The AIG bonuses are a magnitude ten on the political Richter scale. And that has some folks worried. Some public officials, newspapers and Sunday talk shows are telling Americans it’s time to move on – that the uproar over the bonuses is a “distraction” that might interfere with the economic recovery itself.
They’re right, but for the wrong reason. They’re worried about Wall Street’s reaction to tight controls on how banks, hedge funds and insurance firms spend the bailout money. Better not offend Wall Street or they might stop lending our money to us.
What the commentariat really should be worried about is Main Street.
Every once in awhile, a moment arrives in our country where all those Founding Principles about Democracy rise beyond platitudes. This is one of those moments. Our government operates by the consent of those it governs. At any given time, there will always be people complaining – with some degree of truth – that the government is operating outside its authority. Some people who’ve lost faith just don’t vote. But most people maintain sufficient confidence in the system that they obey the laws, pay their taxes, etc.
The confidence of the average American has been badly shaken lately. The destruction of our economy by those who called the shots on Wall Street and in Washington has delivered pain and hardship to Americans, who, on top of that, are being told that trillions of their taxpayer dollars have to be given to the greed-driven money-worshippers who did this to us. That the Treasury, the Congress and the White House did nothing to stop AIG from handing our taxpayer money over to those who don’t deserve it (or even need it) is a profound betrayal of the People of the United States. True, the bonuses are symbolic. But so’s the American flag.
The gravest threat to our country today is not an economic depression. It’s the possibility that Americans will lose their trust in the institutions of our Democracy.