Last week, I annoyed some of my lefty friends and allies by suggesting that Jamie Dimon destroys more women’s (and men’s) lives before breakfast every day than Bill Cosby has in a lifetime of raping women. No one disputed the fact of the matter-which is pretty much a no brainer if one thinks about it.
Rather, what seemed to irk them was to mention what we all knew to be true. Doing so, according to them, constituted minimizing Cosby’s crimes with some suggesting that it implied apologizing for them. At worst I was complicit in the “rape culture” which created the conditions under which Cosby preyed on his victims with impunity and which, at least in part, has allowed him to escape the lengthy prison term and nine figure civil judgement which he deserves.
Whatever the merits or defects of my perspective, it should be clear that there was absolutely no danger that it would have any influence. Condemnations of Cosby emanated from every source, with even the far right who cheered on Cosby’s “tough love” as a foundation for the new Jim Crow regime distancing themselves from him.
That was to be expected as well. Cosby is a popular culture icon-one of the most recognizable celebrities of the past century. And while that has meant for him, and for others of his ilk, that his most idiotic and banal utterances were sure to taken as oracular wisdom, it has now turned against him. What had been uncritical adulation has turned into universal contempt, supermarket tabloids, water cooler and barber shop conversations having become star chambers in which the most lurid charges are aired and the most medieval forms of punishment are sanctioned.
Celebrity was the ladder on which Cosby ascended to the heights and is also the chute on which he is being dispatched into the trash heap inhabited by Lance Armstrong, O.J. Simpson and Phil Spector.
Good riddance, needless to say, though he deserves much worse.
Jamie Dimon, on the other hand, is no celebrity, a familiar face only to a few terrified head waiters, finance industry insiders or capital hill staffers whom he harangues and steamrolls. This despite the fact that his influence on the lives of most of us is far greater than that of Cosby. In particular, Dimon was one of the leading figures in the marketing of fraudulent loans resulting in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of foreclosures plunging many into now record level homelessness, and in the bank bailouts which allowed him and his cadre to intensify their death grip on the domestic economy financed by our tax dollars.
Like Cosby, Dimon remains unincarcerated-a disgrace. Still more disgracefully, unlike Cosby, Dimon’s power and influence are undiminished, indeed they are greater than ever.
This was on display during last week’s passage of the house omnibus budget bill in which, according to reports, Dimon was actively involved at every step, successfully lobbying to strip a provision of the Dodd Frank bill which put bank shareholders on the hook for losses resulting from their bets on derivatives going bad. Yet another massive theft of taxpayer dollars was engineered, with Jamie Dimon having taken a lead role through his access to Washington, all the way up to the President, who once referred to Dimon as his “favorite banker”.
This would be equivalent to Cosby negotiating a pardon and exemption from civil prosecution for his crimes. But despite his having engaged top level crisis management firms to restore his reputation, not only is it unthinkable that Cosby could succeed, no politician, no matter how craven, will be seen within miles of him.
That’s as it should be. The victims of Cosby’s crimes have spoken, we listened with the result that Cosby is now a third rail.
But what about Dimon’s victims?
Why do we refuse to hear their voices? Why is Dimon not equally radioactive, if not more so, given not just the individual ruined lives but entire devastated communities from coast to coast he is directly responsible for?
The answer was provided by Woody Guthrie in a line from his homage to the legendary bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd where he noted that: “Some (men) will rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen.”
Guthrie understood that we naturally have more sympathy when we can personalize the victims-when we know their names, can see their faces and hear their voices.
But we need to fight against doing so.
For he also recognized that what he would have called the “hyena press” of his day cynically exploits this seemingly hard wired reaction on our parts. They can be counted on to do the bosses work by focussing on the “up close and personal” stories of victims–the terrified bank tellers, police officers wounded in shoot outs, the sneering face of the robbers as they make off with their loot.
What is invariably left out of the story is the vast suffering inflicted by the bankers and the banks: the families forced out of their homes, those living in their cars for a year, those forced to move in with relatives, others forgoing medical care or prescription drugs to make rent, students saddled with a life time of loans payable to Jamie Dimon. All these are invisible to a mass media “owned” by the banks, just as much as the U.S. Senate is, according to Senator Durbin.
Guthrie’s moral, coming at a peak of left power and influence was that we need to learn to see beyond the visible casualties luridly featured in the supermarket tabloids, towards the invisible victims of the system, and the equally invisible perps which operate it.
When we do so, we will see Jamie Dimon as just another thug, albeit one with an eleven figure bank account. When this happens, Dimon, like Cosby, will be relegated to back entrances, his shadowy meetings with politicians required to take place in undisclosed locations away from the eyes of the public.
By allowing celebrity culture to dictate the targets of our attention, whether for our admiration for our contempt, we play a game which is set up for the people to lose, and for plutocrats like Dimon to continue their reign of economic terror-by fountain pen, exactly as Guthrie understood.
We can only win the game by refusing to play it.
The flood of denunciations of Cosby’s retail predations, compared to the tiny number even alluding to Jamie Dimon’s wholesale massacres show that we have yet to learn the lesson which Woody Guthrie was trying to teach us.
It’s high time we learned.
John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes.