Book Review: Under the Affluence-Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America by Tim Wise

under the affluenceEvery once in while there comes a book that makes me want to shout from the roof tops, “Everybody, please read this book if you truly care about humanity and society!” Tim Wise’s book Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, is one such book. And though it may sound melodramatic, I truly think Mr. Wise’s book is an excellent primer on exactly why our nation seems so skewed, confused and messed-up, especially during one of our most scary, yet important presidential election years ever.

Scholar, activist and writer, the aptly named Tim Wise, has focused on societal issues since college and one of his first jobs was working against former KKK grand wizard, David Duke’s presidential bid. Since then Wise has worked on behalf of many progressive causes and has written several books, Under the Affluence being his latest.

In 2016 Wise wonders why do we (as a nation and a society) shame the poor (and let’s face it, anyone who isn’t mega wealthy) while praising the super-rich? And what does that say about us and what impact is this having on society?

Wise calls this detestable movement “Scroogism,” and, yes, based on Ebenezer Scrooge from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And it is a theme that has shaped our thinking about the haves vs. the have-nots and have-lessers, much of it encouraged by big business, Wall Street, billionaires and millionaires, CEOs, the radical right political pundits, the current state of the GOP, conservative Christianity, mainstream media and often, ourselves. And yes, that includes the have-nots and have-lessers. And Wise offers evidence through nearly 40 pages of end notes to give gravitas to Under the Affluence.

Under the Affluence and its theme of Scroogism is divided into three well-researched, scholarly, yet audience friendly, maddening, heartbreaking and in the end, cautiously hopeful chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Pulling Apart-The State of Disunited America
  2. Resurrecting Scrooge-Rhetoric and Policy in a Culture of Cruelty
  3. Redeeming Scrooge-Fostering a Culture of CompassionIn Resurrecting Scrooge,

Wise carefully researches how in the 21st century the United States is a society that bashes the poor, blames victims, the unemployed and underemployed, embraces a serious lack of compassion and celebrates cruelty while putting the wealthy and the powerful on a pedestal. And Wise examines the origins of class and cruelty in the United States, the ideas of the Social Gospel and FDR’s New Deal, the myths and realities of the War on Poverty from its inception to Reaganism (and how liberals responded), and the concept how culture of cruelty affects who receives justice and who receives nothing at all except horrifically de-humanizing insults, both in rhetoric and reality. It is probably these two chapters that truly stirred my rage, and at times, I had to put Under the Affluence down and take a few deep breaths.But just as I was about to chuck Under the Affluence across the room and spend a week in the corner rocking back and forth, I read the final chapter, and felt a bit of hope. Perhaps, as nation things aren’t as bleak as they seem. In this chapter, Wise reminds us to look for possible roadblocks on the way of redemption. He also mentions that besides facts, use storytelling because behind every fact there is a very human face with a story that must be heard. He behooves us to create “a vision of a culture of a compassion” and how we can help communities to control their destiny.

Now, I am a realist. I know for the most part Under the Affluence is a book that preaches to the choir, especially in 2016. But maybe, just maybe, Under the Affluence will open minds, soften hearts and act an agent for, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it, “peace, love and understanding.” Under the Affluence is not only one of the most important books to come out in 2016; it is one of the most important books to come out in the 21st century.

Wise also takes a look at the world of the working poor and the non-working rich, the myth of meritocracy, horribly mean-spirited remarks, much of it coming from the radical right, including pundits and politicians, excessive CEO and big business pay, the devaluing of work that truly benefits all of society-nursing, teaching social work, protecting the public, improving our infrastructure, creating art, taking care of the elderly and disabled, and so on. And let’s not forget the very valuable work that doesn’t pay-parenting, eldercare, volunteering, etc.

In Pulling Apart, Wise takes a hardcore look at our current state of joblessness, wage stagnation, underemployment and how they affect us in this stage of “post-recession recovering” America. He investigates today’s realities and the long-term effects of income and wealth inequality. Wise contemplates who and what caused these problems and how race, class and economics are involved.

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Book Reviews: 50 Things Liberals Love to Hate About America by Mike Gallagher

50-Things-197x300Okay, liberals, tell me the things you hate. Off the top of your heads you probably mentioned the biggies like racism, sexism, homophobia and all sorts of bigotry. You hate environmental degradation, corporate greed, and the growing chasm between the haves and the have nots. You’re also probably not fond of the Bush administration, Fox News, the religious right, and the Tea Party.

However, according to Mike Gallagher, liberals hate things like apple pie, John Wayne, small businesses, and the American workforce. And he gleefully ruminates upon these topics and other things that inspire a liberal’s hatred in 50 Things Liberals Love to Hate About America.

You’re probably wondering, “Who is Mike Gallagher?” According to the radio industry magazine “Talkers” Mike Gallagher is one of the top talk radio hosts in America. He proudly calls himself “a happy conservative warrior.” He is also a contributor to Fox News and has been published in the New York Post, National Review, and Townhall.com.

So what do liberals hate about America?

One thing liberals hate is the retail juggernaut Wal-Mart. Why? Because according to Mike “Wal-Mart works and liberalism doesn’t.” Why Mike is comparing a chain of big box stores to a political and social point of view is beyond me. There are quite a few reasons to not like Wal-Mart—its regressive employment practices and plundering of local businesses. But to this liberal, one reason to hate Wal-Mart is because the service is often surly and every single Wal-Mart I have patronized has been completely trashed!

Weirdly enough, liberals don’t just hate Wal-mart; they also hate small businesses and workers. Really? There are quite a few small businesses in my mostly liberal neighborhood, and they’re much appreciated. And I don’t think it was conservatives who were out supporting Wisconsin’s public workers fighting for their collective bargaining rights. But to Mike liberals hating small businesses and workers is more about him hating government regulation and unions, which he believes are things that completely destroy small businesses and harm workers.

What else do liberals hate? Well, we hate conservative women. Funnily, Mike doesn’t mention conservative women like Condoleezza Rice, Elizabeth Dole, columnist Kathleen Parker or the late Jean Kirkpatrick. A lot liberals of might not agree with these ladies, but Mike doesn’t mention them. Nope, instead he mentions conservative women like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Malkin, truly vindictive, hateful women who seem to be more about contributing to their wallets and being famous, than America. Heck, I know conservatives who don’t like these women.

Liberals also hate Christianity, which is odd to me because there are quite a few liberal Christians and Christian denominations. But to Mike the only Christians that matter are radical right Evangelical Christians and more mainstream Christians don’t seem to exist in his world.

Charity is another thing liberals hate. Mike came to this conclusion by observing a few tax returns of some notable individuals, as if that’s going to tell the whole story on why liberals hate charity. I hardly think a handful of tax returns are a good gauge on how liberals view charity. And most of us know charity goes beyond donating money to a good cause. Charity is also about donating time, skills, and much needed supplies. And charity is not the same as social justice, and we all know how some conservatives feel about social justice. But that’s a topic for another book.

When it comes to entertainment liberals hate George Bailey, John Wayne, and talk radio. Liberals hate George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life? George Bailey is a film character beloved by people—liberal and conservative. And why would liberals hate John Wayne? Liberals hate John Wayne because he wouldn’t compromise himself to play a character he didn’t agree with. Well, call me crazy because but to me great actors take on challenging characters they might not totally like (see Julianne Moore’s brilliant performance as Sarah Palin in Game Change), but I don’t hate John Wayne. However, Mike may be on point with talk radio, especially considering talk radio is rife with truly toxic types like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Dr. Laura, and Sean Hannity.

Amongst the other things liberals hate is success, steakhouses (I guess all liberals are vegetarians), patios and pools, V-8 engines, science, the suburbs, both the West and the South, bright lights, boys and girls, and algae. And yes, liberals hate apple pie. Why? Because apple pie represents America and the number one thing liberals hate about America is America itself!

50 Things Liberals Love to Hate About America is a book that is too ridiculous to get all enraged about. I have an inkling Mike might not completely agree with what he’s written but he has to appeal to a certain base, the mouth breathers who think Fox News is credible journalism, Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11, and Michelle Obama’s toned arms are a Socialist plot.

I tried to think of books that list the things conservatives hate about America. And though I’m sure there’s a few, but I couldn’t think of any. However, what would one such book cover? What do conservatives hate? Well, if I’m going to stereotype I’d say conservatives hate President Obama and the rest of the Obama family (including Bo and Sunny). They hate gay people, Democratic women (“Hillary has cankles!”), sensible gun laws, and non-Christians (especially those trifling Muslims). Conservatives hate vegetarianism, PBS, both coasts, “elitists”, libraries, and recycling. Typical conservatives hate film festivals, hip-hop, and art galleries. In fact, a conservative’s idea of art is a black velvet painting of that weeping Cheeto, Speaker of the House John Boehner.

What should we liberals do to counter Mike’s attacks? Well, enjoy a thick, juicy steak. Move to a red state. Watch Nascar. Wear a flag pin. Buy a gun. All of this would totally blow Mike’s mind!

Cleansing the Palate

I don’t think Mike Gallagher is a horrible person. I’m sure we’d get along if we ever met. Heck, I’d even eat at a steakhouse with him even though I’d prefer a plate of barbecue ribs. But he is part of the world of talk radio, a huge part of the divisive, mean-spirited rhetoric that has polarized our country, most coming from the right. Rory O’Connor writes about this phenomenon in his book Shock Jocks: America’s Ten Worst Hate Talkers and the Progressive Alternatives. Rory bravely uncovers the sleazy underbelly of right wing talk radio exposing the hatred, bigotry, and deep dysfunction of some of our most famous shock jocks while also profiling more progressive radio personalities that counter all the hate. Rory also interviews some hosts—liberal, conservative, and moderate. One host he interviews is Mike Gallagher who admits he knows some liberals. In fact, Mike’s late wife was a liberal. See, Mike, we’re not all bad.

Twenty odd years ago, journalist David Brock was a part of the extreme radical right. He wrote for conservative publications like American Spectator, The Weekly Standard and the Moonie-owned Washington Times. He deemed Clarence Thomas’ accuser, Anita Hill as “a little bit nutty, and a little bit slutty,” And later skewered her in the book The Real Anita Hill thus becoming the radical right’s golden boy. However, not was all golden for David. He found himself tamping down his more liberal social views to advance the conservative cause. He disowned proper journalistic ethics to promote his career. And he lived uncomfortably as gay man in a community that often denounced homosexuality. In his very candid memoir, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative Brock brilliantly captures how the radical right grabbed him and how he left the movement as he came to grip how the current state of conservatism poisoned our political climate. Blinded by the Right is not pretty, but it is an amazing and important read.

One thing that bugged me about Mike’s book is the stupid “group think” liberals supposedly follow. Liberals are a pretty sundry bunch. The book Proud To Be Liberal edited by Elizabeth Clementson and Robert Lasner is a great book featuring essays of many proud liberals including cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, columnist Eric Zorn, journalist and author Eric Alterman, history professor Blanche Wiesen Cook, and comedian, writer, and fellow cheesehead Will Durst. These essays are funny, diverse, and get to the heart of why so many people are proud to call themselves liberal in an age where liberal is a naughty word—and shouldn’t be. The essays are entertaining and enlightening, and make you wish these the Sunday morning political shows would feature these liberals more often and leave Ann Coulter and her slatternly black cocktail dresses in the dust.