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Do we need a new country?

Have you seen the elaborate, stylish, opulent television commercial for Cartier? The original commercial seemed to go on forever, a full three minutes. They have shortened it now, but it still drips with ostentatiousness. It is conspicuously pretentious in spite of the beautiful music and the sleek panther and the stunning scenery and the elegant model dressed in a striking red gown.

The commercial takes the viewer through an amazing montage of dreamy landscapes and famous cities and spectacular stunts while moving past a giant expensive watch and finally to a glittering diamond bracelet modeled by the woman in red.

Each time I see it I keep wondering who the target audience is. It seems to be such an over the top expression of unbridled greed and materialism gone ape.

In a time when much of the world is starving and millions are still out of work here at home it seems bizarre that Cartier would spend what has to be millions on a television commercial celebrating 165 years in the jewelry business.

Who even wears jewelry like this? People with a lot of expendable income. Presumably the 1% in our country that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators bravely brought to our attention.

Journalist Nomi Prins has written extensively on what she calls the “corporate mugging” of America. In a fine article in she recently interviewed historian and social critic Morris Berman, whose new book, “Why America Failed,” says that the American Dream is basically about “hustling,” and by that he doesn’t mean hard work, but instead, by ripping people off.

Ms. Prins writes,

“Financial bigwigs lead their affluent lives, unaffected, unremorseful, and unindicted for wreaking havoc on the nation. Why? Because they won. They hustled better. They are living the American Dream. This is not the American Dream that says if you work hard you can be more comfortable than your parents; but rather, if you connive well, game the rules, and rule the game, your take from others is unlimited. In this paradigm, human empathy, caring, compassion, and connection have been devalued from the get-go. This is the flaw in the entire premise of the American Dream: if we can have it all, it must by definition be at someone else’s expense.”

It continues to puzzle me why so many conservative politicians and an increasingly large crowd of the Christian community angrily complain of the government providing services for people in need, people out of work, unskilled single mothers trying to support their children, school lunches for children in low income families, and other resources, while these same Christians and conservatives have no problem with giant corporations and Wall Street banks cheating, scheming, buying politicians who will then change the rules in their favor alone.

Why is there no moral outrage about any of that?

I’ve been forcing myself to watch the obscene fund raising shenanigans of the two largest Christian broadcasting networks—TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) and the Daystar television network.

They are both in the midst of huge funding campaigns asking viewers for “seed” money donations starting at $1,000 a person. You hear nothing about feeding the hungry, helping people in addictions, or lifting the poor out of poverty. There isn’t even anything remotely said about Christian discipleship, morality, ethics, kindness, openness to the hurting and the left out, compassion and love. It’s all about living in prosperity, reaping a harvest of cash, being able to have plenty of money to do whatever you want.

There is something appalling and debased about all of this. If our political institutions, Congress and so forth, and our religious institutions, the Christian Church, are all about greed and selfishness and feeding our shallowest human cravings, then what hope have we of being a great and honorable nation capable of worthy influence in the world? What hope have we of being caring human beings?

How is Congress or TBN or Daystar any different from Cartier? What convinces any or all of them that Americans need or want what they have to offer? Because we continue to accept their messages as legitimate.

In her interview with historian Morris Berman Nomi Prins asked him if there is a way to reverse the current ruination of America. His answer was startling: “At this point, absolutely nothing can reverse the situation. If every American carries these values, then change would require a different people, a different country.”

Consider that for a while and see if you don’t along with me completely agree.

© 2012 Timothy Moody

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