If you guaranteed most folks an income next year of one million bucks, but it came with a 70% tax rate, what percentage would sign on the bottom line? Do you suppose there would be a huge groundswell of tea baggers with five-figure incomes turning up their noses, on principle, over such a top marginal tax rate (which still prevailed under Reagan)? I, for one, would sign up in a heartbeat then register Republican and rejoin the NRA, lest anyone try to get their mitts on my remaining $300,000.
The income gap between the top tier and everyone else continues its seismic expansion. Nonetheless, only one-third of Americans, when surveyed, see themselves as ‘have-nots.’ On the contrary, recent census data finds that “a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.”
Liberals shake their heads over how wage slaves continue to vote against their own economic interests in favor of Fat Cat bennies like terminating the estate, er, death tax. Like Huey Long’s fictional alter-ego, Willie Stark, kept saying to his minions: “You’re a hick. Nobody ever helped a hick but a hick himself.” Average mokes being played for suckers resonated back in the Great Depression. Not in today’s Great Recession.
A captive (audience like the American Public) can become in thrall to their captor’s cause. So suggests the Stockholm Syndrome. It was invoked to defend media heiress Patty Hearst for her gun-toting, bank-robbing spree with the Symbionese Liberation Army after they had kidnapped her. The prosecution case portrayed a poor little rich girl acting out, posing all radical chic in her Ché beret and M-1 carbine. It is probably a symbiosis of both, as it is for the American consumer – conditioned to be who we wannabe.
Back when Patty and her SLA pals were liberating God knows who, I was a young man on the make, angling to become a millionaire before I turned 30. I started up a couple of promising ventures, raised a bunch of bucks, but, alas, came up short. Subsequently, I took to quipping that, “I have a negative net worth, but a wealth of self-esteem.” Though, truthfully, that may well have been a pre-existing attitude.
In college, I became intrigued with dynamic ‘visualizing’ through Maslow’s ‘self-actualization,’ particularly its commercial applications. I wrote a paper on Holiday Magic and other nominal purveyors of cosmetics which were really in the business of selling ‘distributorships’ via pyramid schemes. It was classic bait-and-switch, mesmerizing marks in revivalist-style marketing confabs featuring ‘Mind Dynamics.’
Then I went on a pilgrimage to the rococo Palace Cathedral in Northern Manhattan’s Washington Heights to catch the Prosperity Gospel of the Rev. Ike. While Reverend Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter’s mother was AfroAmerican, his paternal fore-bearers, like mine, came by way of the Dutch East Indies. Rev. Ike’s was a “do-it-yourself church” with a biracial congregation whose “only savior…is the God in you.” And he wasn’t talking about “that stingy, hard-hearted, hard-of-hearing God-in the-Sky… you learned about in Sunday School.”
A self-professed heretic, Rev. Ike stood four-square at odds with St Paul: “the best thing you can do for the poor is not be one of them.” As one of the pioneering televangelists, the Rev. Ike reached an estimated congregation of 2.5 million. Critics brayed that he played his flock for suckers, a condescending, sanctimonious judgment that sold his flock short. Rev. Ike was almost always square with them. “Be proud of the way I look because you spend $1,000 a week to buy my clothes,” and “my garage runneth over.”
In one sermon he nailed the pious Focus on Family types who shill for special interests in the name of the Lord:
Oh the Games People Play now
Every night and every day now….
People walking up to you, now
Singing glory Halleluiah, now
As they try to sock it to you, now
In the name of the Lord.
Like Lady Gaga, Rev. Ike channeled the yearnings of followers who live vicariously through their icons. Devotees could Be Like Ike by Thinking Like Ike. Rev. Ike’s Thinkonomics teaches the Mastery of Mind and how that mastered mind can be a magnet for money: “If your mind can conceive it, then you can achieve it!” This mantra was lifted virtually verbatim from Napoleon Hill’s 1937 classic, ‘Think and Grow Rich’ which, in turn, draws on the ‘autosuggestion’ of Émile Coué’s “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” It all goes back, as Rev. Ike reminded his flock, to Proverbs 23:7.
My parents, in their diametric ways, bore out Milton’s observation in Paradise Lost that, “the mind is its own place and in itself in his life, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Rebounding from a career-ending stroke at 52, my father, Ernest, retained his comprehension even as his speech remained truncated. His pat phrases emerged mostly upbeat, like “Up & up!” “Always laughing!” and remained so “Till the end!”
As an advisor to captains of industry, Ernest liked to share a Sufi-style anecdote on Dale-Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Noting that his clientele, not unlike Rev. Ike, had done quite nicely by themselves, if not by others, he would refer you to Baudelaire: “Brigands are convinced – of what? That they must succeed. And so they do succeed.”