Of America and the rise of the stupefied plutocrat


CARTOON/Clothing Made in USA

“The record will show the game securely rigged in favor of the rich.”

A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys. Its tragic implications lie in its power of debasing people and ideals. –Edith Wharton

The populace may hiss me, but when I go home and think of my money, I applaud myself. –Horace

At the higher elevations of informed American opinion in the spring of 2018 the voices of reason stand united in their fear and loathing of Donald J. Trump, real estate mogul, reality TV star, 45th president of the United States. Their viewing with alarm is bipartisan and heartfelt, but the dumbfounded question, “How can such things be?” is well behind the times. Trump is undoubtedly a menace, but he isn’t a surprise. His smug and self-satisfied face is the face of the way things are and have been in Washington and Wall Street for the last quarter of a century.

Trump staked his claim to the White House on the proposition that he was “really rich,” embodiment of the divine right of money and therefore free to say and do whatever it takes to make America great again. A deus ex machina descending an escalator into the atrium of his eponymous tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in June 2015, Trump was there to say, and say it plainly, that money is power, and power, ladies and gentlemen, is not self-sacrificing or democratic. The big money cares for nothing other than itself, always has and always will. Name of the game, nature of the beast.

Not the exact words in Trump’s loud and thoughtless mouth, but the gist of the message that over the next 17 months he shouted to fairground crowd and camera in states red, white and blue. A fair enough share of his fellow citizens screamed, stamped and voted in agreement because what he was saying they knew to be true, knew it not as precept borrowed from the collected works of V.I. Lenin or Ralph Lauren but from their own downwardly mobile experience on the losing side of a class war waged over the past 40 years by America’s increasingly frightened and selfish rich against its increasingly angry and debtbound poor.

Trump didn’t need briefing papers to refine the message. He presented it live and in person, an unscripted and overweight canary flown from its gilded cage, telling it like it is when seen from the perch of the haves looking down on the birdseed of the have-nots. Had he time or patience for looking into books instead of mirrors, he could have sourced his wisdom to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who in 1933 presented the case for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal: “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Not that it would have occurred to Trump to want both, but he might have been glad to know the Supreme Court had excused him from further study under the heading of politics. In the world according to Trump—as it was in the worlds according to Ronald Reagan, George Bush pere et fils, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—the concentration of wealth is the good, the true and the beautiful. Democracy is for losers.

“What in 1988 was a weakened but still operational democracy has become a dysfunctional, stupefied plutocracy.”

Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980 with an attitude and agenda similar to Trump’s—to restore America to its rightful place where “someone can always get rich.” His administration arrived in Washington firm in its resolve to uproot the democratic style of feeling and thought that underwrote FDR’s New Deal. What was billed as the Reagan Revolution and the dawn of a New Morning in America recruited various parties of the dissatisfied right (conservative, neoconservative, libertarian, reactionary and evangelical) under one flag of abiding and transcendent truth—money ennobles rich people, making them healthy, wealthy and wise; money corrupts poor people, making them ignorant, lazy and sick.

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