BILLIONAIRES AND BIGOTS
GIVE IT UP AND GET OUT OF THE WAY
With the next US presidential election right around the corner, I feel compelled to make some predictions based on recent events. Billionaires seem like a good place to start. No billionaire is going to win in 2020 with or without disclosure of his/her tax returns. This includes Trump (may not be a billionaire actually), Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg. Even in this election cycle full of really rich women dripping compassion and care perhaps running against really rich smarmy men, Sheryl Sandberg, Jean Case, and Oprah will all come up short.
There are some good reasons for this. First is that Trump has sucked all the air out of entrusting billionaires with anything more significant than the gate code to enter their country club. Next, and perhaps most important, is that when billionaires act like their life experiences before they became billionaires are of deep relevance, the rest of us realize that someone else is cleaning their mansion and taking care of their kids. Even multi-millionaires who want to be billionaires aren’t going to be moved by Howard Schultz talking about his impoverished youth from which he was rescued by his brilliant discovery that cheap coffee only seemed OK to most of us.
What those wannabe billionaires really want to know is how you can overcome being a complete putz by providing an overpriced product to a gullible public, call it a latte, add pumpkin flavoring to it, jack up the price, and make even more money. (For an equally heartwarming story, see how another complete putz, Mark Zuckerberg, turned an idea about lonely people seeking a world of instantaneous connection, produced nothing tangible, not even a pumpkin latte, and made billions selling the private info of the lonely people to other putzes so the other putzes could take advantage of the lonely people that Mark said he was helping to enjoy life.)
But I digress. The billionaire and wannabe billionaire crowd are on the defensive at the moment because Trump has been such a shining beacon of incompetence. He seemingly made lots of money despite this disadvantage and then ruined it for the others by “winning” an election that put his incompetence on full display. When he tried to do anything besides making money for himself at the expense of others, Trump engendered a creeping sense of dread among the billionaire class that they all would be found out.
So maybe now that we have watched Trump’s daily battle with the truth about him, his finances, and his corrupt practices, we can only hope that it will make it harder for Jeff Bezos to lead the way to anywhere (not to mention inspire confidence as owner of The Washington Post) now that we know that he lied to his wife and didn’t learn anything from Anthony Weiner about texting etiquette. And then we can move on to dethrone the rest of the lot.
Moving from billionaires to bigots, I predict that the bigotry crowd will also have a hard go of it in the 2020 presidential race, leaving aside the bigot-in-chief. While there is little nuance related to billionaires, there is so much more to digest in the world of bigotry, and it is so much more critical that we get it right.
Trump’s overt racism has served to push racial tensions in America to the forefront again. But pushing it to the forefront and keeping it there are two very different things. Only real understanding and an extended attention span can lead to significant progress.
"Blackface" is an easy example of bigoted conduct, at least if impact is more important than intent. Being aware of the potential impact and going forward anyway is probably the best test of intent. So for this one, it is easy – all but the most bigoted white people who darken their faces to look like a person of color will at the least have a moment in which they think about whether this is a good idea or not. Listen to your inner angel, and get a bunny costume instead.
However, the bigoted act itself should be of considerably less concern than the systemic racism in American society that is reflected in and by bigoted acts. If the history of minstrel shows and bigoted white adoption of blackface to belittle black people becomes the only issue, the systemic racism at the heart of the black experience in America is way too easily obscured. I continue to be far more offended by the impact of gun violence, poverty, and substandard housing, education and healthcare in the communities of people of color than I will ever be about some moronic blackface at a college dance.
A political culture that focuses only on past transgressions gives a pass to present transgressions with tangible impact. To my way of thinking, a right-wing Republican legislator who works to deny access to meaningful healthcare to all in our midst directly supports a racist outcome, and the conduct is even more bigoted than that of the blackface college clown**
It is these present-day bigoted acts that really need to be unmasked. They do way more tangible harm than any yearbook photo. While I am touched by the outrage of so many at thoughtless past acts, I will not let it overcome my disgust at the racist systems in America that have far more impact on real people than a reprise of the world of minstrels.
Some I am sure will say that I am an old privileged white guy for whom outrage is his currency of choice. Most of that is true, but the part that isn’t has always reacted to human suffering and the systems that support it.
I want neither billionaires nor bigots to be honored in America’s pantheon. I want billionaires to give up much of what they have for the common good, and bigots to get out of the way, so they rest of us can get on with creating a more perfect union finally freed from racist shackles.
** A lot has been written about the distinction between “bigotry” and “racism.” There is often a systemic notion associated with “racism” that is not a required component of “bigotry.” Following is one piece that adds focus to the discussion: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lets-get-it-right-bigotry-is-not-racism_us_57eddcd3e4b0972364deb01a