Bring on the rage!

A populist uprising has taken hold in the US over AIG’s payout of $218 million in bonuses despite losing more money in the last quarter than any other company in history and being supported by an insane $170 billion in government bailout money.

In the streets of Washington, it’s a modern day witch-hunt and across the nation people are calling for blood. In fact, the list of recipients of bonuses is closely guarded by the FBI just to ensure the safety of those people on the list.

It’s not hard to see why there’s such an uproar. Many of these bankers have been recklessly sewing the seeds of the biggest global disaster since the 1930s and making ludicrous amounts of money doing it. Now that the cards have collapsed, millions of jobs have been lost, pensions cut in half, retirement ages pushed back, and dreams literally shattered, these same crooks have the audacity to keep stealing from the same people that have given them so much. It’s impossible to write about it without sounding populous. It’s preposterous!

To most non-ordinary people (populism is, according to Webster, defined by the support of “ordinary people”) this amount of anger is scary. It’s scary because history shows that angry Americans make all sorts of crazy decisions. Think, for example of the US response to September 11.

I typically shy away from crowds. When I see people marching with torches, I run. But this time I see a different and encouraging process at work. Rather than looking out for themselves and failing to confront systematic inequalities, Americans are thinking about the collective. These “ordinary people” are asserting their right not to be bullied by business elites.

Not only that, they’re winning (I guess that’s what makes populism different from just some angry ordinary people). Last week Congress passed a law to tax the bonuses and future ones at 90 per cent. This is radical. It’s revolutionary. This is a huge one-up for the little guy and America as a while.

Even more importantly and this is why I really support it this time it suggests that all sorts of other possible changes are possible. Think about climate change. How is this situation any different from the one with AIG? Oil companies destroy artic reserves, start civil wars in developing countries, pollute our cities, and destroy our health while reaping the profits. Shell, in fact, made its larges profit even the same year that oil prices were at their highest and the average American suffered the most. How did that outrage miss our radar screen?

As we start to look at all the insanely unfair and preposterous stuff happening around us and how it affects every ordinary person, I say, bring on the rage!