U.S. And The Common Man: RIP
By Michael J. Brenner
Information Clearing House
September 16, 2020
America’s Common Man exists no more – gone and forgotten.
Once he was lauded as the salt of the earth.
He was the U.S.’s embodiment of what made us Americans special,
attested to what made the great democratic experiment successful
and the most potent symbol of what made of the United States the
magnetic pole for the world’s masses.
A Stunning Disappearance Act
While politicians paid their rhetorical respects, Aaron Copeland
composed a “Fanfare to the Common Man” suite.
It was an honorable term, an affective shorthand for the Working
Man, the Artisan and the Shopkeeper, the Clerk.
To add insult to the injury, they are politically marginalized by
a party system that serves up a restricted menu of options which
effectively disenfranchises 25% or so of voters.
The Common Man has lost the attention of the country’s elites.
Today, to call a person common is an insult, just as we have
degraded the term working class.
The connotations are heavily pejorative – they are deemed failures
They may have had the American Dream within reach,
but lacked the will and the spirit to grab it.
It’s their own fault, following a process of natural selection.
This Victorian ethic grounded in Social Darwinism has now been
restored as part of the national creed.
Fitted out in the post-modern fancy dress of market fundamentalist
economics, this beggar-thy-neighbor ideology dominates our public
All this is no accident.
Powerful interests have orchestrated a relentless campaign for
more than forty years to reconfigure American life in accord with
their reactionary aims and principles.
The distressing truth of our times is that the Common Man has
been abandoned by those elites – in politics, in government,
in journalism, in professional associations, in academia.
Those elites care little, are preoccupied with their own careers
and pastimes, possess only a feeble sense of social obligation,
and are smugly complacent.
Money is the common denominator in all of this.
Simple, avarice and moral courage are not compatible human
The plutocratic structures that control our public affairs offer
no relief to the vanishing common man.
Pervasive Status Anxiety
This is due to a crude political-economic calculus.
At the heart of American carelessness is pervasive status anxiety.
In a supposedly “grand” nation that is equipped only with a scant
safety net, all layers of society struggle with status deprivation or
It always has been a hallmark of the United States that inherited
class position has never been wholly secure and easily uprooted
by the winds of a constant social shuffling.
That is a key reason why Americans have always been so consumed
by an endless, open ended status competition.
That generates anxiety since there is never enough positive status
to go around.
Moreover, status is a finite commodity, as most are destined to find
out to their surprise and frustration. The constant deepening of our
narcissistic culture has not helped. It has only uprooted us even
We are now a society where growing numbers recognize no external
communal standard to measure and appraise their conduct – or
With all that heartlessness, America’s collective superego
The new categorical imperative is to think of oneself alone
whenever and wherever possible.
To give priority to any other claim is taken as unnatural.
The Godfather’s self-serving plaint that “I did it for my family” is
widely adopted as the elite’s all-purpose excuse American credo.
The idea to “let humanity be the ultimate measure of all that we
do,” once viewed as enlightened social humanism during the second
half of the twentieth century, is viewed as some self-destructive
form of European socialism.
The days when an idea like this balanced and oriented us Americans
is long gone.
This leads to temptations that further erode the U.S. social and
Why not trade in my senior government post, the rationale goes,
for a lavish corporate life style?
In a country where notions of the collective good and of the public
trust are now almost considered subversive, total emphasis on the
individual enterprise is totally ok.
Isn’t that what makes our country great?
Academia is similarly infested.
Egregious examples abound: Why not be accomplice to torture
when doing so opens a spot at the Pentagon trough for the
American Psychological Association?
Why should a law school Dean or senior faculty stick his neck out
when the Koch Bros are offering lush funding to establish Law &
Economics programs that just happen to promote market
Toward Social Degeneration
To their own mind, these are also the persons who will stand up
front before history – never mind that they knew better, should
have known better, were expected to know better.
If I have good reason to sublimate all this, such a person
rationalizes, why do I have a duty to the Common Man –
the ordinary citizen?
My status, my rank, do not depend on it.
My financial well-being does not dictate it.
Amidst all these ever crasser displays of raw self-interest, we know
one thing for certain: When the “common man” dies, the America
that the world marveled at for 250 years dies with him.
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