One of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories has always been, “The Man with the Twisted Lip.” Recently, I had cause to think of it again. In the story, a man, with a twisted lip, is a beggar, but he lives the life of a gentleman.
It turns out he started life as a writer for a newspaper. One day he received an assignment to research beggars. He used makeup to make himself pathetic-looking and sat, on a street corner to “sell” matches.
In those days, that was the premise a beggar would use: buy a box of matches, hold them out one at a time, get a penny or, maybe, a half penny, for each. That might not sound like much, but, in those days, once you “sold” all your matches, you’d have enough to buy food, drink and get a room somewhere.
The reporter sat and recited poetry, quoted recent songs and classic literature. He was amazed to find he’d earned a tidy sum by the end of the day. He was on to something.
He actually made more than he had as a reporter. Well, you can guess where this led. He became a professional beggar. It wasn’t long before he had quite the tidy sum in the bank and had a decent life. When Holmes reveals his secret and he says how much he’s making a year, Inspector Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, calls it the salary of a gentleman.
What Lestrade said got me thinking. I now understand why it is that conservative pundits and the GOP tend to think of rich people as being good and decent, poor people as lazy. Back in the era of Sherlock Holmes, England had a very rigid class system. If you were a member of a lower class, you weren’t expected to make above a certain level of income, only a gentleman made a large salary and gentlemen were of a certain breed.
One had to be a member of the aristocracy to be called a gentleman! That was true of several terms, at the time. You were, “sir,” unless you were knighted; only a king could do that. These days, we toss both terms around very freely. Yet, how many men are worthy of either?
It truly seems to me that that is what is going on today with the Republicans. Their attitude toward the poor and struggling is a holdover from this class attitude of England. In their minds, if you’re rich, if you make a good salary that can only mean one thing: you’re a gentleman or a lady. No, scratch that last part, the GOP is firmly convinced that ladies belong under the thumb of their husbands.
If you’re poor, it’s because you deserve to be, and that’s all you ever will be. That gives them justification for opposing a raise of the minimum wage, even calling for the abolishment of it altogether. They want to crush the unions and pretty much getting rid of anything that would help workers.
Why, well, the minimum-wage social class are undeserving. On the other hand, the rich not only deserve lower taxes, but actual government supports and subsidies. After all, they’re good; good people need help from the government, whereas evil deserves punishment. As we all know, the poor are evil, right?
I remember reading that Sherlock Holmes story. I especially remember the description of the man when he was made-up as the beggar. He was ugly; even his wife didn’t recognize him. As far as I’m concerned, those GOP pundits and politicians are just as ugly. To condemn millions to poverty because you claim they don’t work hard enough is ugly.
This is my humble opinion.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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