One of the many pathologies of political culture in a country with only two relevant political parties is there’s no such thing as novelty. When the Occupy Wall Street protesters described themselves as agitators against the misdeeds of the 1 percent of American households that own 35 percent of the country’s wealth, conservative blogger Erick Erickson didn’t just wrack his brain for a way to attack OWS — the logic of American political debate demanded that he do so with their own language. And, voila, now anyone who objects to OWS’s self-appointment as the guardians of “99% of Americans” can now identify themselves with an even more exclusive club: “the 53% of Americans who pay income taxes.” You, too, can join The 53% by posting a webcam image of yourself and your manifesto at the53.tumblr.com.
One thing that The 53% have in common is a palpable, visceral disgust for the Occupy protests. They don’t just disapprove of Occupy Wall Street; they cannot stand them. An open-minded 53 percenter thinks, in so many words, that the protesters ought get out of the streets and start looking for a job; a more typical 53 percenter believes that the protesters are ungrateful, spoiled brats who leech off the rest of society and spend their deodorant money on drugs.
Another thing The 53% have in common is a very peculiar notion of what “taking money from the government” actually means. Some of them claim to be “scraping by on minimum wage,” which is odd because that would put them back among The Hated 47% that don’t owe any income taxes. Some of them have been on welfare in its purest sense: Food stamps to keep dinner on the table or supplemental Social Security assistance when they were unable to work because of illness or injury. Many more describe themselves as alumni of public universities. Many of them have been in labor unions. And almost all of them, I’m sure, have taken money from “the government.” The only catch is that they took their handouts from those programs that The 53% happens to think are OK: Tax deductions for interest paid against your mortgage and tax credits for supporting children.
But the most striking thing that The 53% share is hardship. Some have lost their jobs and claim to have been evicted from their houses. One is a single mother whose child has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome but can’t afford the needed therapy. One young woman’s father is working 12-hour days doing manual labor despite battling cancer. The list — and the suffering — goes on and on, even if the saddest stories are sometimes hard to pick out in between all the misplaced, self-righteous piety.
Speaking of which, yes, even if you’re a police officer or a firefighter or a soldier, you’re still a “public employee.”
It’s odd these people identify with The 53% because so many of their lives are made measurably and objectively worse by the SAE pairing of corporate money and influence with government authority that OWS is protesting. If a loved one is battling cancer, it should bother you that insurers have so many ways they could cancel a policy for the crime of being sick. If you’re struggling to make payments on your home, it should bother you that lenders regularly commit fraud by threatening people with foreclosure even when they don’t have the legal authority to do so. It should bother you that the largest banks in America are free to walk away from bad debts as good business sense, but the idea that ordinary, everyday people might do the same with their mortgages and student loans is taken to be a sign of ignorance and moral sickness.
The 53% and the OWS protesters likely have quite a bit in common. The protestors are angry at the pattern mutual glad-handing between the wealthiest business interests in America and the federal government that resulted in the worst economy since the Great Depression. The 53% are living proof of just how bad the economy actually is, but The 53% don’t just disagree with the protesters’ criticism. They’re also angry — viscerally angry — that anyone would dare to protest at all.
I don’t understand that impulse. Thinking about it makes me angry, actually. Thankfully, some intrepid soul started a rival site, at actuallyyourethe47percent.tumblr.com. Not much about The 53% makes a whole lot of sense, but at least they can provide a good, unintentional laugh.
Neill Mohammad can be reached at email@example.com.