The “how will I talk about [X] with my family on Thanksgiving?” column is a central plank of the take economy, even though they rarely go viral, and they often come off as performative wokeness. It seems like we’re searching for answers, even if the traffic numbers don’t reflect that. Americans are stuck in our own tribes—as an entire segment of the Republican Party has quite literally vacated reality, while some Democrats are now rallying around sexual predators after campaigning against one last year—and it seems as if nothing can unite us across a shared cause (despite the fact that about 4 out of 5 of us want our representatives to work together to get money out of politics—but that’s just crazy talk, back to reality now).
Well, I have an idea for a Thanksgiving anti-take. You’re never going to convince Drunk Uncle that Chelsea Manning is a hero, or that Hillary Clinton is supremely qualified for the presidency, but you know what you can bond with him over? Your mutual disdain for the actions of the United States government. Hatred is a powerful unifying force.
The phrase “protection racket” is embodied by Fat Tony on The Simpsons (ie: “nice business you have here, would be a shame if something happened to it”). Keeping with the cartoon bad guy theme, it’s also the central premise of all Trump’s negotiation strategies (it’s likely why the ACA individual mandate repeal was awkwardly forced into the tax plan—so Trump can act like he’s making a concession later, all while asking for more in return). All you do is find a vulnerability, threaten to exploit it, then extract what you can while allowing the status quo to remain the status quo.
We’ve seen two instances of it this month. First, we had to beg our representatives not to make sweeping changes to the most expensive and inefficient health care system in the world, and now we’re pleading with the FCC to reverse their decision to repeal net neutrality, and leave the internet as is—dominated by perfectly legal spyware that would make the NSA cum. Spyware that’s delivered by de facto ISP monopolies, and packaged in “friendly” services like Google and Facebook—who make sure that capitalism efficiently sorts the information you want to see. The status quo sucks, but it’s better than the plan that Trump’s cronies have in store for us. We’re forced to expend all our energy fighting for what we have instead of fighting for what we deserve.
Protection rackets don’t create value, they extract it. If you look at how all 330 million of us divide the American pie, it’s impossible to argue that we are sorting resources efficiently—proving that this either isn’t capitalism or that we don’t believe in capitalism. Even though the American Revolution has its spirit rooted in the bourgeoisie-filled guillotines of France, America has always been like this, it just hasn’t been as broadly apparent as it is now. We were founded on an inherent contradiction: that “all men were created equal,” except for some who were only worth 3/5 of a man. We “built” the greatest economy the world has ever seen on the backs of African slaves, and on top of the graves of Native Americans. American exceptionalism is a genocide. Until we reckon with this reality, we will sustain our present unreality.
So if your grandma who is hooked up to 100 ccs of MSNBC all day wants to just “let the south secede,” so they can employ all their racist and hyper-business friendly ideas without having to interfere with us good-natured liberals, let her know that she’s sentencing 55% of African Americans to live underneath her despised racist aristocrats. Not to mention the fact that New York City has the most segregated school system in the country, and the North even passed a law mandating the return of escaped slaves to the South. Chicago housing policies have literally boxed in generations of African Americans to areas where they have subsequently invested very little. The Los Angeles Police Department is perhaps the most notoriously racist police department in the country. Quotes like “super predators with no conscience—no empathy” from popular liberal politicians have helped to perpetuate this racist American status quo across whatever imaginary borders we want to draw. You’re not exempt from racism just because your state votes for Democrats.
This madness isn’t entirely the fault of our billionaire oligarchs, or our racist history that’s impossible to detangle from our cultural squabbles. Our increased apathy creates a vacuum for a protection racket to thrive. Additionally, whether it’s the chorus of people wondering why this army of sexual assault victims has not spoken up earlier, or those arguing for less regulation solely on the basis that big business is good and virtuous like the FCC is asserting, much of this madness happens because our built-in (and coached) attitudes allow it to happen. I want to bring up these inescapable figures that I highlighted in my column wondering if I am still a capitalist.
2008 voting rate (our best turnout since 1968): 58.2%
2016 top tax rate: 39.6%
1960 voting rate: 62.8%
1964 voting rate: 61.4%
1968 voting rate: 60.7%
1964 top tax rate: 77%
Sorry to belabor the Thanksgiving trope, but you know, take economy and all—but we need to embrace our divisions and our failures today, because they all contribute to the present collapse of the American experiment. We all agree that the government we control is responsible for much of our malaise—even though some of us travel through several different dimensions to get there. Plus, some research suggests that collective anger is a more powerful unifying force than a drive to collective action. Any Thanksgiving take which tells you to avoid politics is right on the surface—because debating politics with family is exhausting—but it’s wrong on the merits. Our future is dependent on our present contributions, and if we don’t talk about it with those who we trust now, when are we going to talk about what our future looks like? We’ve proven that Americans cannot be depended to consistently show up at the ballot box.
Takes which tell you how to deal with your intransigent relatives are especially worthless. You know your relatives better than some schmuck on the internet—deal with them how you may. My lone message to anyone searching for help this Thanksgiving is: don’t compromise your principles, unless you are reasonably persuaded to do so. There’s no shame in realizing that you were wrong, and changing your mind on something. If done responsibly, it’s a good thing. That’s evolution (well, maybe don’t phrase it that way…).
This is still one of the greatest countries in the world, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think it’s the best (happy turkey day, Canada). Fighting for the status quo is a war of attrition that will take generations to win—if that is even a winnable battle at all. If we’re really going to flip the script on our American oligarchs, uniting our collective anger is our best shot. This country is designed like a protection racket, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The tools of change are at our disposal, and we broadly agree on our chief villains (America’s oligarchs). If we can unify our anger to fight back against the Fat Tony’s in this country, our future can look more like Moe’s outcome in this famed Simpsons episode, while battling to maintain the status quo leaves us looking like Krusty, and our never-ending squabbling will undoubtedly sentence us to a fate similar to that of Ned Flanders.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.