In-Class Writing #5

The trickiest part of this essay was the irony leading into the piece. Howard Schultz prefers to be called a “person of means,” because “billionaire” is a “slur.” He is being “mercilessly mocked” by “people of mean spirit.” If you don’t look closely at the beginning of this piece, you might mistakenly think that it is sincere. Why the irony? This backwards intro is closer to what the TA believes: that people who become rich have the right to enjoy the fruits of their labor without feeling guilt, and the people who mock them are probably sore losers who “couldn’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” (in other words, they’re lazy and entitled: classic conservative argument). Irony is used as a kind of accommodation of a resistant reader, a reader who isn’t wealthy, yet isn’t outraged by the division of wealth in the West: Britain and/or the U.S. If anything, the TA aspires to wealth (“billionaire” isn’t a bad word to them), and doesn’t like paying taxes either. [I mean, who likes paying taxes?]

The audience’s conservatism is also apparent by the author’s use of ad populum: “gone viral” is mentioned twice, as a good thing. This only works if the TA cares about what the “crowd” does, and doesn’t feel especially comfortable bucking popular trends.

If you can get past the accommodating irony, the essay becomes straightforward in the third paragraph, via naming. Those “people of mean spirit” are actually just calling out the “truth”: that people like Schultz are rotten to the core: they are conning everyone with “trickle-down economics” and “wealth-washing” and sucking the cash (like a “vampire”) out of the average person (the TA) when they avoid paying taxes. Especially infuriating to the author is the “self-made” branding of people like Schultz: the very tax “safety net” that allowed him to become “uber-rich” is the one he’s allowing to weaken by not paying his fair share. There is the added ad hominem image of the spoiled, condescending billionaire congratulating themselves for successfully fooling the masses. The TA doesn’t like to feel like a sucker! I mean, this TA is especially paranoid about being made a fool of.

Pushing the paper back and thinking more critically about the situation, this author probably wonders why people like Schultz are “allowed” to become so rich that they feel they can flout the law. Part of the problem, according to the author, is that the average person is fed a steady stream of rhetoric (the words “semantic,” “rebrand” and “euphemisms”) by people who stand to profit if their rhetoric is believed. These arguments, according to the author, have created a simultaneous enriching of the 1% and a weakening of the tax “safety net” that helps everyone else. In other words, the TA is complicit in the very situation that weakens their position! And they’re being mocked by the uber-rich!

A deeper thesis calls the conservative/capitalist ideology into question at its roots, but it’s too controversial to mention. The article does mention “safety-net” near the end of the piece: this term is a hot button to extreme conservatives, but these folks would have wadded up the piece well before reaching this point. Ideally, this piece wants to make the moderate-right TA so mad (b/c they’re being preyed on by “vampires” like Schultz) they will do anything to stop being conned, including maybe examining their own love for money and status.

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