The U.S. is a Nation of Savage Inequality


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Roughly 38,000 U.S. veterans eat from garbage cans every day. So Fox News reported back in January, advocating a helping hand for homeless veterans. It was nice to see the news outlet that’s usually so hostile to those who lack shelter take up their cause, even if it was only because these luckless destitute had performed military service. Any compassion for any segment of the millions of vagabonds among us is welcome, especially from an organization, one of whose hosts, Jesse Watters, hates homeless people. He even called them “bags of flesh mutating on the sidewalk,” on June 16. Very likely some of those people regarded by Watters as garbage are veterans. But maybe Watters missed the Fox memo about showing care for that subset of the unhoused, whom he also described as “urine-soaked junkies.”

 But then Watters – who is ascending to Tucker Carlson’s punditry spot – has demonized the homeless for years. Back on September 22, 2022, Watters averred that “It was more civilized when we banished them to asylums and put them in strait jackets.” More civilized because then “nice people” wouldn’t have to see them. Not, nota bene, because penniless people in mental agony were at least receiving psychiatric and medical care. Watters does not seem particularly concerned about treating psychotics, he just wants them out of sight, preferably incarcerated. A lot like Donald “Camps for the Homeless” Trump, who promises that if re-elected president, he will remove this so-called human blight from city centers to peripheral “camps.” As in concentration camps.

This is capitalism. No, zero, nada, zilch psychiatric or medical help for poor people in mental agony. Kinder, gentler versions of capitalism, so-called mixed economies may provide for people in such circumstances. The helpless may be institutionalized and receive care – medicines and therapy. They are not left to perish on the streets. There exist in some such economies the necessary structures, physical and bureaucratic, to tend to the demons of paranoid schizophrenics.

But in the wild west capitalism of 21st century USA, the billionaires don’t give a damn. And they call the shots. They own the congress, the supreme court, the white house, statehouses, governors’ mansions, Hollywood, the military and every other political or social institution – they may not own any given outfit outright, the way they’ve bribed their way into control of the supreme court, but their wishes are heard and tended to. Our oligarchs do not care about vagabonds tortured by psychosis, even if there are lots of them.

Our American masters of the universe simply can’t be bothered to establish a psychiatric public health network capable of relieving these dispossessed people’s misery. Or to promote affordable housing, for those who sleep under the stars but don’t hear demonic voices. For heaven’s sake, we can’t even get a president to follow through on his campaign promise to establish a medical public option, since it might drain profits away from the health insurance racket. Both Obama and Biden explicitly reneged on such a promise, because the health insurance mega-donors weren’t having it. You think that same wildly greedy health care industry might consider a functioning mental health system? One that employs psychiatrists to treat the mentally ill? Ho, ho! Think again.

Meanwhile, our supreme court justices, each paired with a billionaire by an inequality fanatic from the Federalist Society named Leonard Leo, gallivant across the globe in private jets to exotic locales, where they enjoy, luxury, all-expenses-paid (they’d have to be, since those expenses amount to hundred of thousands of dollars) getaways, before returning to Washington to oversee cases involving those very same billionaires. They rule in favor of those tycoons. Then they have the nerve to deny this is bribery. They pretend that life on their not so modest salaries somehow has nothing to do with their unseemly eagerness for handouts from mega-rich financial magnates. But now everyone knows better. We’ve got the best supreme court money can buy – and no way to remove these corrupt judges.

And those judges provide pathetic excuses for their corruption. When confronted with not having recused himself from a case involving his benefactor and not having reported his swanky vacation, judge Samuel Alito essentially proclaimed, according to The New Republic June 21, “I didn’t know I had to.” Alito had ruled in favor of his patron and justified it thus: “I had no obligation to recuse in any of the cases that ProPublica cites. First, even if I had been aware of Mr. Singer’s connection to the entities involved in those cases, recusal would not have been required or appropriate.” He argued that he and the fabulously wealthy financier Paul Singer were not personally close, so clearly, he was unbiased.

 Before Alito’s trip, Singer’s hedge fund petitioned the high court in a matter involving Argentina. “After the trip, the fund came before the court at least 10 times for the same case. Singer’s involvement was heavily documented in the press…Alito did not recuse himself, instead joining the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor, earning the hedge fund a $2.4 billion payout.”

Judge Clarence Thomas behaved just as badly, perhaps worse. According to ProPublica April 6, “For over 20 years, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been treated to luxury vacations by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow.” Thomas accepted these all-expenses-paid jaunts and cruises to sumptuous resorts in places like Indonesia almost every year. And he kept them secret. “The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the Supreme Court.”

These billionaires, Crow and Singer, are each richer than Croesus. They can make or break whole countries – vide Singer’s escapades in Argentina, some of which the supreme court facilitated. And these financial moguls have bought the supreme court of the United States. They own it, and it does their bidding. Does anyone care? Do ordinary people have any redress? No and no. We are invited instead to spend our time despising destitute people for supposedly destroying our cities’ “quality of life.”

But those unsightly unhoused are merely a symptom of that destruction. Who crushed our quality of life? Corporate oligarchs, who dismantled our manufacturing base, shipped all the jobs to Mexico then China for the cheap labor and who thus hollowed out a productive, well-functioning U.S. economy. But we’re not invited to detest them. Oh no. They are glamorized, their wealth is everyone’s aspiration.

And the rubes fall for it. They may even elect a billionaire president, so he can ship those broke, desperate people off to concentration camps. Don’t look to the high court for help. Those justices are busy taking opulent, paid vacations from fantastically affluent petitioners. This is where our savagely unequal capitalism has led. Straight back to medieval feudalism. And all those serfs unfit for gig labor to pay their debts? They get to die on the street.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Roman Summer. She can be reached at her website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *