds our freedom to enterprise, that made this the Land of Opportunity, is being hoarded by the few who see themselves as the lynch pin to America’s success, but instead, have become the firing pin in the bombardment on our economy. They’ve bought all they can buy, leaving the rest with nothing.

One day, the wealthy will turn around to ask for a cup of coffee, or to get some dry cleaning done, or get their car repaired, and there will be no one there to service them.  Their shouts and demands will echo into the evening, and dissipate over the acres of lost opportunity. If they want us, they will have to put their hats in their hands and come find us, for we will all be far away, across the dry gulch, our backs to them, greeting the new sunrise.


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