I love basketball.
Not only do I believe that basketball demands the most skill, but I consider it the most aesthetic: players improvising artistic riffs reminiscent of Baryshnikov, Michael Jackson or the Alvin Alley dancers. At its best, it’s a choreographed ballet, a transcendent dance interspersed with improvisational solos, almost spiritual, and often times inspirational.
And this year’s NCAA tournament symbolized this transcendence, saturated with inspirational stories, David repeatedly slaying Goliath. We witnessed a sport in all its splendor, and were reminded as to why we watch.
Above all else, Americans have an innate sense of justice, of fairness. It’s part of our DNA, our soul. We recoil, we protest, we fight when confronted by injustices, inequities, unequal playing fields or unequal opportunities, circumstances that simply don’t pass the smell test. Our DNA demands fairness. It’s what build this country and is what makes our country great.
Greed has infected college basketball, festering for decades, its pestilence rotting the core of amateur sports. Greed has spurred coaches, school presidents, and athletic directors to circumvent and break rules, lie, cover-up, all in an effort to un-level the playing field, to stack the deck. There is money to be extracted from teenagers and as a consequence, collegiate athletic coaches and administrators have flushed away their integrity in a sordid attempt to preserve their jobs while cashing in on the tainted money, the golden goose of free labor—collegiate athletes who produce the product but who earn nothing from their labors. Greed has fostered cheating, 18-year-old kids exploited, preyed upon by predators seeking their pound of flesh.
So it was interesting in this year’s March Madness to see that the schools racked by scandal, schools visited by the windbreakers, were eliminated by lower seeded schools, often with 2% of the recruiting budget of the blue bloods.
David continually slayed Goliath in this year’s March Madness and it was glorious.
When I was young I would go to this playground with my buddies and compete in basketball. Our team would get to the court early in order to secure a game. It was single elimination; if your team lost, you would have to wait 3 hours to get another game. And since we didn’t want to wait 3 hours, our will to win was off the charts. But it was a level playing field and teams competed within an inch of their lives—the 3-hour wait being the main motivation. Game point was a virtual bloodbath, but it was an honest competition; hands were shook after the game; respect was earned.
The deck was not stacked.
But there was another issue at play during these games—race. Since the court was right on the border between D.C. and Maryland, there would often be games between black and white teams, the race issue hovering overhead like a cloud. But it never got racial because the playing field was level. What mattered was your game and how hard you competed in order to avoid the three-hour wait. Honest competition dissolved any potential racial animus, because honest competition fosters respect, the kryptonite of racism.
But every once in a while, a guy showed up after having recruited a team of All-City players, All-Stars, even college players–in other words, a dream team, a stacked deck. I could tell he was afraid to compete, using his recruits to camouflage his fear. And I would say to myself, ‘I don’t care who’s on your team, even if you have pros, I’m still gonna beat your motherfu….ass.’
It would make my blood boil. I always considered it cowardly, breaking of an unspoken covenant. But I welcomed the challenge, which unearthed even deeper reservoirs of will I didn’t know I had.
And sometimes we beat the dream team, because we were a team, and it was glorious.
But I always wondered about these guys who felt the need to stack the deck. What were they afraid of? What was it about their character, their deep insecurities, that they were unwilling to put in the work to compete. They were cheaters, but more importantly, they cheated themselves out of the character growth that results from honest competition, honest striving for one’s goals. Competition breeds growth. Instead, they choose the path of least residence, dishonesty, which probably became their default operating system in navigating their life.
At its core, these guys had a hidden fear of others, a disability that unconsciously demanded they compulsively stack the deck, compulsively suppress others because if the people around them flourished, they might be found out.
And then I began to wonder if these people had any influence on the world today, if they had somehow ascended to positions of power.
And then I realized who our President was, that people with a hidden fear of others, people who squash anyone around them who they fear will become more powerful, and who surround themselves with sycophants whose sole redeeming quality is loyalty to a bully, can often rise to positions of power, put there by the political apathy of our citizens.
You can almost view America’s history as a battle between those who cowardly stack the deck and those who fight for a level playing field. Or more simply, those who believe in America’s basic principle and those who don’t: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This battle has raged since our country’s inception, the dream team architects ratcheting up their agenda over the past 30 years.
“In the United States, for example, “trickle down” economic policies that support tax cuts for the rich with the aim of boosting economic growth and jobs have led to a $2 trillion annual redistribution of wealth from the bottom 99 percent of earners to the top 1 percent over the last 30 years, said Nick Hanauer, a former venture capitalist and now head of Civic Ventures.”
The consequence of this exploding wealth gap poses the gravest threat to our country’s founding principles.
“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
–LOUIS BRANDEIS, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE (1856-1941)
“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
–PLUTARCH, ANCIENT GREEK BIOGRAPHER (C. 46 – 120 CE)
“There’s no more central theme in the Bible than the immorality of inequality. Jesus speaks more about the gap between rich and poor than he does about heaven and hell.”
—FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1882-1945), SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS, 1937
The fact of the matter is this: we are our brothers’ keeper.
Ain’t no getting around that.
The ever-widening wealth gap sabotages the idea of our shared humanity, sabotages the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, that our innate humanity and goodness can only blossom when we take responsibility for our fellow man. Living in a gated community does not immunized us from our responsibility to the citizens of the world. America’s salvation, our greatness, is linked to how we treat and serve all our citizens, especially the ones less fortunate, the ones trying to fend their way with the cards stacked against them.
Before we go any further, I need to comment on this concept of wealth redistribution and it’s reporting.
Now if you listen to Fox News, the propaganda wing of the White House, you heard this drumbeat, one of FOX’s big lies, pounded down American’s throat: President Obama was a socialist, intent on redistributing the wealth, which served to distract the American public with what was really happening in regard to wealth distribution.
And make no mistake about it—the American public was pummeled by this ‘fake news’.
Here is what Joseph Goebbels said about the big lie:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
Can’t help but think that our Emperor was an avid student of Goebbels. But here is what was really happening with wealth distribution:
If the trend continues, by 2030, the top 1 percent of Americans will earn 37 to 40 percent of the country’s income, with the bottom 50 percent getting just 6 percent, “Globally, half of the world’s wealth is now held by just 1 percent of the world’s population, according to a 2015 report by Credit Suisse, a financial services company.”
We are spiraling toward an economy that is reminiscent of the antebellum south, embodied by slave holders, exploiting a stacked deck though the torture and enslavement of Afro-Americans, backed by the financial investments of the north and Europe. This was perhaps the ultimate stacked deck, the exploitation of slave labor in order to expand and grow an industry.
And like the slave holders, who justified the torture, the terror, the subjecting of an entire race to bondage—condoned from the Catholic, Baptist and Episcopalian pulpits– today these justifications for crimes against humanity emanate from the pulpit of Ayn Rand, the Republicans’ wet dream. (By the way, it’s ironic how the religious right continues to support our New Emperor and the depravity of his character: the constant lying, the sexual assault boastings, the bullying and the racism. They continue to line up behind him in lock step because their selective reading of scripture validates a patriarchal world view, ethics and compassion be damned. Their admiration of a man that degrades women and people of color trumps Bible scriptures about morals and empathy.)
“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”
–ADAM SMITH, SCOTTISH POLITICAL ECONOMIST (1723-1790)
Repudiation of responsibility for one’s fellow man requires a philosophic rational and Ayn Rand delivers the goods.
A philosophical system that sees workers’ rights as a barrier to business, that ignores macroeconomic reality and always blames the poor for being poor, that elevates the rich to the status of economic saviors – that is the new reality for America’s conservatives. It is slowly but consistently seeping into the mainstream conservative outlook on this side of the Atlantic. Any political party that promotes tax cuts for the rich while simultaneously cutting protections for workers and the poor is on the outer edge of the Ayn Rand economic death spiral.
Today, Rand’s policies are embodied by US politicians like Rand Paul (yes, he was named for her) and Ted Cruz, both potential Republican presidential candidates. Cruz wants to abolish the IRS and the minimum wage, Paul wants to get rid of laws that stop businesses from committing racial discrimination. The message is simple: “let the rich do whatever they want, and everyone will benefit.” —Darragh Roche
Back in the antebellum south, preachers served the role of Ayn Rand, proclaiming that slavery was part of God’s will, his divine plan. Today we have our modern day Goebels, Sarah Saunders, justifying the trauma being enacted upon the children of immigrants by suggesting the Bible offers reasonable explanations for this outrage.
And reminiscent of slave markets, we are now separating kids from parents—curtesy of our new Immigration initiative, similar to what happened on the slave blocks where families are splintered, crying children removed from the clutches of their parents.
Trump’s immigration policy has set in motion a replay of our original sin—the splintering of Afro-American families as mothers were separated from children, fathers from families, a drama reenacted by the Nazi’s during the Holocaust. (By the way, a group of immigrant children were told they were being separated from their mothers because the mothers’ needed to shower. I seem to recall something about showers in the Nazi death camps. Is this just a coincidence?)
Our democracy is under seize, not by a foreign power but by our own greed. The widening wealth gap is undermining the very foundations of our democratic institutions. At some point, these chickens will come home to roost. And for the Afro-Americans in this country, the trends are looking truly alarming.
The Institute for Policy Studies recent report: “The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Divide is Hollowing OU the American’s Middle Class (RZW) showed that between 1983 and 2013, the wealth of the median black household declined 75 percent (from $6800 to $1700) and the medium Latino household declined 50 percent (from $4000 to $2000). At the same time, wealth for the median white household increased 14 percent from $102,000 to $116,800.)”
Our President has emboldened white supremacists to rise up from the swamp (maybe that is what he meant by his campaign pledge of draining the swamp), fueling and giving validation to their racism, their hatred, affirming their scapegoats.
But their true objective is to fuel a pestilence that has been eroding our democracy since its’ inception: the widening wealth gap which has accelerated over the last 30 years.
Today there is a systematic agenda to revert America back to the dynamics of the ante-bellum south. Same playbook, different players but the intent is the same—rule by an oligarchy.
1. Made sure education wasn’t funded. Pre-Civil War, there was no public education in the South. They systematically kept both poor whites and slaves illiterate. It was calculated, a vehicle of control and suppression. People were hung from trees if they were caught having abolition literature.
A. Today, we have education budgets, teacher’s salaries, continually slashed by legislatures. Prisons are the new priority. More money is being funneled into our prison industrial complex, a living breathing monster that needs to be fed, its beds filled, often by a disproportional amount by people of color. Empty beds don’t generate dividends for investors. And it makes sense: the less educated our citizens are, the more likely they will resort to crime, so I guess we need to get those beds ready for their incarceration. We can invest in education or we can invest in prison beds. Trump and the Republicans have put their money into prison beds. To my Florida friends, your governor is a big supporter of prison beds, and the prison industrial complex—lots of campaign contributions from that industry going into the Governor’s coffers.
2. Worked to separate the races: prior to the Civil War, there was a growing awareness by Southern whites that they were screwed because they were competing against slave labor. Slave owners toiled to keep poor whites and slaves separated, least they figure out who their enemy was. Ultimately, slave owners were able to brainwash poor whites into believing that blacks were their enemy, not their allies. And through this brainwashing, the KKK evolved. Poor whites were kept ignorant, destitute and oblivious as to who their suppressor was. They were kept oppressed by the instruments of control: law enforcement and the courts, which could sentence a white man to slavery for transgressions such as loitering, unpaid debts, etc. (Can’t help but think of Ferguson.)
A. Today, our administration has saturated the airwaves with the concept that America is a dangerous environment, offering up the scapegoats of Muslims, Mexicans and Afro-Americans. The less educated a person is, the more likely they will embrace scapegoats, no matter who the scapegoat is. At the end of the day, his administration has served to separate Americans, hate crimes being up 67% since he took office.
3. Control the voting booths: during the ante-bellum south, voting was a sham. You had to own property in order to vote and your vote was public. If one voted against the slave owners candidate, he could lose his job, maybe his life.
A. Today we have the proliferation of the voter suppression laws, spearheaded by the Republicans and condoned by our Emperor, all calculated to deny people of color and the working poor the right to vote. We also have obscene gerrymandering, calculated to ensure Republican dominance in the House and Senate, again blessed by the current administration. Their goal being a stacked deck. Republicans’ have publicly stated that the less voters, the more successful they will be.
4. Use the law to incarcerate anyone who might challenge the power structure. Poor whites were continually incarcerated for trumped up violations such as loitering, debt, distributing handbills talking about worker’s rights. Some whites were even hung for these misdemeanors, as were abolitionists, or anyone who promoted the idea of freedom for all races.
So here’s my point: (I know you’re saying to yourself—‘it’s about goddamn time.’)
Sports reveal character. People who have played golf with Trump say he cheats. You have to be pretty degraded to cheat at golf. And it’s doubling degrading if you are the President and you find the need to cheat. And it wasn’t just a few people.
I’ve written many things about our President, but you really need to know only one thing: he cheats at golf…