Two Nations: Skid Rows vs. Mar-a-Lago

We are becoming an Inverted Republic (if still a republic), wealth concentrating upward in unprecedented proportion to the remainder of society, the downward plunge in social stratification following suit. A tale of two nations: One is comprised of hundreds of thousands of homeless; several more million individuals, ranging from those barely able to avoid homelessness, struggling below or at the poverty line, to the condition of the working poor, facing imperfect employment; until one comes to the much vaunted middle class, much of which, in truth, is just making do.

Set against this, we find the Great Contrast, a very small number of the American Elite, at 1/10 to one percent of the population, joined to a surprising extent—as witness Trump’s ability to fill out Cabinet positions—of cohesion as a bona fide ruling group. The inversion occurs because all resources (capital accumulation, every conceivable avenue for profit maximization) are siphoned upward, leaving a political economy grounded in luxury for some, privation for many, and now a government determined to perpetuate and widen the cleavage. As is often remarked, Trump’s chief supporters (aside from the very rich) are in short order going to feel the pain of his ideas, policies, actions—demonstrably aimed at creating a class-state through the sacrifice of working-people’s necessities and interests.

I begin with Michael Paarlberg’s article in The Guardian (Mar. 17), “Trump’s Budget: the dream of a paranoid strongman and a vicious Scrooge.” One sentence illuminates the whole picture: “Taken as a whole, Trump’s [budget] proposal points to an increasingly paranoid strongman who sees budgets as tools to reward friends and punish enemies, the military as a personal ornament, and poor Americans as piggy banks for his boondoggles and vanity projects.” The writer adds, “This doesn’t even cover the wall, which would cost enough to pay for the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] for the next 146 years.” Apropos the latter, eliminating the NEA pays for one F-35. Also, Paarlberg’s first sentence needs correction, in that, for Trump, the military is more than “a personal ornament.” We thus far play down or refuse to come to grips with the vast defense (?) program Trump authorizes, not as an ornament but an aggressive instrument of war, intervention, geopolitical influence, forcible marketing arrangements etc. America First and Fortress America become synonymous, integrated through military power.

I am indebted to The Guardian for its coverage of the US, a non-radical source with open eyes, not afraid to speak the truth. Thus, we note Alastair Gee’s article, “Entire homelessness agency could be eliminated by Trump’s budget cuts” (Mar. 16), in which he points out “the elimination of the U.S. Interagency Council (Usich).” Paranoia, social depravity, sadism, cruelty, all of these come into play and are revealed when one sees how far the fanaticism of the Assault on the Poor has already proceeded. Billions are being cut from the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “which helps provide low-income housing.” The total cut to HUD would be $6.2B from last year, or 13 per cent. Meanwhile, by the most authoritative account thus far undertaken (and it is doubtful others will follow), one night in 2016, when the study was made, 550,000 people experienced homelessness.

But let’s look closer. The study, supported by the Gates Foundation, found 549,928 homeless, duly reported to Congress. Investigators, however, are in agreement that this grossly underestimates the homeless, easy to overlook, difficult to count. The strategy of not being arrested, or simply, fear of being discovered or feeling a loss of self-esteem, has created a near-invisible underclass in the shadows of civilization. Of those highly visible, and we see blocks of the homeless on sidewalks, in church aisles, in forests and open fields (in Oregon, volunteers, in 10 inches of snow, went out to make a count) , in which the homeless, many of whom must be classified as unsheltered, are in sleeping bags with cardboard boxes over their heads, leantos, abandoned cars, alleys, hardly the location of what I shall be describing momentarily. Lest we forget Usiche, which coordinates the homeless situation over several agencies, its budget, to be eliminated, was a meager $3.5M, which shows the fanaticism in cuts of which I speak, a budget so miniscule, when we are reckoning expenditures of hundreds of billions of dollars—largely for military hardware and war-making capability—by the government.

Much can be added to the above account. Like Usich, Meals on Wheels is also tagged for elimination. Only profound cynicism and a glorious vision of world supremacy could ferret out this miniscule item as well. And then, as reported in The Guardian (Mar. 18), Trump is making cuts in after-school programs: “According to After-school Alliance, 11.3 million children take care of themselves after school.” These programs provide skills, safety, recreation—until the kids are picked up by working parents. In contrast, it’s time now to observe the Other Nation, the Mar-a-Lago Club.

What follows is not my dystopian brush portraying satire and ridicule, but material taken from the Club’s official website. We are greeted: “Welcome to the Mar-a-Lago Club, one of the most highly regarded private clubs in the world. Located within 20 acres of perfectly landscaped gardens with ocean views, Mar-a-Lago is truly the crown jewel of Palm Beach and an acknowledged landmark in the National Register of Historic Places.” (This is where Trump hangs out on weekends.) The description continues: “Members enjoy all of the finest amenities that the club has to offer, from our incredible beach and pool facility, to the spa and fine dining as well as world class entertainment.” (One of the Trump hallmarks, in addition to a Billionaire Cabinet, is the flaunting of wealth, not so much in rhetoric as in conspicuous possessions and consumption. The contrast with the living conditions of the poor and homeless could not be greater—or as I believe, more intentional.)

Mar-a-Lago has been under Trump family ownership since 1985, and the Club itself since ’95. In which “he kept private quarters and all of the elegance that surrounds the property.” The Trump International Golf Club is “a five minute drive away….” (The word “elegance”—get that, you homeless!—occurs several times on the web site, a self-description of superiority, pointedly setting off the differences in power, wealth, station.) Under the heading of “Membership Opportunities,” we find this: “Membership at the club provides the highest privileges and an elite lifestyle reserved for a select few.” (Open admission and praise of a heightened plutocracy would be hard to match, yet waves of adulation bathe over Trump.)

Among the amenities is included “exclusive suites, a state-of-the-art-fitness center, award winning tennis courts, beautiful croquet lawns and an entertainment series which hosts internationally world-renowned talent.” I am warmed by this rest-and-recreation setting for tireless billionaires helping to make America Great Again. As for croquet, which caught my eye, we learn: “Boasting one of the most beautiful lawns in the country, the Mar-a-Lago Club venue will not only challenge both mind and body, but will also add a sense of serenity [along with elegance, serenity is another marker with class connotations] so seldom found in competitive sports.” America’s number one ranked player, John C. Osborn, is its head professional.

Had enough of how the upper one-tenth of one percent lives, a moral chasm indicting America—not only under Trump, but working in this direction for decades—as inviting the formation of fascism? But first we must visit the Boutique (on premises): “The Trump Boutique is nestled in an enclave of serenity [that word again, an escape from the strains of capital accumulation] amidst sheltering palm trees and the spa, salon, and fitness facilities. All products at the Boutique are hand selected with care—plush Frette bathrobes, tee shirts encrusted with Swarovski crystals, aromatic candles, the Trump Signature line of skin care & body products and much more.” He is there, holding court, as I write. Frette bathrobes, Swarovski crystals, how does one not see the depravity of massive wealth, the takeover of America by, in light of the social misery they create, economic criminals of the first water?

Finally, one gasps in viewing the Photo Gallery, Mar-a-Lago a monument to bad taste—the plushness, gilt, decorated panels, flowers, in the lobby. What I take to be the ballroom has chandeliers too numerous to count, the room bathed in wall panels and ceiling in golden splendor. The dining room is worthy of Fountainbleu. And the spacious bedrooms have balconies overlooking the Atlantic. Alas, we bid fond farewell to a capitalist paradise. The homeless, should they care to drive by, will find the address, 1100 South Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach, Fla., 33480. Or if they are so inclined, they can first telephone, 521.832.2600, and expect a warm, cordial welcome. I have not the words adequately to express my condemnation of the contrast, and only record that such a society of the homeless and super-rich is presumptive evidence of American fascism, not at some future date but here and now.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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