Post-Mueller report release, the only consolation is that the Russian-enabled elevation of Donald Trump to the Presidency may have finally inoculated the American electorate against ever electing another “businessman” to this country’s highest office.
This article first appeared in Salon.
The titans of the business elite that might be locked out of the Oval Office until further notice, like Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg, have only themselves to blame. They failed to effectively police their own, which permitted the ‘Don from Queens’ to rise to power ‘by any means necessary.’
Our fever for picking business types to run government is rooted in idolizing great wealth and in the case of Trump, just the illusion of it. Since the vast majority of us spend our lifetimes struggling to pay our way to provide for ourselves and our families, it is perhaps understandable that we imbue the wealthiest among us with near deity status.
We are soaked in this in everything we see and hear from the corporatist mass media echo chamber that’s financed by hawking luxury goods and feeds us the news and entertains us. We’ve been programmed to believe that our net worth is the only metric by which we should measure our own success and just how we must rank everyone else we encounter.
Up until Trump’s election, we were infected with this notion that the ability to accumulate vast wealth was a virtuous interplay of innovation, hard work, and discipline. Trump knew this about us. He framed his wealth as self-made, despite what the New York Times subsequently documented was the systematic criminal tax evasion perpetrated by Trump’s father Fred that was its foundation.
The disclosures about Trump’s ill-gotten fortune built on tax evasion and the misery of others including undocumented immigrants and gullible Trump University enrollees, is only part of a swelling tide of disclosures about the seamy side of great wealth and power.
Over the last several years powerful elite institutions, ranging from the Catholic Church to Wells Fargo, have been revealed to be plagued by a kind of corporate corruption that’s so systemic it is near impossible to expiate. These vaunted institutions come clean on one hideous scandal, and they are back in the glare doing damage control about another freshly disclosed breach of the public trust.
Post-Great Recession, as an unpunished Wall Street wipes its lips of the crumbs left from the $20 trillion of American household wealth it devoured, there is a growing consciousness among voters that the fix has been in for a very long time in America’s politics.
Thanks to Bob Mueller’s report we learned just how truly bi-partisan the corrupt effort to prop up the likes of Russian backed Ukraine strongman Viktor Yanukovych was. Mueller’s investigators lifted up the rock under which Paul Manafort’s geo-political influence machine hid and discovered Democrats were in the mix as well. Tony Podesta, the lobbyist brother of John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, Greg Craig, former White House counsel to President Obama, allegedly trying to rub off the fingerprints that they left behind on the Manafort-Ukraine caper.
But righting this rot-plagued ship of state can’t come just by banning the billionaires from the bridge.
While neoliberals may want to put all the blame on Trump and the Russians for their subversion of the election in 2016, it was only possible because of the systemic and bi-partisan corruption riddled throughout America’s local, county, state and national governments that made us vulnerable in the first place.
Pirates like Putin and Trump can’t commandeer a ship unless the crew is too weak, drunk, distracted, or cowardly to resist their orders.
Could the recent rise of presidential contender Pete Buttigeg, the Mayor of South Bend Indiana, be the portents of a civic revival that puts a Harvard graduate who volunteered for military service in Afghanistan up against Trump, a self-obsessed villain whose own life story has always been about playing the angles?
It sounds like a WWF match — Pete the Gay Eagle Scout Type versus Donald the Orange Self-dealer. But one action Hero alone can’t redeem generations of political cynicism, apathy and disengagement that abdicated our potential power to pretenders in both parties who used the privilege of public service for their own enrichment.
Twenty years into the 21st century, with the clock ticking on global warming, my hunch is this is a dynamic moment when we all must be willing to get in the ring and put something at risk to redeem the nation.
As the great wealth divide widens and the concentration of wealth accelerates, millions of former homeowners, many of them people of color, reconcile with renting. With the Wall Street bail out that came at the price of letting American households sink, those banks that were too big to fail are only bigger and more powerful today.
This was a bi-partisan betrayal of working-class America that is of generational consequences and those we elected were in the service of the vulture capitalists that wrecked the economy.