It's no wonder that America is in the mess its in when you consider that lapdog-to-power publication like The Atlantic is what passes for a "liberal media," these days. I realize that is not exactly breaking news to anyone in the reality based community, but the horrid rag, or at least its Atlantic Wire online news feed, demonstrated yet again where it really stands in an article about the Morgan Stanley banker who allegedly stabbed a cab driver in a dispute over a fare. In "Why We Love to Hate Masters of the Universe,"
In the annals of crime, there is a place reserved for the banker—a special sort of banker, mind you, not just the guy who offers you free checking with your savings account, presuming you keep a certain balance, at Chase. You probably never see this esteemed creature, unless he deigns to be seen, or unless you frequent his gilded circles (in fact, he may look a lot like everyone else, but don't let that terrify you; he smells your fear). He is the one who lives in a million-dollar abode on Park Avenue, or in "the wealthy enclave of Darien." He may be the owner of a "sweeping curved staircase, perfectly plumped chintz pillows, backyard swimming pool, and a Ferrari in the garage." He has so much when some have so little, so much in material goods but also in the currency of power, that when he crosses the rules by which we expect him to conduct himself—after all, he is civilized, or must be, with so much in liquid assets—we recoil back in horror only briefly before we jump in to censure, releasing a sigh that demonstrates our resignation that of course this person could not have had all that and been a decent human being, too. Of course. And there is some joy in that resignation, because we are struggling, because of the economy, because of the haves and have-nots, because of the 99 percent, just because.First of all, I love how Jen Doll (speaking of unfortunately named) condescendingly presumes to know what all of her readers were feeling when they heard about Banker William Bryan Jennings's run in with the cab driver. Apparently, she and her editors at The Atlantic who green lighted this tripe assume that we are all a bunch of easily enraged troglodytes, ready to form a lynch mob and string poor, put upon Banker Jennings up from the nearest tree. The really neat trick here is the attempt to make you feel guilty about not feeling liberal guilt about hating him.
Take the case of William Bryan Jennings, a man who could not have been more unfortunately named and now faces an unfortunate reality. Not that there's anything unfortunate about being the head of fixed income for North America at Morgan Stanley, or owning a $2.7 million mansion in Darien, Conn., or being able to send your children to a prestigious private school or afford a $204 cab ride home from Manhattan when you've had too much to drink at your holiday party and can't locate the town car that's been ordered for you. What is unfortunate is fighting with your cab driver over the fare once you're home, refusing to pay that cab fare, shouting racial slurs, and then, in failing to get your way, stabbing that cab driver, who, in perfectly cinematic contrast, lives in a ground-floor apartment in Astoria near the railroad tracks "in the shadow of the Triborough Bridge."
These are things that Jennings has allegedly done. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 9; he has denied using racial slurs and claims, according to his lawyer, who says Jennings thought he was being abducted. If convicted he could face 11 years in prison. As a direct consequence of his actions that night in December, he's been placed on leave, and according to rumors he may never get his job back. The next court date, a pre-trial hearing, is scheduled for April 12. But whether he's proven guilty or not, Jennings is now a member of the bad banker club.
He follows in footsteps like those of Rajat Rajaratnum, billionaire and in 2009 the 236th richest American, the Galleon Group's former hedge fund manager and founder—who was found guilty of allegations of insider trading and sentenced to 11 years in prison in October 2011. Or those of Rajat Gupta, formerly of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company, whose trial over "passing along corporate secrets to Rajaratnam" will soon begin (Gupta is a man who in his own estimation still wasn't rich enough). Going further back, there's Martha Stewart, not a banker herself but certainly a member of a certain coterie of power players, convicted of insider trading and sent to jail back in 2004. Fictionally, we have Wall Street top bond salesman Sherman McCoy, done in by his own greed and selfishness (with the help of the media) in The Bonfire of the Vanities, or the case of Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, who believes above all else that greed is good.
There is a sense that these figures, the "masters of the universe," dubbed so without our explicit agreement (even as we are complicit in their successes) are somehow more evil than your garden variety criminal, someone without wealth and power and private schools and sisal rugs at his fingertips. This is good for us, because we can hate them more, without any sort of liberal guilt associated. The bigger and badder the persona, the better. Which is why, when the news came out about Jennings, we slapped our foreheads and thought, "Shoulda known, not another one!" in an almost gleeful (though rueful) fashion while feeling just terrible for his alleged victim.
Interestingly, however, Jennings doesn't quite fit our stereotype. As Conlin and Francescani write, "In the world capital of ego-driven alphas, Jennings didn't come off as one. He was polite and well-liked, according to Morgan Stanley colleagues. He also was a 'Morgan monk,' utterly devoted to the firm and his job, with little personal life outside work." If Jennings hadn't been a banker and instead was, maybe, an inebriated mid-level ad exec on his way home from a Christmas party who got into a tiff with a cab driver, would we react the same way? Maybe...but probably not. With great power comes greater responsibility, so we expect our masters of the universe to behave appropriately. But if we're being honest, we don't really want them to behave properly, not only because it makes for interesting news, but because, well, schadenfreude. We want them to be bad so we feel better about ourselves.
So when Greg Smith, the hero-or-anti-hero or in any case now famous writer of the "Why I'm Leaving Goldman Sachs" op-ed in the New York Times, tells us how bad his coworkers are, calling their clients "muppets," taking advantage of the poorer or weaker or stupider, generally reveling in their toxic environment -- we eat that up and ask for more. We want to hate those corporate bigwigs making all the money and crushing the little people and complaining about how poor they are on Urban Baby. When it turns out they're human...good or decent people who've worked hard but messed up...that becomes less easy, or certainly less pleasant, to swallow along with the lump of jealousy that burns in our throat.
But back to the case of Jennings. There is dispute over what actually happened in the cab that night, and we may never know exactly what occurred. We do know things escalated to the degree in which a pen knife was taken from a briefcase, and a cab driver was left bleeding and in need of six stitches. We know that later Jennings went on vacation with his family, to Florida, but that at the end of February, he turned himself in to cops. And all that is probably enough for him to go down in the banker hall of villainy, regardless of the outcome of the trial. It's easy to hate bankers, because not only are they rich, and richer than we are, but also, most of us don't actually understand what they do. What we do understand, and what people have understood since the beginning of time, is that watching the mighty fall is far more amusing than watching those further down in the rungs of power remain exactly where they are.
Sorry, but I do hate the fucker and I don't apologize for it. I'm supposed to take this asshole's banker buddies at their word about what a great guy he supposedly is? Or be at all concerned that this incident might cost him his high flying job, which is after all to rape and pillage the planet's resources and fuck over people who actually work for a living? Excuse me, but I'd rather extend my empathy to the cab driver who got stabbed, thank you very much, because he is, you know, the actual victim here.
But beyond just looking down her nose at the unwashed, stupid masses who read The Atlantic Wire and let their lack of liberal guilt run amok (and who are obviously too dumb to know when they've been insulted), I really must ask why Ms. Doll felt compelled to write an article sticking up for Banker Jennings in the first place. The defendant has by all appearances plenty of fucking money and can afford to buy a conga line's worth of the absolute best defense attorneys available. He hardly has to worry about being railroaded by the American justice system, the way, oh, say the cab driver might have been had the roles in this case been reversed.
I guess what makes me so angry about this craptastic turd of an article is that I grew up reading the columns of the late, great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko. For the better part of four decades, Royko used his daily column, when he wasn't busy shining the spotlight on the Windy City's bountiful municipal corruption, to stick up for the little guy against whatever forces, be they bureaucratic, corporate or even gangster, that might be attempting to stomp on him. Royko brilliantly used the power of press to right many wrongs in that very cold-hearted and unfeeling city, and working class Chicagoans in particular loved him for it. The idea that a writer with a media platform would use that platform to defend one of our overlords after he viciously assaulted one of the little people must surely have Royko spinning in his grave. Banker Jennings will get his fair trial, a much fairer trial than you or I would ever be able to afford were we in his shoes. He doesn't need some hack writer kissing his ass on top of it.
It would be one thing if this tired old "don't hate the rich just because they are rich" mantra that is used to justify all sorts of bad acts perpetrated by the corporate and Wall Street elites was being spewed forth by a conservative propaganda sheet like the American Spectator. It's something else again when it comes from a publication dutifully read by good little liberals everywhere. I guess Ms. Doll has to the have the evil of Wall Street bankers rubbed right in her face so she might understand a little better why they are so justifiably hated even when they aren't outwardly Gordon Gekko caricatures and why they don't need the likes of her sticking up for them.
Here's hoping that some right wing billionaire soon makes a hostile takeover bid of The Atlantic, and when he seizes control he immediately fires the entire staff. Sitting on the unemployment line still might not enlighten the dimwitted likes of Jen Doll, but I would love nothing better than to see her feeling bad so that I can feel better about myself.
Bonus: A song from a guy who gets who the enemy is