How the Plutocracy Wins: Clinton and Trump and the Rigged Game

(Originally posted March 17 on Medium.)

Two soundbites from each of the party “front-runners” a few weeks ago drew my attention because of their disturbing similarity.

In one, Hillary Clinton was disingenuously refusing to release transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs and other big investment banks. During theCNN town hall meeting, Clinton told host Chris Cuomo that she would only release the transcripts if the Republican candidates did the same. She disregarded that her immediate opponent, Bernie Sanders, is willing to release transcripts of any paid speeches he has given. (He has given none to big banks, of course.)

Here are the two leading candidates in the race for the White House, the most powerful position on the planet, and both are acting like criminals. They are both using loopholes in logic to avoid disclosures that they know will hurt their campaigns.

The second comment came from Orange Glow Face himself, Donald Trump, who asserted that he would “absolutely [release my tax returns], but I’m being audited now for two or three years, so I can’t do it until the audit is finished, obviously.” The IRS promptly gave a statement noting that federal privacy rules prohibit the IRS from discussing individual tax matters, but “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.” Trump went on to note that he’s “been audited every year. Twelve years or something like that.”

Here are the two leading candidates in the race for the White House, the most powerful position on the planet, and both are acting like criminals. They are both using loopholes in logic to avoid disclosures that they know will hurt their campaigns. Transparency, which they both loudly proclaim as extremely important, is something that has exceptions for them. It’s infuriating. No matter how you flip the coin that could decide an election between these two, it comes up heads. It’s a trick coin, and we’re the suckers.

Of course, the news media (all six monolithic corporations of them) has often compared the Trump campaign to that of Bernie Sanders, suggesting that there is an “angry populism” inherent to both. The suggestion is facile and easy to sell to those who don’t know the difference between blind rage and indignant passion. Trump taps the rage, of course, and not-so-subtly encourages his supporters to entertain the idea of roughing up protesters at his rallies. Recently, he told a crowd “I’d like to punch (a protester) in the face.” This isn’t rare behavior for Orange Glow Face, and his supporters eat it up. Apparently it has the same effect as PCP because just recently a 78-year-old Trump supporter sucker punched a black protester who was being escorted out by police in Fayetteville, NC. The supporter later commented, “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”

Comparing Bernie Sanders or his supporters to this kind of violent and intolerant behavior is asinine. In possibly the most confrontational scene at a Sanders’ rally, Black Lives Matter protesters walked on stage back in August and took over the podium. It was awkward and a little embarrassing, but Sanders surrendered the podium. What he notably did not do was demand security haul the protesters the fuck off the stage, and then rile the crowd up against them. In point of fact, Sanders followed up by meeting and talking in depth with BLM protesters in order to earn their trust. Sanders was disappointed that he never gave his speech, yes, but he never dismissed the protesters, and he was never condescending to them.

Sanders’ popularity is based in large part on a sense of disenfranchisement on the part of his supporters, people who see an economy and a government that seem to have jointly passed them by and takes them for granted. Sanders’ central platform issues of income inequality and political corruption appeal to people who face shrinking real wages and poor representation by entitled dandies or obstructionist blowhards in government. In an age where only millionaires seem to have any sway in the halls of Congress or state governments, Sanders’ net worth is $528,014. By comparison, Orange Glow Face is worth, conservatively, $3.3 billion. Hillary Clinton’s hefty haul is worth approximately $31.3 million. (If she does another paid speech for Goldman Sachs or Deutsche Bank anytime soon, she could easily add half a mil to that total in an hour.) Given the plutocratic monoliths standing over him, it’s easy to see why Bernie’s David v. Goliath campaign has generated so much enthusiasm.

At her financial low point, Politifact points out, when she claims she and Bill were “dead broke” after leaving the White House, they were able to purchase a home worth $2.85 million. Only a person who thinks money runs like water out of a faucet calls that situation being “broke.”

Which raises the point: Sanders populism is modestly similar to Trump’s in that it does entail bringing together a lot of people of limited economic and political means to address their loss of power. Beyond that, however, it is Trump and Clinton that have far more in common, and it runs deep in their veins.

No, Clinton is no populist, not by any stretch of the imagination. Her support by corporate-bloated Super PACs (e.g., Ready for Hillary PAC, Priorities USA Action, Ready PAC, Correct the Record, American Bridge 21st Century, and others) is well-documented. Small individual donors ($200 or less) make up just 17% of the her total from “Individual Contributions.” Bernie Sanders’ small donors, by comparison, amount to 70% of that same segment. From a fundraising point of view, Clinton goes to big money donors, a decidedly-not-populist tactic.

Rather, Clinton, like Trump, is a plutocrat. At her financial low point,Politifact points out, when she claims she and Bill were “dead broke” after leaving the White House, they were able to purchase a home worth $2.85 million. Only a person who thinks money runs like water out of a faucet calls that situation being “broke.”

In the years that followed leaving the White House, both she and her husband made tens of millions giving extremely lucrative paid speeches. Between 2001 and 2015, the power couple brought home over $150 million dollars for those speeches, at an average of $210,000 per speech. The notion that they understand the concerns of folks like you and I who literally have to wonder how we’re going to pay the mortgage or afford necessary medical care month to month is absurd. No matter where you may have started, once you begin to see this kind of gross wealth as “normal,” you’ve lost touch with the kind of reality that the majority of Americans live in.

When self-defense becomes your modus operandi — the first thing you do after brushing your teeth and the last thing you do before strapping on your BreatheRight strip — there’s a damn good chance that you’re a self-idolizing plutocrat.

Of course, Trump’s wealth, if you believe him, is hundreds of times that of the Clinton’s, so is it fair to compare them? Well, yes. Once money becomes ridiculously easy to make, all mega-wealthy people become the same. Whether your “yachting” in the Mediterranean Sea or the Pacific Ocean, you’re still “yachting.” Use of the verb alone requires a million dollar down-payment. Once you’ve reached that bellwether, the sense of ordinariness, of vulnerability, of weakness evaporates, replaced by gilded hubris and the strong belief that your mistakes are never really mistakes, but really just accomplishments that only the truly entitled could even attempt.

Clinton, like Trump, wears that gilded hubris frequently. Neither admits mistakes very often, if at all. Orange Glow Face is such a winner, he claims that his presidency would lead to “so much winning…that you may get bored with winning.” I won’t trouble with repeating more of OGF’s ubiquitous self-glorifying statements. Corporate-owned media has done that for the better part of a year.

Our dear Democratic party favorite is less blow-hardy, but no less arrogant. She has a quiver of rhetorical defense mechanisms (e.g., she’s the perpetual and ultimate victim of nasty sexism, all disagreements with her are the result of FOX News slander, etc.) and a hefty establishment entourage (e.g., Henry Kissinger, Lloyd Blankfein, Madeleine Albright, John Lewis, Gloria Steinem, David Brock, Paul Krugman, blah blah blah, ad nauseam) ready to defend her infallibility at every turn. Faced with claims that she supported devastating welfare and criminal justice reform legislation, she trots out some distinguished crony to distract us by talking about her devotion to poor children and civil rights. After she put forward a vaporous economic plan during this election, her pals Austan Goolsbee and Krugman attempted to cudgel Bernie Sander’s very clear and ambitious economic platform with their own version of entitled authority-minus-facts. Told that she’s losing the vote of young women in polls and primaries, she has Albright and Steinem perform legacy seppuku on themselves in an effort to shame the ignorant and boy-crazy trollops.

The plutocrats’ world is not our world, however, and ours is definitely not worth their attention for long. If we can’t help them get elected into powerful government positions, they really have no use for us at all.

When self-defense becomes your modus operandi — the first thing you do after brushing your teeth and the last thing you do before strapping on your BreatheRight strip — there’s a damn good chance that you’re a self-idolizing plutocrat. Or a radical activist. Or a lifelong violent criminal. Of the three, Curtain #1 fits Clinton just fine, like a pair of $10,000 Louis Vuitton pumps.

For Clinton and for Trump, shoes like that amount to chump change. For us chumps in the real world, that kind of vulgar wealth and self-righteous denial amounts to criminal behavior. If you or I repeatedly made false claims, avoided responsibility for our mistakes, and blatantly lied about our behavior and motives, we’d be broke and friendless. Possibly even labelled “super predators” or “Muslim terrorists.”

The plutocrats’ world is not our world, however, and ours is definitely not worth their attention for long. If we can’t help them get elected into powerful government positions, they really have no use for us at all. That’s transparently true of Trump. What does a billionaire really need the harassment of being President for? Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger how much fun it was being governor of California. Ego, on the other hand, just has to have what it wants. Trump’s ego has grown grossly corpulent on misguided media attention.

Mrs. Clinton doesn’t need to be President either. With the avalanche of gaffes, deflections, gross errors of judgment, lies and scandals that have plagued her and her husband, and with tens of millions of cash in hand, there are only two reasons for her to pursue such a pain-in-the-ass job: devotion to the public good, or vainglory. If she hadn’t already done so much public bad, I might be fooled into believing the former. Knowing exactly how much damage the Clintons have done — alone or as a pair — to this country, I must assume the latter. I suspect becoming the “first woman president of the United States” is so tempting a plaudit for her gaudy resume that she just can’t resist. This despite the fact that, should she win, it will further shine the magnifying glass on her often controversial and dubious decision-making skills. Good judgment be damned. She’s just gotta have it.

So if the election does come down to this particularly coin flip, know this: The outcome was predetermined. Either way, plutocracy wins, and that’s not good for anyone.

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