America’s Disgust with Piggy Plutocrats & Repugnant Pols
Payback time comes this November
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2014 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK CITY, near America
There is a moral force on the rise in the United States that is, at the moment, invisible to conventional political seers on the payrolls of corporate media. Never mind them, and never mind opinion polls insisting that most of us are so delighted with the amalgamated Republican Tea Party that we will elect even more of them to public office during mid-term elections in November.
But a few political observers, myself included, envision the very opposite. Our sense is that a critical mass of righteously angry voters will reject those in government who were installed by low-class tycoons as a means of diverting attention from themselves: the racists, anti-Semites, conspiracists, vaginaphobes, homophobes, flat-out liars, and the proudly stupid of the you-know-what party.
In November, Americans with moral objections to this repugnant crowd will have their say. The rallying cry: “Enough already!”
Signs of an emergent cultural housecleaning are abundant, as currently seen in the unprecedented social condemnation of Donald T. Sterling—the billionaire bigot of Beverly Hills, a major contributor to the regressive cause of the Republican Tea Party. Due to his much-publicized racist rant against black people, Mr. Sterling will soon to be forced from ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, whose players are nearly all African American.
A one-time lawyer born in Chicago as Donald Tokowitz, this white and wrinkly octogenarian who has sparked a nation’s newfound liking for progress in politics and socioeconomic policy has the mouth and physique du rôl of biscuit-and-butter Klansman. I shall quantify this progress in ensuing paragraphs. Meanwhile, let us consider the rich irony surrounding Mr. Tokowitz/Sterling and his leggy young (ahem) confidante, who may or may not have exposed the Bloated One for what he is: an “old seg,” as the dinosaurs of Dixie are known.
Somewhere in Hollywood, television producers are discussing all l’affaire de Sterling as a sure-pop reality series. We Americans have a prodigious appetite for tales of vulgarians. For us, they are at once fascinating and repulsive.
Last week, we heard Don Sterling in a furious exchange with one “V. Stiviano,” a woman of mixed black and Mexican parentage and a half-century his junior. The fury went public via the mysterious release of a possibly surreptitious audiotape to a Los Angeles-based showbiz website. The object of Mr. Sterling’s scorn was the young lady’s transgression: an Instagram picture of herself alongside Magic Johnson, a legendary African American basketball star now retired from play.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” Mr. Sterling told Ms. Stiviano. For good measure, he insisted that she must not bring black friends to Clippers games to see black athletes, who Mr. Sterling evidently regards as residents of his fantasy plantation: “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses,” as he explained.
The cosmetically enhanced Ms. Stiviano, née Vanessa Maria Perez, is an occasional pin-up girl known by the noms de plume Monica Gallegos and Maria Valdez. She describes herself on her Instagram site as an “artist, lover, writer, chef, poet,” and to the press as Mr. Sterling’s “silly rabbit.” She has hired a lawyer for multiple purposes: to deny she is anyone’s concubine; to deny her involvement in leaking the damning audiotape to a tawdry celebrity website; to counsel her during the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office criminal investigation of alleged attempted extortion; and to represent her in a civil lawsuit filed by Mr. Sterling’s estranged wife, in which defendant V. Stiviano is asked to return gifts from her (ahem) benefactor, a man for whom she claims no carnal knowledge. The alleged sex-free gifts include a Ferrari automobile, two Bentleys, a Range Rover, and a Beverly Hills apartment worth $1.8 million (€1.29 million).
In so many words, that was the reaction to Mr. Sterling’s rant on the part of his Clippers players and other employees, his daughter, his son in-law, his wife, and basketball aficionadi—including the nation’s number one fan, an accomplished three-point shooter named Barack Obama.
The recorded harangue was not the first incident of disgusting behavior by the billionaire bigot. In 2009, Elgin Baylor—a basketball superstar in his playing years—sued Mr. Sterling for wrongful termination as the Clippers’ general manager. The claim was age and race discrimination. Mr. Baylor lost that suit, though in the same year Mr. Sterling was forced to pay $2.75 million (€1.98 million) to settle a racial discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, on complaints that he refused to rent apartments in buildings he owns to creditworthy blacks and Latinos.
But it took until now, and an audiotape, to reveal the character Mr. Sterling had long hidden in plain sight. In America, objection to racist verbiage is swifter and more spirited than objection to racist acts. Nonetheless, Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California, is among those who see a cultural turning point in the wake of Mr. Sterling’s odious exchange with a silly rabbit.
For one thing, it took less than forty-eight hours afterward for the National Basketball Association to ban Mr. Sterling—for life—from involvement in the sport, to assess him $2.5 million (€1.80 million) in fines as the cost of his racist expression, to begin the process of ousting him as a franchise team owner, and to declare him persona non grata at any pro basketball game anywhere in the country. All this was accomplished by unanimous vote of Mr. Sterling’s former colleagues of the N.B.A. Then there was Mayor Johnson’s press conference.
While Mr. Sterling might have been embarrassed by the N.B.A. action, if not ashamed of his conduct, Mayor Johnson told news reporters, “I believe that today stands as one of those great moments where sports once again transcends, where sports provide a place for fundamental change on how our country should think and act.”
As earlier stated, there are great moments prior to and following l’affaire de Sterling that signal refreshing change in an American landscape stained by the fraudulent election of George W. Bush in 2000, dishonored by his unpunished war crimes, and exposed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s—brought on the swindling swine of Wall Street. Add to that the takeover of a once respectable Republican Party by shock troops of Wall Street.
In more innocent and rosy times—when workaday Americans weren’t yet focused on collapsing institutions—the word “oligarchy” was used in reference to nouveau riche Russians of the gangster persuasion. We certainly did not mean to suggest that “job creators,” the Republican Tea Party’s favored euphemism for the filthy rich, were oligarchs of our own. Now we suggest exactly that—now that income disparity has reached a proportion unseen since the 1920s.
We now pay heed to warnings from Bill Moyers, dean of American journalism at its best; the French economist Thomas Piketty; the Harvard Law School professor and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren; the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman; and His Holiness, Pope Francis. All have confirmed what may no longer be ignored.
Three years ago in lower Manhattan, the Occupy Wall Street movement protested a new Gilded Age of economic injustice, wherein one percent of the American population now owns almost half this nation’s wealth—an obviously unsustainable state of affairs. Occupy’s principal slogan: “Capitalism isn’t working.” In March of this year, Mr. Piketty amassed seven hundred pages of facts and figures for his book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (translated from French to English). The runaway best-seller has affirmed Occupy’s cri de coeur—as well as Pope Francis’ admonition in late April, via Twitter: “Inequality is the root of social evil.”
Mr. Piketty’s provocative tome “has struck a chord among prominent economists and political scientists in these trying times,” according to a review on a website maintained by the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research. “[H]e contends that the returns on capital will continue to outpace the economic gains accessible to the majority of society, ultimately threatening the foundation of our liberal-democratic states.”
At number two on U.S. best-seller lists is Senator Warren’s feisty memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” published only a few weeks ago. Ms. Warren—a frequent user of the word “heck” who has been described as one ring of pearls short of being a local Parent Teacher Association president in her home state of Massachusetts—puts a populist spin on Mr. Piketty’s button-down thesis, in punchy terms that excite admirers pushing her to run for president in 2016. She is qualified for the position: her accomplishments include triumphing over legions of lawyer-lobbyists hired by Wall Street banks and counting houses to thwart her creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established last year to protect Americans from greedheads in pinstriped suits.
In her book, Ms. Warren tells the stories of ordinary Americans bilked by Wall Street shenanigans in the home mortgage market—the “low-interest, easy loan” con game that created thousands of new piggy plutocrats while driving millions into bankruptcy, including a pensioner named Flora, forced to live in her car after foreclosure on her house. The senator writes:
I don’t think anyone knows for sure if anyone at the giant banks engaged in criminal activity…leading up to the financial meltdown [of 2008 onward]. But that’s the point: I don’t think anyone knows for sure. Where were the full-scale public investigations? Where were the armies of auditors, seizing hard drives and poring over financial statements?…The government [bails out the banks] but never puts major resources and manpower into finding out [about probable] illegal activity. So the high-powered CEOs collect millions in bonuses, and Flora moves into her car.
Paul Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times newspaper, and a professor of economics at Princeton University. Early next year, he will leave Princeton for a post at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center for Ph.D. studies in economics—in addition to becoming a scholar at CUNY’s Luxembourg Income Study Center. On April 18, he referenced Mr. Piketty’s “magnificent” book in speaking of income disparity with Bill Moyers, host of the nationally televised interview program Moyers & Company.
“What Piketty has declared is, ‘Even those of you who talk about the one percent, you really don’t get what’s going on,’” said Mr. Krugman. “He’s telling us that we’re on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to…an oligarchy, a society of inherited wealth.”
Mr. Krugman added, “We’re seeing inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagined we’re nothing like.”
Three days after the interview, the courtly Mr. Moyers, press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson back in the 1960s, published an essay he titled “Government = Protection Racket for the One Percent.” He cites earlier commentary by Mr. Krugman, and a disturbing scholarship at three university campuses:
As Krugman writes in the New York Review of Books, ‘We now know that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries, and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed to government action.’
Recently, researchers at Connecticut’s Trinity College…concluded that the U.S. Senate is responsive to the policy preferences of the rich, ignoring the poor. And now there’s that big study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities, based on data collected between 1981 and 2001. The conclusion: ‘America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened. …The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ Instead, policy tends to ‘tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.’
Americans are optimists, of necessity. Along with certain crudely effective methods of David-versus-Goliath combat, optimism is what it took for us to believe that scattered posses of eighteenth-century farm boys—led by an aristocratic general named George Washington, who flopped in virtually all previous military adventures—had a snowball’s chance in Hell of defeating colonial-era British oligarchs, the oppressive owners of what were then the world’s mightiest armies and armadas.
But General Washington and his farm boys defeated Britain, and America long ago surpassed the Mother Country in terms of world power and influence. We shall prevail again, this time against our domestic oppressors, this time with ballots in place of bullets.
We will prevail because we have the lucky habit of believing the best of ourselves rather than the worst within us, or the worst walking among us. And because we are suspicious of conventional wisdom. Consider these judgments:
- “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
—Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
- “The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”
—Admiral William Leahy, 1942, re the Manhattan (atomic bomb) Project
- “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
—Decca Record Company, 1962, in rejecting The Beatles
Now comes the all-knowing corporate media, insisting that the worst, namely Republican Tea Party politicians, are certain to retain office come November. These would include corporate-funded pols such as Texas Congressman Michael C. Burgess, a physician by trade who opposes legal abortion on the basis of his claim to having seen a sonogram image of a masturbating male fetus; and Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, also a physician, who opposes modest, private industry-based health insurance reform adopted by President Obama’s allies in the Democratic Party because, Mr. Broun contends, so-called Obamacare will “destroy everything we know as a nation.” Mr. Broun, a member of the House Science Committee, believes further that scientific consensus on climate change is a lie “straight from the pit of Hell.” And there is Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who pushes for draconian cuts in food assistance to poor women and children because “we don’t want the social safety net” to become “a hammock which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.”
It is doubtful that these obtuse and heartless men can appreciate hard numbers that militate against their truculent talking points. Numbers, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that show ever-increasing public support for Obamacare, despite the Republican Tea Party’s disinformation campaign; significant growth in private sector job creation every year since President Obama took over an economic disaster left by the unlamented Mr. Bush; and a steep decline in the federal budget deficit, despite Republican Tea Party lies about “wild, out of control spending” they blame on Democrats in the White House and Congress.
There is also the matter of Mr. Obama’s popularity among voters. Five years into his presidency, his job approval rating averages forty-eight percent among twelve major opinion polls. This happens to be the same number Franklin D. Roosevelt registered in 1939 after his initial half-dozen years as America’s all-time most popular president.
Numbers and facts mean little or nothing to the Republican Tea Party, whose bellicose leaders seem forever to come to their own confusions—just as they did on a November night two years ago. On that election night, they were cock-sure we would all be speaking today about someone named President Mitt Romney—a grinning plutocrat who resides in a cheesy mansion a stone’s throw from a certain California fat cat prohibited from buying a ticket to a basketball game.
Don Sterling of Beverly Hills was brought low despite a massive fortune that assisted in his intimidating everyone around him. Today, his money is no more useful to him than memories of V. Stiviano’s ministrations. This week, for instance, the University of California/Los Angeles rejected his endowment offer of $3 million (€2.17 million). Big-mouthed bigots, no matter how rich they are, run the risk of wearing out their welcome.
So, too, are Teapublicans running a risk. They ignore measurable preferences of the American people, in the interest of what they apparently see as a greater good: protecting the crabbed vision of oligarchs. And, like the bloated bigot who provides them campaign money, they are unable to sense the public contempt in which they are held.
Following what I predict to its failure in the mid-term elections this November—a shock to conventional pundits—the political house of cards that is the Republican Tea Party will crash. Perhaps it will burn as well, allowing anyone sane among the survivors to re-establish a legitimate conservative political institution as counterbalance to the liberal institution that is the Democratic Party. Reasoned debate and compromise, necessary for the business of governing but seemingly gone with the wind just now, would be a welcome change of pace.
I am not alone in my optimism. Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate, published an article in a February edition of the online Huffington Post magazine entitled “Why 2014 Could Be a Very Democratic Election.”
“Despite current conventional wisdom, such an election is not only possible but probable—but only if three signals occur,” Mr. Gans wrote. “If September polls, the polls taken when people are paying attention to the upcoming election, show a substantial improvement in Obama’s approval rating, and an equally substantial increase in public support of [Obamacare], and if the economy does not relapse into recession.”
Mr. Obama’s approval rating have already risen during these pre-election months—in direct relationship to the dramatic and rising popularity of his signature legislative initiative. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010—“Obamacare”—now benefits millions of Americans previously denied health insurance under the greedy old system.
And by the way, Obamacare is a term coined by the Republican Tea Party and intended as insult. The insult backfired. And there seems to be zero indications of a recessionary relapse.
Those are the facts. Plus one more: Americans are famously disputatious, and therefore object when their wants and desires “appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
As Mayor Johnson suggests, we Americans are in the midst of fundamental change in how we think and act. The world may take comfort in this.
— Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag