Universal Translator

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Sociopathy of Banksters and Slaveowners

About six years ago Digby penned a piece entitled The Resentment Tribe. She was following up on a prior post in which she had asked the question: "Why are [Conservatives] so angry?" Digby proposed that what we see from the increasingly batty right-wing is something we have seen demonstrated throughout our history -- namely, a worldview that not only cannot brook dissent, but that so resents any expression of disagreement by others that it demands their complete and utter extirpation. Digby argued that this worldview "ha[d] its genesis in the original sin of slavery and . . . . the best way to understand this is to go right to the heart of the beast and quote . . . Abraham Lincoln at the Cooper Union in New York in 1860."

In that speech, Lincoln spoke to "the Southern people's" threat to break up the union unless their legal right to practice slavery was "at once admitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action[.]" (emphasis added). Pointing out that the South's right to own slaves already had been legally adjudicated in its favor by the Supreme Court, Lincoln demanded:
[W]hat will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must, somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly -- done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated -- we must pledge ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us. (emphasis added).
In short, it was insufficient that the Southern States be left alone to continue the barbaric institution of slavery; what they demanded from their neighbors to the North was not mere tolerance of this institution, but active approval. Because they were unable to convince their Free State cousins that they should be lauded for buying, selling, and mercilessly exploiting other human beings for personal profit, they felt they had no choice but to go to war.

That excerpt from Lincoln's speech has stayed with me ever since I read it for the first time over at Digby's. I think of it every time I'm confronted by people with whom I disagree and who seem to take it as a personal insult that I might disagree with them. And I think about it when I see political actors -- like the banksters on Wall Street -- who would seem to have more than even the most self-regarding, greedy bastard imaginable might ever want, but who also seem to be perpetually whining that people aren't being nice enough to them.

For example, I've started reading Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson's Winner-Take-All Politics again, after setting it aside for a couple of months. Don't get me wrong -- it's an excellent book. I started reading it some months ago and got about halfway through in only one or two days, but then suddenly had to stop. While Hacker and Pierson do a great job by way of narrative, provide plenty of detailed information that I had not read before, and tie things together in a compelling way . . . going through the details again of what has happened to our domestic politics just got to be too depressing. So I felt the need to take a break until my capacity for outrage could once again swamp my capacity for despair.

Anyway . . . I was reminded of the Lincoln speech when I got to Chapter 10 of Hacker and Pierson's book. Chapter 10 discusses the staffing of President Obama's initial administration and Obama's appointment of Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Larry Summers as Director of the National Economic Council. After pointing out that both men are part of the reigning Wall Street Establishment -- which had been responsible for plunging the nation into the economic abyss just one year before -- Hacker and Pierson write:
But Geithner and Summers had credibility and a reputation for effectiveness and the coveted ability to "calm the market." Their appointment may have done little to reinforce the populism that Obama had regularly deployed on the campaign trail. But it did reassure Wall Street, economic policy mandarins, and the crucial Democratic moderates who would have to be brought along that the president could work with a resourceful and well-connected Wall Street as well as confront it. (emphasis added).
I find that passage fascinating, and not a little chilling: that in 2009, after Wall Street's recklessness -- indeed, its utter cluelessness about what it was doing -- had plunged the United States into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, after Congress had handed the banksters seven hundred thousand million ($700B) dollars in TARP funds to bail them out, after the Fed (we now know) secretly issued them one million two hundred thousand million ($1.2Tr) additional dollars (a figure so nonsensically huge it sounds like something a child would make up) in what are effectively interest-free, non-recourse loans . . . it nevertheless was important to assure Wall Street that Obama could "work with" the banks.

And then, even after being provided all that effectively no-strings assistance, and now that it looks like the banksters are themselves going to skate away from their economic malfeasance and leave the rest of us to suffer the consequences -- indeed, that they can look forward to continuing to pick up annual compensation and bonuses so large that most Americans probably cannot even comprehend how much money is being paid to these people (On Street, Pay Vaults to Record Altitude) . . . they continue to whine that President Obama once called them "fat cats" and accuse him of being "anti-business."

* * *

None of this makes sense in a rational world, filled with rational people . . . unless you look at it through the lens of Lincoln's Cooper Union address. Remembering the egocentricity and lack of remorse or empathy displayed by the Southern slaveholders, we can recognize these traits for what they are when they manifest on Wall Street.

So far as Wall Street is concerned, it is insufficient that the banksters simply be let off the hook for their gross incompetence, it is insufficient that the banksters be provided trillions in public funds to keep their banks afloat, and it is insufficient that these public monies be used to ensure the banksters continue to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and set new records for executive compensation . . . even in the midst of the worst economy in generations.

No, none of that will satisfy. What they need -- what they require -- is that the rest of us recognize that they deserve all of that. What they require, in addition to our fiscal indulgence and unfathomable forgiveness, is our adulation.

What they smell of is sociopathy.

Now, obviously, I'm not equating the banksters' greed and misconduct with slaveholding.  It is difficult to even conceive of something as morally reprehensible as slavery and even if such a thing does exist Wall Street's misconduct certainly isn't it.  But what I am saying is that there is something deeply and fundamentally unsettling in watching an entire class of people who deserve only to be shunned and shamed for their misdeeds nevertheless demand not only a place at the table of public discourse but deference and approval from the rest of us.  There is something that is just creepy about their insistence that if the President of the United States doesn't sufficiently kowtow to them then they are the ones being oppressed.

And while I'm certainly not willing to fight another Civil War because of these bankster bastards, their attitude is the kind of attitude that makes me think I might just be willing to open up a torch-'n-pitchfork outlet where others could do some shopping.

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