Tony D. Senatore
"I'm the spokesman for the OK Boomer generation

A Conversation with Mom about America

When my father passed away in December of 2013, I made the wise decision to   permanently move back in with my mother in the house that I grew up in. This new living arrangement was not very popular with the ladies that I was courting, but their disapproval had little effect on me. After all, I had spent a lifetime trying to prove my worth as a potential suitor to eligible women when in retrospect, it should have been the other way around. Also factoring into my decision to prioritize my family’s well-being was my failed marriage in which one of us failed to uphold the vows that we took before God on that sacred day.

This was not the first time I had decided to move back home. In 1993, I relocated from Florida to help my mother and father raise my niece when my sister, now deceased, had a child that she was unable to care for. I believed that my career was on the rise, although my parents thought that momentum that I thought my burgeoning music career had was illusory. Nevertheless, the decision to return home was a difficult one, and I remained there until 2000, the year I was married.

When my father passed, he did not leave my mother in good financial standing. As a result, she worked part time until she was 83 to contribute to her granddaughter’s college education. Some say that I sacrificed my music career when I decided to help my mother and father care for my niece, but sacrifice is not a word I would choose to depict my fidelity to the family. We did not need the Build Back Better Plan, or to enlist the help of the government to do what we believed to be our job. The lifestyle that my mother and I lead is a manifestation of the values that we hold sacred. Unlike many of our elected leaders, there is no discrepancy between what we say, and how we live our lives. Throughout America, there are many more just like us. We realize that with the liberty that America provides to its citizens comes great responsibility. The decisions that we make, both the good ones as well as the bad, influence how our lives play out. Raising my niece with my mother’s help was one of the good ones. Her care has been our highest priority, and has made the mother/son bond that we share even stronger.

Unlike many of my friends, I am lucky enough to still have mom in my life. She is religious, yet questions many aspects of religion on a daily basis. Nevertheless, she is able to fulfill one of the central ideas of Christianity which is to love and forgive your neighbor. My mother has the ability to show compassion to individuals that have wronged my family. I have yet to develop my own personal faith to that extent, in fact, I am often disappointed by the amount of rage in my heart when contemplating the many problems America is facing as a nation. To be clear, that anger is not directed towards minorities or migrants, but rather the politicians that I feel are exploiting them while dividing us in an effort to consolidate and maintain their power. I have been called a mama’s boy by some of the females that I have been in relationships with. Unlike those women, my mother is one of the best people I have ever known. She has given me everything, and in this later stage of both of our lives, I feel that I must give her everything in return. 

Mom also has a lot of questions about the current state of America. She is a lifelong Democrat who only crossed party lines twice; the first time putting her support behind Barry Goldwater, and the second for Richard Nixon. I am a lifelong Democrat as well, but I changed my party affiliation to Republican in 2016 in my third year as a fifty four year old non-traditional student at Columbia University after bonding with a few of the students that were a part of the Columbia Republicans. My mom has seen a lot in her eighty five years, and believes as I do, that whether we speak of civil rights and LGBT rights, the individuals that comprise these marginalized groups are far better off now, than at any other time in American history. We watch a lot of political news shows from the Left as well as the Right, particularly those of the cable news variety. Often, the hatred and division that we both see brings her to tears. One particular evening after we had just finished watching The Sean Hannity Show, she asked me for my opinion as to what was actually happening in America. She felt that because I was a graduate of Columbia University that I was somehow better qualified than most to do so. Mr. Hannity spent his entire show warning about  the rapid growth of socialism in America, and mom wondered if he was being an alarmist.

I was amused by the idea that mom thought that I was intelligent simply because I attended an Ivy League university. While at Columbia, what I learned in the streets never took precedence over what I was learning at the university, and vice versa. My worldview was shaped by an eclectic blend of capitalism, Catholicism, and the gospel according to John Coltrane. In retrospect, I truly came into my own at Columbia, but my great awakening was not in response to what I was being taught, but rather in the process of forging counter arguments against it. As a conservative, sociologist Charles Murray’s work was often the backbone of much of my argumentation. As an undergraduate, I fearlessly defended Murray’s Losing Ground, which was a brilliant polemic against social welfare programs of the 1960’s and the idea that Murray and I share that these programs actually made things worse for minorities and the poor.  On the other hand, when Murray explored the connection between race and intelligence in The Bell Curve, I had to question his motivation for doing such research, even though as a scholar and social scientist, he reserves the right to research anything that he desires.

The book posits that by investigating racial differences in IQ , race becomes an indicator as to whether a person is likely to hold certain capabilities. According to Murray’s data, black Americans’ IQ test scores are lower than those of white Americans and Asian Americans. Thus, the stage was set for the revelation of a white American cognitive elite whose life successes could be attributed to their superior genetics, and a black America whose struggles were not due to structural barriers in society, but their biology. To be clear, Murray does not assert this, but by making various implications about specific races, while allowing enough distance to disavow said implications if they are explicitly suggested by readers, it is easy to see why the book was so controversial.

My experience with Mr. Murray’s ideas made me realize that finding truth wherever it resides should be the job of any serious student, academic, journalist or world citizen, not blind allegiance to one’s preferred ideology or political party. By the end of my time at Columbia at the age of fifty five, three things became self-evident. The first was my belief that journalists that comprise mass media as well as some of my venerable Columbia professors are prohibited from truly independent thought as they are beholden to the organizations that employ them. The second was that everyone in America is screaming about Marxism, but  as Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride (although in a different context) they keep using that word but I don’t think it means what they think it means. The third was that I came to the realization that Charles Murray obviously never listened to Coltrane’s  A Love Supreme.   

 I told mom that although I agreed with Mr. Hannity’s view that America’s collectivist drift was real, it was a lot more complicated than the simplistic scenario that he and others put forth in which seize upon certain ideological features of Karl Marx’s political philosophy and identify these parts as the whole. The same indictment can also be made for not only critics of Marxism, but adherents as well. I told mom that the 2021 incarnation of the progressive Democratic Party is the result of the continuation of the gap that developed between radicals and liberal Democrats at the end of the 1960’s. It is strongly influenced, if not directed, by a radical Leftist element who feel that traditional liberal Democrats were not actually redistributing wealth in America or pushing for historic change, but rather defending the status quo.

Most Americans are unaware that socialism is not a catchall pejorative for use when arguing with people that you disagree with, but an economic system in which the means of production, capital , and agricultural land are owned by the state. Moreover, many are not aware that it has sometimes been implemented successfully. As an example, in the period between 1928 and 1970, the U.S.S.R was the second fastest growing economy in the world after Japan. Unlike capitalist economies that expend vast resources for no other purpose than to increase consumer demand, in a socialist economic system, the state regulates levels of investment and consumption. Moreover, in a socialist economic system, market demand does not drive economic activity and financial markets do not exist. I explained to mom that most progressives in America like Bernie Sanders are best described as social democrats, as they support a Scandinavian-style social democracy where individuals and corporations continue to own the capital and the means of production. The difference would be a vast increase in taxation, government spending and regulation of the private sector.

Progressive politicians have realized that it is a lot easier to tell Jeff Bezos how much he should pay his employees, how much tax Amazon should pay, what amount of his hard earned fortune Bezos is morally obligated to give away, and how ethnically diverse his workforce needs to be than to create businesses that are more in line with the morality and ethics that they preach. In a similar way, corporate executives realize that it is easier to curry favor with activists by donating to their causes and supporting them publicly on social media  than to make any meaningful changes to their global business plan, which is the oppressive labor that these corporations built their fortunes on. Mom asked my opinion about the Black Lives Matter movement, and if their goals coincide with politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders. I asserted that while there is some overlap in their overall goals, the BLM movement is an organization whose ultimate goal is to destroy capitalism.  In the words of BLM co-founder Alicia Garza, “it is not possible for a world to exist where black lives matter if it is under capitalism, and it is not possible to abolish capitalism without a national struggle against oppression.” Mom argued that it seemed counterintuitive and preposterous that some of America’s biggest companies are financial supporters of the BLM movement. I responded that if one is familiar with the tenets of Marxism, it was logical. At this point, I pulled out my well worn copy of The Communist Manifesto, and read aloud  a possible explanation:

When the class war is about to be fought to a finish, disintegration of the ruling class and the old order of society becomes so active, so acute, that a small part of the ruling class breaks away to make common cause with the revolutionary class, the class which holds the future in its hands. Just as in former days part of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now part of the bourgeoisie goes over to the Proletariat.

Mom was not surprised to learn that whether we speak of Tito in Yugoslavia, or Kim II-sung in North Korea, members of the communist parties that ran socialist governments were exempted from limits on wealth accumulation, and enjoyed luxuries unattainable by the rest of the populace. She knows this instinctively, because she lived through this period in history. Nevertheless, I felt that this was a perfect segue to elaborate on a recent article in The New York Post which noted that BLM co-founder Patrisse Khan- Cullors went on a real estate buying binge, purchasing four homes for $3.2 million. We were both reminded of Tucker Carlson’s phrase, “rules for thee, but not for me,” and the realization that the ignorance and arrogance of many on the Left is only surpassed by their hypocrisy.

This also goes for some of my radical chic musician peers who complain about the injustice of capitalism, but don’t have a problem working in the orchestra pit on overpriced Broadway shows, or hiring investment advisors to manage their stock portfolios. Of course, none of them are greedy. As Milton Friedman  asserted, it is always the other guy who is greedy.  It is evident that anyone that supports BLM should understand that along with the worthy goal of upholding the value of black lives everywhere, they are also advocating for the end of capitalism. BLM also supports the BDS movement, which was very popular among the student body at Columbia University when I was a student there. As Israeli intelligence and security officer Yossi Kuperwasser noted, well-intentioned progressives that support the BDS movement should understand that “the goal of BDS is not to change the policies of Israel’s government, or force it to reform, but rather to “single out the Jewish state, among all nations of the earth, as the one country in the world that must be destroyed,” and that “anyone who calls themselves pro-BDS, however noble they may believe their intentions are, ought, at a minimum, acknowledge that this is the true end toward which they are working.” Criminal justice reform, the end of racially motivated violence against black Americans, and peace between Israelis and Palestinians are worthy goals that can be achieved without the demise of Israel, capitalism, and Western Civilization.

Columbia University was the place where I learned most of what I know about Marxism. Since my mom, like most Americans, is unsure of what Marxism actually is, I felt that this was the ideal time to elaborate on some of Marxism’s central ideas. Mom has a tendency to interrupt me when we converse, so, like my old Columbia professors, I asked her to let me lecture without interruption, and that all questions would be addressed in my discussion section, as was customary at Columbia. I asserted to mom that in the Manifesto, Marx and Engels urged the workers of the world to unite, but the revolution was not forthcoming in advanced capitalist societies like America.  Marxism as Marx and Engels intended, divided the world into antagonistic groups of oppressors and the oppressed; specifically the bourgeoisie, who owned the means of production and the proletariat who sold their wage labor to live. Marx believed that selling one’s wage labor as a commodity as driven by a relentless pursuit of profit was the very worst aspect of the capitalist mode of production .As sociologist C. Wright Mills asserted, the work of Marx taken as a whole is a “savage, sustained indictment of one alleged injustice: that the profit, the comfort, the luxury of one man is paid for by the loss, the misery, the denial of another.” On the other hand, I would argue that most that have made the journey to America, and are not versed in  high minded theories and ivory tower abstractions might disagree with Marx.

I reminded Mom about her parents who came to America from Russia at the turn of the century, who did not come for universal basic income, or free healthcare and college. In my grandmother’s own words,  she made the journey to America because in the Russia of her time, “if you were born on a farm, you will die on that farm.” The ability to make her own choices, and bear the consequences of her decisions was something she was willing to abide by. I believe that it is this simple idea that truly defines what it is to be an American, no matter where you come from, or when you arrived. Classical Marxist ideology is based on making the working class aware of their victimization, and victim groups are identified by class and economics. Labor unions which were championed by the Communist Party USA in the 1930’s and 1940’s were integral to the empowerment of American workers and the development of the middle class.

This presented a paradox, as I would argue that unions by their very existence reinforce capitalist class society, as well as the false consciousness that Marx thought was preventing the working class from perceiving their real position in the world, and ultimately, the establishment of a communist society via the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, amid the backdrop of a devastated Europe, America emerged victorious as the preeminent superpower after WW2, and from 1950 to 1970, per capita income grew in those years at 2.25 percent a year. This period is often referred to as the Golden Age of American capitalism.  After 1970, things changed, as economic growth lagged, and was accompanied by falling wages and rising unemployment. Moreover, the rest of the world had rebuilt, and the playing field was now leveled. Much like the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression, the financial crisis of 2007- 2008 was integral to the wider acceptance of Marxist ideas, long thought to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is often cited as the person most responsible for repackaging socialist ideas to a younger generation unaware of the lessons of history. Although that may be true, I give credit to former President Barack Obama for tilling the fertile soil in which the greatest expansion of government since the New Deal would ostensibly take root.  To convey this point, I sat mom down in front of our computer ,and asked her to watch former President Barack Obama’s 2018 Nelson Mandela lecture from Johannesburg, South Africa. The speech is packed with thinly veiled references to white supremacy and systemic racism, and other left of center leanings which were barely discernible during his two term tenure as President. 

In retrospect, when considering the fact that he failed to prosecute Wall St,  President Obama was about as much a socialist as former President Trump was a fascist. In Obama’s lecture, he opined that “previous structures of privilege and power, injustice and exploitation never completely went away” and that “ years of institutionalized oppression have created disparities in wealth, education, health, personal safety and access to credit.” Mom and I agreed that the absurdity of the first black American to be elected as a United States President, pontificating about institutionalized oppression was infuriating. Barack Obama was a two term President because white Americans like my mom and me voted for the person that we thought was best suited for the job. By 2020, a specter was haunting America- the specter of socialism. All the powers of old America had entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: QAnon Shaman and average citizen, Carlson and Hannity, white supremacist and conspiracy theorist. 

Mom listened intently to my analysis, but the central question as to how we have reached a point in America where many of its citizens are calling for a socialist revolution remained unanswered. I started by stating that despite the sentimental platitudes about America’s greatness, our country has legitimate problems that go beyond the cultural wars that are often credited for our current state of affairs. The fact that my mother worked until the age of 83 to help pay for my niece’s college education  should make that abundantly clear. Stagnant wages combined with a rising cost of living has made life difficult for many Americans. Home ownership is out of reach for many, and a college education, even at the state school level, requires a predatory student loan, and many years of debt.

Despite the fact that we have problems in America that our elected officials choose to ignore, it is the departure from applying Marxist ideas to economics, and instead applying them to cultural goals that is greatly responsible for sowing the seeds of revolution in America, as evidenced by the success of BLM. As I have often said, the Left may not control the means of production, but it greatly controls much of the discourse in cultural institutions, the academic world, and the mass media. Anyone questioning the progressive agenda is summarily rejected as a conspiracy theorist in their effort to try to discredit and ultimately squelch dissenting opinions. As an example, if you Google “ cultural Marxism,” you will be directed to a Wikipedia definition dismissing it as a “ a far-right conspiracy theory which claims Western Marxism as the basis of continuing academic and intellectual efforts to subvert Western culture.” At the same time, if you use Wikipedia to research cultural hegemony, you will learn that the application of Marxist ideals to cultural goals is far from a conspiracy theory, but an alternative strategy for a communist revolution. In  Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1929-1935), Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci made a distinction between a war of movement, and a political war of position.

A war of movement is akin to a sudden full frontal assault as seen in traditional military combat. A war of position is best described as a somewhat passive pre-revolution designed to erode the institutions of civil society that provide political reinforcement that protect the interests of the capitalist class. Marxist thinkers have infiltrated many of the institutions that comprise civil society. The questioning of everything from moral absolutes to the Judeo-Christian basis of Western Civilization has been normalized, and it has had a corrosive effect on America. In a manner similar to trench warfare, activists have been slowly gaining ground with small victories on the cultural front. Once America is sufficiently downtrodden, it might not be long before Gramsci’s traditional war of movement to overthrow the existing state and social order will begin. Structures of civil society are best described as institutions not directly a part of the government (political parties, trade unions, mass media, church organizations) that shape public consensus, and act as the fortress that protects the state, and the interests of the capitalist class.

While Mom agreed with me that this seemed to be playing out in America today, she asked if I believed that this alleged war of position would be effective. I believed that it would ultimately result in failure, and Americans will come to realize how the interwoven interests of career politicians, activists and Big Tech will destroy America if we let them. In answering, I used part of Marx’s Manifesto argument as the basis of my own. I told her that the radical Left has not done away with clash antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones. Thus, the class struggle that has raged over the centuries has been simplified by politicians and activists who have destroyed any hope for solidarity in the working class by dividing them against each other in a never-ending battle of oppressed groups. As a result, the progressive movement holds within itself the seeds of its destruction as evidenced by the results of the 2021 General Election.

 After my diagnosis of the symptoms of America’s problems, I was eager to hear if my mom thought that our country was beyond repair. She had what I believed to be a Hegelian inspired idea that would get us back on the road to recovery. She asserted that “they ” need to start making all products in America, as they did in the past, and as former President Donald Trump has advocated for. I assumed that the “they” that my mom referred to was the government. I told my mom to keep dreaming, because the only place that this will ever be implemented was in Fantasyland. Although I fundamentally disagree with Marxist ideology, I completely agree with Marx’s materialist conception of history, and the idea that human culture is not governed by ideas or philosophic or religious beliefs . On the contrary, it is a superstructure determined by the existing substructure, the economic mode of production. The beliefs that individuals espouse are created and conditioned by their material circumstances. Conscious and abstract ideas do not have independent existence which in turn shape social reality. Thus, history is a process of development through conflict; not a conflict of ideas, but conflict between economic classes. Whether it is offshoring, or cutting the health insurance benefits for their employees, businesses will never sacrifice profit for the greater good of society. Stakeholder capitalism, which purports to be a more virtuous form of capitalism has gained a lot of traction lately, but I consider it a farcical sham, and agree with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who deemed it “just an empty publicity stunt.”

By this point in our conversation, I could see that Mom was getting tired of my long winded explanations about the Left and Marxian politics. She was concerned that I planned to make the content of our conversation public. She felt that a discussion of American decline should be left in the hands of professional journalists like Carlson, Hannity and Levin. She asserted that they get paid very well to defend America, and that the only thing that would result from the publication of my views would be the loss of my day job ,and the end of my music career.

I responded that defending my country and its allies from radicals within our political ranks who are dismantling and deconstructing Western Civilization brick by brick is the hill that I choose to die on. When our conversation was over, I told mom that I was on my way to a lunch date with someone I had met on the internet. She was happy to hear it, as I have been single for a long time. She told me that I needed to find someone like Dana Perino, or better yet, a nice Russian girl that will take care of me. I jokingly replied that Mrs. Perino was taken, but if she knew of any available Russian women, I would be receptive to meeting them. As I departed, I realized that I was grateful to grow up in America in perhaps its finest hour, with a mother whose full time job was raising me and my sister. I will always be grateful for her, and for those who fought and died to protect our freedom. We are all indebted to the cumulative sacrifices of those whose shoulders we stand, especially our mothers.

About the Author
I was a sociology major at Columbia University, where i received my B.A in 2017, at age 55. My opinion pieces have appeared in the Columbia Spectator, the Tab at Columbia University, and Merion West.
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