Monday, January 30, 2017

The selective outrage of the super-rich: Extreme income & wealth inequality, and an indifference to the needs of suffering Americans, has brought us to this ugly place

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1943) reads, "Future literates and future citizens. Adults of Spanish, Mexican, and Central American ancestry at Americanization Classes of WPA Education Program of the California Department of Education learning to read. This class is held in quarters donated by the Guadalupe Church (Spanish Catholic) in San Francisco and is composed of beginner, elementary, and advanced students. The advanced students are preparing for their citizenship papers." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: PWA administrator and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes speaks to a congressional committee about the Bonneville Dam in 1939. With respect to the issues of refugees and immigration, Ickes was one of the most progressive New Dealers. In 1938 he suggested that some European Jews could be settled in the Virgin Islands. When that idea didn't gain any traction, he pushed for a settlement in Alaska that would include both Jewish refugees and the unemployed. President Roosevelt appeared to be interested in the idea, and in 1939 encouraged Ickes to help create the necessary legislation. U.S. Senator Robert Wagner and others introduced the resulting bill, but it went nowhere. Too many Americans (politicians and voters) were fearful that a Jewish refugee settlement in Alaska would ultimately mean Jews coming down to the lower states (T.H. Watkins, Righteous Pilgrim: The Life and Times of Harold L. Ickes, 1874-1952, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990, pp. 672-675). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Silicon Valley and many celebrities are speaking out against the Trump administration's recent, clumsy, and cold-hearted immigration ban. Protest can be good, no matter who it comes from, but I can't help but wonder: "Where were these very wealthy people when so many Americans lost their jobs during the Great Recession?" And where is their outrage and concern, when it comes to student loan debt (which is nearing $1.5 trillion), rising suicides (many of which are tied to financial stress), and extreme income & wealth inequality (which they are on the winning side of)? It seems to me that many of these people are relatively content with problems that don't affect their wealth. As a journalist recently pointed out:

"Immigration issues are core values in the Silicon Valley ethos, not just ideologically, but economically. Immigrants make up much of the industry’s workforce and occupy roles in every tier, from entry-level to executive. For example, Google’s Pichai is an Indian native" ("Tech companies are worried about Trump’s executive orders on immigration," ThinkProgress, January 28, 2017, emphasis added).

Interestingly, some of these "noble" Silicon Valley Captains of Industry have, in the past, sought to wipe the homeless from their sight - even though they were partly responsible for making them homeless (see, e.g., "How Silicon Valley Created America's Largest Homeless Camp," The Atlantic, November 25, 2014, and "Wealthy San Francisco tech investors bankroll bid to ban homeless camps," The Guardian, October 12, 2016). 

I'm not the only one to question the sincerity of super-wealthy techies and celebrities. For example, in the comments section of a Huffington Post story about actor Ashton Kutcher's denouncement of Trump's immigration ban, you can read feedback like this: "It's hilarious that these millionaires are going to give us political opinions while living in gated communities and protected by armed security. Yes, walls and guns." And: "I love how all the Hollywood actors and actresses still think that their opinion matters. I don't really care what they think. They're all completely detached from reality. I support our president in protecting our country. It's about time!!"

Super-wealthy, supposedly liberal Americans haven't a clue about how their selective outrage has brought us to this ugly place. They have benefited from decades of tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy, their investment profits have ballooned as middle-class jobs have been exported to third-world labor markets, and when the idea of a new WPA was floated during the height of the recession, to help the unemployed, I heard not a single word from them. Why? Because those things don't concern them. But now, when the immigration ban might affect them personally, because of the impact on their friends, loved ones, and dividend income, they're mad as hell.

I don't support Trump and his greedy billionaire administration. But I also don't give much weight to the selective outrage of super-wealthy celebrities and tech investors- whose indifference to the needs of millions of struggling Americans brought us the Trump administration in the first place; as those struggling Americans were looking for somebody, anybody, to rescue them from their miserable existence... even a con man.

What we need is another, and even stronger New Deal. We need a public works program for the unemployed. We need to expand Social Security. We need a new Civilian Conservation Corps to address the multi-billion dollar maintenance back-log that exists within our national parks & forests. We need free public colleges and the elimination of all existing student loan debt (or, at the very least, the ability to discharge them through bankruptcy). We need to tax the rich more... a lot more. Yes, we need to soak the hell out of super-wealthy Americans (who have trillions in wealth) and then fix the dilapidated infrastructure that's putting brain-damaging lead in the bloodstreams of millions of children.

Only when we properly address the health & economic problems of tens of millions of struggling Americans--through another New Deal--will we begin to move away from this culture of anger, hatred, and fear that is enveloping and consuming us. Unfortunately, I see no sign of another New Deal on the horizon. I just see selective outrage coming from those who are privileged enough to pick & choose what concerns them. 

"We are going to make a country in which no one is left out."

--President Roosevelt, from Frances Perkins' 1946 book, The Roosevelt I Knew. In these words is the ethos of the New Deal - an ethos we abandoned a long time ago.

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