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LABOR AND THE NEW CHURCH: Pondering the Church of Casino Capitalism

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When Casino Cardinals cash out of one of their cathedrals in the sand, they find another parish—or run for president

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After the Labor Day weekend squalls, my wife and I took the dog for a walk on the beach and came across a kid building a castle in the sand.

“Nice castle,” I said.

“It’s a church,” he corrected.

Labor Day is sad for me. A cathedral in the sand didn’t help. When I was a kid, I spent summers in and near Atlantic City. Mom hated Labor Day, too. During the summer, she was the Queen of the Beach. After Labor Day, she’d leave her castle in the sand to get back to work in the trenches.

Dad didn’t help. We’d reluctantly get in the car, and the union welder would say, “It’s all over.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I’d say.

“It’s all over,” he’d repeat grinning from ear to ear.

“Thanks, Dad. We get it.” 

One of my younger brothers would be crying by this point, and the other would have already wet himself. Mom would be asleep and I’d be reading something. 

During the walk on Fort Fisher’s beach, I had Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” stuck in my head and pondered the improbable rise of Bernie Sanders. Probably because of Nick Paumgarten’s September 7th New Yorker piece, “The Death and Life of Atlantic City.” It made me glad Bernie is getting a little attention and a little sad about the shore—the Jersey Shore, not our beaches. I love Fort Fisher; I’m confident we’ll continue to wisely carve out human habitat along the coast, rather than put it all on red, and completely sacrifice our souls in the church of Casino Capitalism as Atlantic City has for decades. 

I used to think capitalism was an economic system. Then, I thought maybe it was a political system. Now, I’m pretty confident capitalism is a religion. (Corporations, take note: There’s the real reason you shouldn’t pay taxes.) All any religion needs is a messiah. One of the current presidential poll leaders is primed for the role of messiah (not Bernie Sanders).      

Paumgarten didn’t bash Donald Trump, and despite Trump’s preference to build walls instead of bridges, I like him. Mr. Trump is a true high priest for the Church of Casino Capitalism. Something about it makes me smile. 

Trump isn’t the only reason the Atlantic City casinos are washing out to sea. He’s just the only one running for president and positioning himself as a strong financial leader and regular guy.

I was surprised to read I actually know a regular guy involved in Atlantic City’s current struggle to rebuild. Bob McDevitt and I were lifeguards at the shore in the early ‘80s when the casinos were rising. Now, I’m loving life in the Port City and Bob’s the head of Casino Worker’s Local 54.

Bob and I weren’t close, but we got along fine. He has a strong personality, but he’s not grandiose; he’s grounded. Work hard, have a beer. He and his family have lived the middle-class life in Jersey for more than a minute. According to casino owners, Bob and his union are bad guys who are making unreasonable demands. In an interview a couple of years ago, Bob noted the average salary of the members of his union was $12 an hour—another despicable union out to break the bank.

Perhaps it’s not unions or casinos that are killing Atlantic City. Maybe it’s the faith in the church itself. Many prayers were said in the ‘70s when the casinos were rising. Place your faith in the Church of Capitalism, and may perpetual wealth trickle down to you and your progeny. Forever, and ever. Amen. “When the rich get rich, everybody gets rich” —that prayer is more of a long shot than a Hail Mary on fourth and long from your own 2 yard line. But keep praying it. Because you know … faith.

Nothing wrong with a little faith or a little capitalism. Capitalism works the way it works. When Casino Cardinals cash out of one of their cathedrals in the sand, they find another parish—or run for president. Folks like you, me and Bob McDevitt take a walk on the beach and say a prayer of thanks that the sand itself wasn’t stolen from under our feet.

And we get back to work in the trenches.

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