Envy, anger and marketing: Can we really drain the swamp?

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rhodesia tshirt
I've outgrown my "Rhodesia" T-Shirt purchased in Bulawayo in 1979, but the message carries weight today.

This blog will step into sensitive political territory. The motivation for writing it is influenced in part by the politics of the wonderful nation just a 45 minute drive from my home, but caused primarily by some internal business communications by one of our company’s employees late last night.

In his email which he sent company-wide, the employee made remarks suggesting that I was lining my pockets based on selfish manipulation, and was leaving him and others to fight for the scraps. He implied that somehow (at reaching near-retirement age) I had accumulated enough resources to live in some comfort at his and other employees’ expense and I should feel bad for my apparent unfair success.

My reaction to this communication combines bemusement, anger, and frustration. Yet I see in it echoes of the mind-set of many other people and (in the US) the broader political spectrum.

In this environment, I’m tempted to purchase a new “Rhodesia” T-shirt and wear it proudly; perhaps causing confusion and consternation. (Racists and anti-racists might think I’m one of them or brutally on the other side, but the fact is I lived in Bulawayo for 16 months as a journalist in 1978-80 as Rhodesia turned to Zimbabwe, and discovered that the world isn’t quite as black-and-white as the stereotypes assert.)

I of course refuted the employee’s assertions. My salary “take out” has never been unreasonable. I have successfully segregated personal and business debt, and this is prudent. (This separation is far from any fraudulent activity such as the level of some folks in the US who pile their money into massive Florida estates and offshore accounts, knowing they are ‘protected’ if they end up in bankruptcy when their frauds are exposed.) I did have some good fortune, namely marrying an intelligent, financially astute woman with her own resources, who encouraged me to save and invest effectively.

That said, I am touched and troubled by what I see around me, in this employee’s attitudes, and (I think) reflected by many millions of people and perhaps expressed most hypocritically in the White House, where a wealthy individual has captured the support of millions of people with lines that appeal to the disenfranchised and where conventional journalistic practices are considered “fake news”.

Is there any validity and foundation behind the anger?

To find the answer, I need to go back more than three decades, to that Rhodesia/Zimbabwe experience, when I arrived as a conventional “leftist” journalist and left with an appreciation that the world is much more nuanced; discovering that good and evil transcend race, economic status and nationality. So, yes, there is abuse, there is pain, and there is unjust inequality in the world (and in the US) but often efforts to solve the problem (income redistribution, social programs, or the like) make things worse.

It is easy to say that people fail because of lack of personal responsibility and talent; but it is also easy to say that some people have an advantage over others, because of their up-bringing, education and inheritances. I am not going to say that free trade is good to some poor guy working in a blue-collar job in the rust belt and I cannot suggest that responsible border controls to restrict illegal economic immigration are inherently wrong. I’m confident that a mismanaged “public/private partnership” in health care encourages fraud, abuse and shockingly high costs. And if you think the conventional media has biases, I’ll agree — as I learned many decades ago in Africa.

Marketing plays into these stories — undoubtedly, reaching “target audiences” with appropriate messages spurs political action and decision-making. With new data-mining and customization (and in some cases purloined or illegally hacked information) stories can spread and “alternative truths” prevail.

Yet somehow the forces rallying on either side of the political spectrum fail to appreciate the truth may be in the less-dramatic middle, and ethical (conventional) journalism always is founded on the journalist seeking out and reporting the truth.

That is who I am, and these are my values.

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