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12.30.11

2011 Outrages of the Year: Donald Trump, Obama's Populism, Sandusky

In 12 months that revealed the existence of mutually empowering bullies in every realm of American life, nothing insulted Lee Siegel more than The Donald, our oligarchic Congress—and the rotten Jerry Sandusky.

A writer’s contentments should remain private—who cares?—but his animadversions belong to all the world (even if no one cares about them, either). As the inevitable “best” and “worst” accountings appear this week, here is my list of the year’s outrages that kept my head bent over the keyboard, and my heart young.

Donald Trump. The world’s biggest fraud opens his mouth and grabs a thousand headlines. The media might have jumped on the bandwagon to deplore the hegemony of the “1 percent,” but Trump’s money talks. And when it talks, it makes more money. Hard to believe, but this boneheaded businessman—who got all his money from his father; who has declared bankruptcy at least four times; who drove some of his casinos out of business by having them compete with each other; who helped sink the United States Football League by giving players exorbitant salaries; who bought a racehorse and then forced the animal to make practice runs while it had a cold, leading to the amputation of its hooves (and Trump then refused to pay for it because it was unable to race); whose eyesore buildings are routinely criticized for faulty construction; who once harassed tenants in a building he wanted to develop until the courts reined him in—this vapid, blustering idiot emits a political noise and everyone drops what they’re doing to gravely consider his presidential prospects. Unreal. New Year’s resolution: try to get legislation passed that allows every American who has lost his or her job over the past year to spit in this sordid numbskull’s face. On network television.

Obama’s “Teddy Roosevelt” speech. The president who has spent nearly his entire term caving in to one lunatic demand after another from the right sees his poll numbers drop, realizes that the election is right around the corner, and strikes the populist pose he should have taken—with the action to back the pose up—years ago. And the liberal media excitedly applauds the “new” Obama, crying “it’s about time!” when the new Obama resembles the old Obama who used precisely the same stirring rhetoric (“it’s about time!”) to get himself elected in the first place, after which he betrayed nearly every promise he made. This season’s twist: he addresses himself personally to the middle class.

The war against teachers. Waiting for Superman, produced by the liberal elite for the liberal elite, started it, Obama continued it, and figures like Chris Christie prosecuted it with zeal. Charter schools, if they worked the way their boosters claim they do, would be a fine idea, but studies have proved that they are no better and in many cases worse than the public schools their supporters are seeking to displace. Never mind. You can’t get the bankers or the politicians, so go after public school teachers, many of whom change their students lives for the better in ways that cannot be measured by—manipulated—assessments by the numbers. The problem with America’s public schools is, more than anything, a political, economic, and cultural problem. But heaven forbid we should pursue anyone more protected than a 60-year-old teacher.

In the midst of the worst unemployment in decades, Congress refuses to extend the most basic payroll tax cut, with the Republicans no doubt inspired by the sacred Gipper’s policy of raising payroll taxes in order to cut the top marginal rate down to a historically unprecedented low. The inability of the supercommittee to do anything remotely super is like a bureaucratic pathology added to a political dysfunction: “After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.” Meanwhile, during the committee’s months of hard work, intense deliberations, and utter failure, members of Congress were continuing to amass more riches than they have ever possessed. Apparently, political paralysis is a new type of wealth creator. An oligarchy is rising up before our very eyes, and all we seem able to do is celebrate the capacity of social media to “make a difference.” Or, when we’re really mad, to go after sexting congressmen. Justice, thy name is Weinergate.

Sandusky. The spectacle of Penn State students rising to Joe Paterno’s defense after the revelation that he did not report Sandusky’s alleged heinous crimes to the police is almost as sickening as the crimes themselves. But the sickness goes beyond Penn State, beyond the rotten, sexually repressed jock culture. (We are now served up daily portions of God-fearing Tim Tebow as antidote.) It was hard not to be struck by the way Sandusky’s beefy face, his merry eyes, and the implied impunity of his hulking posture seemed to symbolize a brutal, grab-what-you-can mentality that is running rampant through American business, finance, politics, and culture. There have been and always will be monsters like Sandusky, but we now seem to have created unseen, unregulated mechanisms that allow them to flourish. Michael Harrington once wrote a famous book called The Other America, about the country’s hidden poor. If the last 12 months have revealed anything, it is that there is a different “other America” today, composed not of the vulnerable poor but of a hidden caste of privileged, powerful, and mutually empowering bullies in every realm of American life. Out with the old, in with the...same old? Time will tell.

Happy New Year, everybody!