The American Class System. It’s hidden in plain sight. My parents were firm believers in the American meritocracy: work hard, get a good education, and you will succeed. It’s a worthy aspiration, and it served me well. But too often in the United States, the meritocracy is honored only in the breach. Consider this article by British-raised Richard V. Reeves in The New York Times, Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich.
Here’s Reeves: “[I]magine my horror at discovering that the United States is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top. The big difference is that most of the people on the highest rung in America are in denial about their privilege. The American myth of meritocracy allows them to attribute their position to their brilliance and diligence, rather than to luck or a rigged system. At least posh people in England have the decency to feel guilty.”
Reeves notes that “Beneath a veneer of classlessness, the American class reproduction machine operates with ruthless efficiency. In particular, the upper middle class is solidifying. This favored fifth at the top of the income distribution, with an average annual household income of $200,000, has been separating from the 80 percent below. Collectively, this top fifth has seen a $4 trillion-plus increase in pretax income since 1979, compared to just over $3 trillion for everyone else. Some of those gains went to the top 1 percent. But most went to the 19 percent just beneath them.”
Thus “On the one hand, upper-middle-class Americans believe they are operating in a meritocracy (a belief that allows them to feel entitled to their winnings); on the other hand, they constantly engage in antimeritocratic behavior in order to give their own children a leg up.”
And moreover: “Things turn ugly, …., when the upper middle class starts to rig markets in its own favor, to the detriment of others. Take housing, perhaps the most significant example. Exclusionary zoning practices allow the upper middle class to live in enclaves. Gated communities, in effect, even if the gates are not visible. Since schools typically draw from their surrounding area, the physical separation of upper-middle-class neighborhoods is replicated in the classroom. Good schools make the area more desirable, further inflating the value of our houses. The federal tax system gives us a handout, through the mortgage-interest deduction, to help us purchase these pricey homes. For the upper middle classes, regardless of their professed political preferences, zoning, wealth, tax deductions and educational opportunity reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle.”
As Reeves concludes: “Progressive policies, whether on zoning or school admissions or tax reform, all too often run into the wall of upper-middle-class opposition. Self-interest is natural enough. But the people who make up the American upper middle class don’t just want to keep their advantages; armed with their faith in a classless, meritocratic society, they think they deserve them.”
In substantial ways, our society is even more class conscious than the British Reeves picked up on. Consider, for example, the election in which Kerry ran against Bush – both candidates were Yale graduates and members of the elite Skull and Bones. It is no coincidence that our “democracy” predictably elevates those with the “right” credentials. Al Gore, and yes, even Barack Obama, had their qualifications burnished with elite Harvard diplomas. The American system of private schooling flourishes with its graduates given an automatic entrance into American upper class. Our electorate is attracted to and rewards American upper class families, the Bushes and Kennedys, the Roosevelts and now the billionaire Trumps. Many corporate boards are dominated by Ivy League graduates. And for all our claim of meritocracy, our public schools in inner cities are poorly funded, provide poor educations, and trap the majority of their students in an underclass.
Trump, of course, and his acolytes in the kleptocracy reflect the antithesis of meritocracy. Trump flaunts his wealth like a later day Sun King. His education secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to public education. Trump’s billionaire cabinet is schooled in class and privilege. And what, indeed, is Mar a Lago but a modern King’s Court, filled, one can only assume, with sycophants and wannabes?
I’m for meritocracy, and rewarding hard work, and holding out the possibility of the American Dream for each of us. Maybe we should work a little harder at making that dream real.
I’ve been blogging about the self-evident influence on Donald Trump of red-baiting mob lawyer Roy Cohn for some time – see The Root of All Evil. Cohn was the evil genius, the infante terrible, behind Joe McCarthy’s red scare in the 1950s. For years he made his living as a feared mob lawyer who operated outside the confines of law and ethics. Cohn was totally ruthless, experienced in manipulating the legal system and the press, adept at the use of fear and intimidation. Cohn would stop at nothing to win. His style was terrifyingly effective and while he was ultimately disbarred, that came only after the damage was done. His legacy lives on because, as such, he mentored Donald Trump and many of the Trump old-time loyalists. Cohn provides the necessary filter with which to view Trump. Anyone tempted to underestimate what lengths Trump will go to, or what depth he will descend to, should think twice.
I’m not the only one focused on the Trump-Cohn axis. Consider this article by Jack Shafer in Politico, “Week Four: The President Summons the Ghost of Roy Cohn.” This is from Shafer’s lead: “Although he dumped Cohn, Trump never ceased playing the role of the dirtbag attorney’s parrot. Since inauguration, and especially since the scandal with no name has inflicted bleeding wounds all over his presidency, Trump has only become more Cohnian in his persona. He rains his fury down on his opponents, just like Cohn. He breaks rules and bullies all who get in his way. He does whatever it takes to win. When Trump’s mouth forms the words, it’s really Cohn speaking from the grave.”
Shafer brings content to the charge that Trump is playing the Cohn card, detailing, for example, how Trump’s efforts to undermine Mueller’s investigation are straight from the Cohn playbook. Another Shafer excerpt: “How well Cohn taught Trump the basics of media and legal warfare! Cohn acolytes like Trump learned the value of raising disagreements to disputes, disputes to legal threats, threats to lawsuits, and lawsuits to war, and war to burned-earth siege, a progression Trump has been playing on his smartphone’s keypad for weeks. Cohn also taught Trump to shrug off IRS audits, deadbeat his personal debtors, lie whenever expedient, and file complicated, retaliatory lawsuits to pour sand in the gears of his opponents. ‘Over a 13-year-period, ending shortly before Cohn’s death in 1986, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump’s most notable legal and business deals,’ Politico’s Michael Kruse wrote last year. ‘Cohn’s philosophy shaped the real estate mogul’s worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump’s presidential campaign.’”
And this: “Observing no limits has been Trump’s operational philosophy for as long as anybody can remember, one that informs his current legal defense and the conduct of his administration. Trump’s new Cohn is his long-time personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who also feels unbound by reality. Following James Comey’s testimony, Kasowitz issued a Cohnian statement that made a mash of the chronology and the facts. As the Atlantic‘s Matt Ford wrote earlier this month, Kasowitz sought ‘to shift the investigative cloud away from his client and onto [Comey] the man all but accusing him of obstruction of justice—a task it does not accomplish.’ Roy Cohn would be so proud!”
Shafer has much more, all worth your time. But for the future, when The Donald tweets, or speaks, or slanders, delays, or insinuates, remember to see that devil Roy whispering in his ear.
You may recall seeing Clint Watts testify before Congress, perhaps on the way in which Russian disinformation during the election campaign was further magnified by Trump’s reamplification. Clint is an American counter-terrorist expert, something of a real world Jack Bauer. You might consider following him on Twitter @selectedwisdom to see what I mean. Not long ago, he tweeted that, if you want to know what is going on, you should follow the Russian dead bodies – that is to say, pay attention to the apparent victims of Putin, or Russian mob, ordered hits. Today he provided a link to the following BuzzFeed article, “From Russia with Blood“, by Heidi Blake, Tom Warren, Richard Holmes, Jason Leopold, Jane Bradley, and Alex Campbell.
Here’s their lead: “For the British fixer Scot Young, working for Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic meant stunning perks – but also constant danger. His gruesome death is one of 14 that US spy agencies have linked to Russia – but the UK police shut down every last case. A bombshell cache of documents today reveals the full story of a ring of death on British soil that the government has ignored.” Steel yourself and read the full article, but I can give you a quick and dirty. In the upper echelons of Russian oligarchs, there is little or no distinction between Putin, Russian leadership, Russian ollgarchs, Russia’s secret service, and Russian organized crime. Deal with them at the hazard of your life.
Now, consider Trump’s organized crime associations. Zembla, a Dutch media outlet, has been particularly vocal in pointing out Trump’s mob associations. See, for example, my blog Dutch Report Investigation of Trump Partner. Take a look at Adam Davidson’s New Yorker article on Trump’s organized crime connections in Azerbaijan – see Evidence Trump Violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
Consider my blogs The Trump Connections and The Root of All Evil.
And consider Andras Gollner’s article on the Budapest connections indicative of direct connections between Trump and the Russian secret service. See Andras Gollner Exposes Trump. Take a look at Judith Kaufman’s chart of connections and follow Judith on Twitter at @judesterworld.
Finally, consider the fact that Trump colluded with Putin to win the election and has been insistent that sanctions on Russia be removed and relations normalized. Indeed, he has gone so far as to praise Putin’s leadership and obstruct efforts to investigate the Russian meddling.
Do your own research. Russia and the United States are now led by two billionaire oligarchs who are neck deep in webs of organized crime and the associated thuggery.
I’d like you to read Sarah Kendzior’s article in de Correspondent, “We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump”.
Sarah’s article, written in November shortly after the election, is the best I’ve seen in getting at the looming authoritarian state under Trump. I’m going to provide a couple excerpts but please read the piece in whole as it was intended. Here’s part of Sarah’s lead-in:
“It is increasingly clear, as Donald Trump appoints his cabinet of white supremacists and war-mongers, as hate crimes rise, as the institutions that are supposed to protect us cower, as international norms are shattered, that his ascendency to power is not normal.
This is an American authoritarian kleptocracy, backed by millionaire white nationalists both in the United States and abroad, meant to strip our country down for parts, often using ethnic violence to do so.
This is not a win for anyone except them. This is a moral loss and a dangerous threat for everyone in the United States, and by extension, everyone abroad.”
Sarah on Trump’s intentions:
“You can look to the president-elect himself for a vision of what is to come. He has told you his plans all along, though most chose to downplay or deny them. You can even look back to before his candidacy, when in February 2014, he went on Fox News to defend Russia. Why a reality TV host was on Fox News defending Russia is its own story, but here is what he said about his desired outcome for the United States:
‘You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.’
This is what ‘Make America Great Again’ means to Donald Trump. It is how he has operated his businesses, taking advantage of economic disasters like the housing market crash for personal gain.”
Sarah on Bannon:
“Trump’s vision for the United States is echoed in that of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a man who even the very right-wing Glenn Beck describes as a dangerous, sociopathic racist. In 2016, a reporter from the Daily Beast recalled this conversation with Bannon:
‘I’m a Leninist,’ Bannon proudly proclaimed.
Shocked, I asked him what he meant.
‘Lenin,’ he answered, ‘wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.’”
Sarah on the dangers to our free press: “You may be wondering why I am writing a letter to Americans in a Dutch news outlet. It is because I do not trust the US outlets to remain free, and believe that many are already compromised. The mainstream media who Trump proclaims to hate are actually his best friend. They have been all along, promoting him ceaselessly, and they are now rationalizing and normalizing his most extreme policies. Trump tells you to boycott CNN, but CNN’s boss always had a framed Trump tweet on the wall.”
And this: “My heart breaks for the United States of America. It breaks for those who think they are my enemies as much as it does for my friends. You still have your freedom, so use it. There are many groups organizing for both resistance and subsistence, but we are heading into dark times, and you need to be your own light.”
Yesterday, Trump floated the possibility that he would fire Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel charged with investigating his collusion with Russia. Today, his perjuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears before Congress, no doubt to obfuscate and perjure again. Against this backdrop, the Republicans, in private, plot to remove access to healthcare from millions to give billionaires a tax break. Meanwhile Trump holds a cabinet meeting that is staged as an opportunity for his minions to swear fealty.
Thus Trump’s crass corruption permeates our culture, even as NBC talking-head Megyn Kelly gives Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones a national forum; Alex Jones who spews vile, indecent garbage disrespecting the young children slaughtered in a hideous assault.
Take note. Sarah Kendzior has called them out.