While the marchers were fashioning their infantile paper airplanes, a couple of Citigroup employees stood by on the street having a cigarette break. One of them got into a conversation with a nearby protester: “Am I the problem?” he asked. “Well . . . not you,” came the nervous response. You see, when push comes to shove, a couple of popular scapegoats aside, it is always someone else who is the problem. Not him, not you, but that guy in the other department. He is the monster. Some of this is, naturally, attributable to politeness; it is far easier to rail in generalities than to look someone in the face and tell him that he is what ails the republic. But I think that this reluctance is more readily attributable to America itself — the United States simply doesn’t produce that many top-notch cartoon villains.
The reluctance to blame is increasingly obvious in Zuccotti Park, which has started to play host to a sprinkling of counter-protesters. On the Day of the Broken iPhone, I met two men who were wandering around arguing with the encamped. They stood out like a sore thumb, being in favor of free markets and of the idea that OWS is misdirecting its ire. One of them owned a string of bars in Brooklyn, and the other was in construction. One was a first-generation American. Both were self-made men. The pair were, self-admittedly, in the “1 percent,” and both had seen the benefits of the capitalist system. Both were Republicans. But they were dressed normally, in jeans and sweaters. The construction guy was wearing work boots and was indistinguishable from any of the union types milling around. He was also dark-skinned. Put simply, the protesters didn’t quite know what to make of him. “The rich” aren’t supposed to look like that.