It was inevitable that our errant commander in chief would contract the coronavirus. After months of flaunting common sense and belittling scientific and medical arguments for wearing a simple face mask, Donald Trump and others near him finally got sick. He was hospitalized and then returned to the White House with an uncertain prognosis.
Despite more than 210,000 Americans dead, Trump continues to downplay the mortal threat. How many individuals foolish enough to have attended his reckless rallies have also succumbed to illness? Is there any way to determine those statistics? The recent debate with Joe Biden gave viewers a full dose of an imperious Trump performing like a recalcitrant adolescent. Yet substantial ranks of the electorate remain his stalwart supporters.
This is, in and of itself, an abysmal commentary on the state of our politics.
Urgent headlines changed daily on the run-up to November’s election. The viral retribution endured by Trump makes the untamed contagion the premier concern of the country. As it should be. But we cannot forget climate change happening apace and the magnificent forests lost in epic conflagrations. Nor economic hemorrhaging upending the security of working Americans. Nor the millions of citizens behind on utility bills and rent, facing eviction. Unresolved racial and class inequities persist. Bellicose right-wing reaction is afoot. Our Supreme Court is poised to become a tendentious institution of ultraconservative jurisprudence.
Quite a list, with Trump’s truculence and mendacity stirring the turbid pot.
Within the maelstrom find Robert Reich — respected academic, prolific author and former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. Crack open any book by this learned University of California at Berkeley professor and you know a stimulating class is in session. His most recent work, “The System,” is timely indeed. With scintillating wit and an ease with words, Reich wants his readers to be thoroughly informed regarding the gross imbalances of power rampant throughout society.
He writes: “This mammoth, systemic dysfunction is generating a great deal of heat — anger, upset, frustration and outrage. Heat in any system signals potential change. Like tectonic plates that cause earthquakes and volcanoes as they crash into each other, heat is a sign of underlying tumult. In today’s America, the status quo is unsustainable. Subterranean tensions are building.”
Reich’s goal is to move his audience to enlightened political action. Action undertaken to directly address the skewed equation of power and influence. Action that will initiate a transformative democratic movement to a more just and egalitarian political and economic order. His latest book is an informative guide to such a needed campaign. An oligarchy — a government by a few obscenely wealthy individuals and families — has become entrenched in our nation. Says Reich: “In the system we now have, power and wealth are inseparable. Great wealth flows from great power; great power depends on great wealth. Wealth and power have become one and the same.”
For all the aspersions that Trump and patrons of the right fulminate about the threat of socialism, Reich has a riposte.
“Don’t assume that we’re locked in a battle between capitalism and socialism,” he writes. “We already have
socialism — for the very rich.
Most Americans are subject to harsh capitalism.”
In this new Gilded Age, opulent oligarchs have accrued a hold on power and on the workings of government to the detriment of the vast hoi polloi outside the golden sphere. Needs of the many — properly funded schools, decent and accessible health care, affordable housing, job opportunities and training, environmental health, an enhanced public infrastructure — have fallen prey to the conniving pretensions of a so-called “free market” dominated by “crony capitalism, corporate bailouts, and corporate welfare.”
In the process, those who benefit from this mercenary arrangement dilute any semblance of authentic democracy.
Left out, perplexed and unsettled by multiple crises, many seethe with resentment exacerbated by their incomprehension and sense of impotence. Within this vortex of uncertainty, some can easily become tempted to put faith in a demagogue’s simplistic platitudes.
Reich presents Jamie Dimon as the personification of the new robber barons who comprise the moneyed elite. Dimon heads up the colossal JPMorgan Chase. While he is socially liberal, Dimon does not like to talk about the link between wealth and power. While he promotes the notion of “corporate social responsibility,” he was a vigorous supporter of the 2017 tax cut that Republicans claimed would pay for itself, but most economists said would not.
According to Reich, “Dimon lobbied Congress personally and intensively for the tax cut, and he got the Business Roundtable to join him. Overall, the tax cut increased the federal debt by $1.9 trillion while delivering no measurable benefits to America’s working class or poor, and almost nothing trickled down.”
The Business Roundtable is a formidable corporate club. Along with Dimon, membership is a who’s who of close to 200 of our nation’s most powerful CEOs.
The high-flying corporate world does engage in philanthropy, but Reich states unequivocally that the first order of business remains ensuring profits for shareholders over the concerns of average citizens not feeding at the corporate trough. While philanthropic contributions are helpful to various endeavors like affordable housing projects, such donations are a pittance to the moguls of business.
Reich argues that corporate philanthropy is largely a public relations scam. Meanwhile, within the paradigm of socialism for the rich, even big-time screw-ups result in windfalls for the incompetent, like Dennis Muilenburg, formerly of Boeing, who was paid $23 million in 2018 despite “the deadly, defective 737 Max airliner” that took off under his watch.
What must average Americans do in the face of such a furtive scheme? Reich is forthright.
“The way to overcome oligarchy is for the rest of us to join together and win America back,” Reich argues. “This will require a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of working-class, poor, and middle-class Americans fighting for democracy and against concentrated power and privilege, determined to rid politics of big money, end corporate welfare and crony capitalism, bust up monopolies, stop voter suppression, and strengthen the countervailing power of labor unions, employee-owned corporations, worker cooperatives, state and local banks, and grassroots politics.”
In other words, a great task awaits us.
There are many instances which demonstrate that aspects of the mission to salvage our republic are already underway, like the New Poor People’s Campaign. To ensure that the fight to rebuild democracy has breadth and depth, a great many more must join in. Conscientious citizens must penetrate the elaborate veil that hides the workings of the pernicious machinery of injustice.
Reich’s readable and concise prose provides anyone desiring a grasp of our current condition a path to greater understanding. He tells you clearly who rigged the machine and gives sage advice on the means of a just restoration of fairness and decency.
Read more in the Nov. 4-10, 2020 issue.