RJ Eskow

Trump is the grotesque id of the ruling elites

Wall Street donors, corporate CEOs, "Never Trump" Republicans, "Lincoln Project" consultants, "National Security Professionals for Biden": many have expressed revulsion for Donald Trump, the man and the president. It's certainly understandable. Just this week, Trump minimized his own illness, an act of self-aggrandizement will almost certainly result in more deaths.

But how many elites are repelled, at least in part, because Trump is publicly acting out impulses they hide in themselves?

"We don't need a 'moonshot' for what ails us. We need an earth shot—a range of investments grounded in science, environmental health, and social justice."

They Did It Their Way

America's oligarchs usually see themselves as victors in the game of life, a game played on a level playing field. They don't see the advantages—of race, of birth, of inheritance, or neurotic acquisitiveness—that led to their success. They hide their own misdeeds behind closed doors, while using the media as a canvas for flattering public self-portraits.

Donald Trump is their picture of Dorian Gray.

Sure, some of them express horror at his behavior. They may even feel that horror on a visceral level. But the things Trump expresses—the vanity, the competitiveness, the sense that his success (such as it is) is his accomplishment alone—are core beliefs for most of the people who run this country. Most politicians succeed through competition and self-promotion, and the business world's biggest successes are self-selected for sociopathy.

The greed, the bullying, the sexual predation: they hush theirs up, while Trump parades his in public. He is the Id of the American ruling class, the uninhibited creature summoned up from the darkest recesses – of their psyches, their campaign contributions, and their SEC filings.

Wrestling the Monster

When it comes to Covid-19, Trump acted with reckless disregard for his own well-being. Worse, he endangered others. When he became ill, he used the people's resources extravagantly, from helicopter rides to experimental drugs of limited availability that are typically reserved for more severe cases. Then, after having imbibed all the resources one body can absorb, he said the disease was "nothing to be afraid of."

As Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse observed, "President Trump's Monday message to his citizens in conjunction with his own diagnosis, which was, essentially: Avoiding the virus is for suckers."

It's easy to respond to Trump with equivalent snark—to say, for example, "I like presidents who don't get Covid." But to do that is to downplay the deeply corrosive nature of the president's behavior.

Predictably, Trump's acolytes echoed their idol. They attributed his return to the White House to some personal strengths or virtues, and not to the lavish public resources expended on his behalf. Hesse lists several of them, from Sen. Kelly Loeffler's "COVID stood NO chance against @realDonaldTrump!" to Rep. Matt Gaetz' "President Trump won't have to recover from COVID. COVID will have to recover from President Trump."

They talk as if Covid-19 were a movie monster that can be defeated through hand-to-hand combat and sheer force of will. But the coronavirus is an organism whose spread and lethality occurs within a matrix of forces, from collective behavior (wear your damn mask!) to individual health and socio-economic status. It's the product of communal failures that range from economic inequality and racism to the absence of public health insurance.

Trump's comments are an insult to the memory of 210,000 dead, none of whom bear the culpability for their own deaths that Trump does. His words, and those of his minions, hide the fact that this pandemic is a communal failure. It will take a community effort—local, national, and global—to fully cure it.

The Other Disease

Trump still has Covid-19, as of this writing. But he has another disease, too, one that's even more corrosive to the public health: the disease of toxic individualism. Most of his party has it, as do many Democrats. The business class is a hot zone for it. It's hard to name a corporation, bank, or CEO that hasn't acted selfishly in this crisis.

Predictably, billionaires got much richer. How did they do it? Some snapshots:

Big Tech reportedly used the pandemic to double down on monopolization.

Nursing homes backed by private equity had higher rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Vulture capitalists made a fortune off the pandemic by short-selling commercial real estate.

Wells Fargo reportedly gamed PPP loans.

Jeff Bezos, who scored especially big on the pandemic, exploited his workers and (through his corporation) targeted union organizers.

So did Boeing, which was saved from its own mismanagement—and from the deaths of over 600 passengers from a botched tech rollout—by the government. Uber, Lyft, AirBnB—they cut every corner they could.

Vectors

But our culture continues to uplift corporate CEOs, without acknowledging the true formula behind their successes. And by formula, I mean something that looks like this:

(public resources + employee labor + own sociopathic drives/their greed + investor shares)

They use the wealth thus accumulated to corrupt our political process. The Republicans of today are largely inseparable from big-corporate culture. And when the Democratic Party tells members of Congress to spend four hours a day raising money, it's telling them to spend 28 hours a week steeped in this worldview—a soul-killing task if ever there was one.

And with every hour spent on a donor call, the disease of toxic individualism spreads.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Would the genial Joe Biden be a better steward of this system than Donald Trump? I believe so. But he and the Democrats are still constrained in their thinking by corporatized individualism. Take the "cancer moonshot," headed by Vice President Biden at the close of the Obama era. It was a touching effort, when seen in the context of Beau Biden's tragic death. But the name and framing evokes the Apollo missions of an earlier era—missions that were presented as the stories of individual heroes, most with military backgrounds, who conquered the skies (with the help of massive public spending on new technologies from defense contractors).

We'll need to spend more on cancer drugs, of course, and they should belong to the public that funded their development. But we already know how to cure many cancers. We can cure some with better nutrition. We can cure others by cleaning up the air and water, especially in our poorer communities. We know how to cure them – but our elites don't want to do what must be done.

We don't need a "moonshot" for what ails us. We need an earth shot—a range of investments grounded in science, environmental health, and social justice.

The Cure

The same is true of Covid-19. Yes, we need a vaccine, and better drug treatments. But we also need to make medical care—the same care Trump received, or close to it—available to everyone, as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal have proposed. We need to eliminate racism and ageism in the delivery of care. We need to distance, and to wear masks. If we did those things, we would save more lives today.

It will take longer—a lot longer—to cure our toxic individualism. We can start by naming it and diagnosing it: in Trump, in our culture, in our politics, in ourselves. This national soul-sickness may have begun with our elites, but it's up to us to cure it—in ourselves, and in each other. The mechanics of that cure will take many forms, but it begins with words almost too trite to mention, words like—dare I say it?—"love."

That may have sounded like fuzzy-headed hippie sentiment last year. Who knows? Maybe it was, then. Now, our lives depend on it.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is Senior Advisor for Health and Economic Justice at Social Security Works and the host of The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow on Free Speech TV. Follow him on Twitter: @rjeskow

Here are 11 questions you should ask Libertarians to see if they're hypocrites

Libertarians have a problem. Their political philosophy all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century, but was revived by billionaires and corporations that found them politically useful. And yet libertarianism retains the qualities that led to its disappearance from the public stage, before its reanimation by people like the Koch brothers: It doesn’t make any sense.

Keep reading... Show less

Don’t let the Trump administration corporatize Medicare

The Trump administration is engaged in a massive deception about Medicare Advantage plans, those commercial insurance plans that contract with the government to offer Medicare benefits. These plans are offered as an alternative to traditional Medicare, the public plan administered by the government.

Keep reading... Show less

Wall Street is leading the attack on Pelosi - Steny Hoyer is the real barrier to the progressive agenda

It’s impossible to understand the Democratic rebellion against Nancy Pelosi without understanding the way power works in the House of Representatives. To understand the self-serving men behind this rebellion, heed the words of the late screenwriter William Goldman: Follow the money.

Keep reading... Show less

A Movement Emerges to Free Former Students from Crushing Loan Debts

Every so often, perhaps once or twice in a person’s lifetime, the trajectory of society changes. It happened in the 1930s, when the country found a new sense of shared purpose as it rebuilt itself under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It happened after World War II, when the era of technological and economic progress seemed as if it would never end. It happened in the 1960s, as large segments of society dedicated themselves to civil rights and social advancement.

Keep reading... Show less

How the Ghost of a Billionaire Dedicated to Privatizing Social Security Will Haunt Us for Years to Come

Peter G. “Pete” Peterson, the billionaire businessman and anti-government crusader, died last week at the age of 91. He leaves behind family and friends who will miss him, and a vast coterie of consultants and politicians who may miss his checks even more. They can take comfort from the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley: “He doth not sleep/he hath awakened from the dream of life …”

Keep reading... Show less

Descendants of Freed Slave's Land Taken for Amazon Data Center? Time to Radically Rethink Property Rights

This is a story about property: real and imagined, legitimate and illegitimate. It’s a story about who gets to decide who can own what … and whom. It’s a story of reality, both physical and virtual. It’s a story that begins with humans in chains, moves through Disney’s desire to make a theme park out of our most painful history, and ends with the descendants of slaves dispossessed by a company owned by one of the richest people in the world, a company named for a river.

Keep reading... Show less

Monarchy in America? One of Trump's Tax Proposals Would Create a Permanent Aristocracy Overnight

“There is a myth out there that…at heart, he’s really on the side of the little guy,” Hillary Clinton said recently of Donald Trump. “Don’t believe it.”

Keep reading... Show less

Bill Clinton's Out of Touch Economically: That's a Big Deal

He's eloquent, he's popular ... and he's out of touch with the daily lives of most Americans. Bill Clinton's economic worldview spells trouble, both for a party that's still reeling from defeat and for a nation where millions of people struggle just to make ends meet.

Keep reading... Show less

Let’s Nationalize Amazon and Google: Publicly Funded Technology Built Big Tech

They’re huge, they’re ruthless, and they touch every aspect of our daily lives. Corporations like Amazon and Google keep expanding their reach and their power. Despite a history of abuses, so far the Justice Department has declined to take antitrust actions against them. But there’s another solution.

Keep reading... Show less

10 Reasons Americans Should be Wary of Rand Paul's Libertarianism, Especially Young People

Republican Senator Rand Paul has been making a big play for millennials lately, most notably by taking his civil liberties pitch to colleges around the country. Paul has got the right idea when he says his party must “evolve, adapt or die” (although I think the first two are virtually the same thing). Katie Glueck of Politico wrote that “The Kentucky senator drew a largely friendly reception at the University of California-Berkeley as he skewered the intelligence community."

Sen. Paul spoke of “dystopian nightmares” and added that “your rights, especially your right to privacy, are under assault.” Paul also said he perceives “fear of an intelligence community that’s drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power.” 

Keep reading... Show less

6 Examples of Wildly Overpaid Rich Folks (And the Teachers We Could Have Gotten for That Money)

Economic outcomes aren’t produced in a vacuum. They reflect the politics, culture and values of the people behind them. Today those forces aren’t saying good things about us as a society. Think about it: since when is a failed Silicon Valley executive worth nearly 2,000 times as much as a teacher?

Keep reading... Show less

What America Would Look Like If Libertarians Got Their Way

These four libertarian/conservative dystopias are offered, as Rod Serling used to say in "The Twilight Zone," "for your consideration."

Keep reading... Show less

How Elizabeth Warren's Privacy Rules Will Fight the Corporate Snoops

This week Sen. Elizabeth Warren and six colleagues introduced the Equal Employment for All Act, which would make it illegal for employers to disqualify job applicants based on their credit scores. It's an admirable and important bill which deserves our support. It also gives us an opportunity to have a broader discussion about the kind of society we hope to become.

Keep reading... Show less

How Right-Wingers Are Stepping Into An Obamacare Trap

You don’t have to be an unqualified fan of the Affordable Care Act to recognize the lunacy of most Republican objections to it. From “death panels” to “a loss of liberty,” there’s only one consistent through-line to most of their objections: They come from Republicans, they’re directed at a Democratic president, and they’re irrational.

Keep reading... Show less

6 Signs Our Culture Is Sick With Greed

The love of money for money’s sake is the social disease of our time. We see it all around us: in the celebration of ill-gotten stock gains, public admiration for the heads of criminal banks, the words of Kanye West, in the commercialization of charity and even spirituality.

Keep reading... Show less

The Shamelessness of Bankers

It’s not easy to maintain a civil tone while describing the magnitude of the misbehavior among executives at Wall Street’s largest institutions. To criticize bankers is to describe large-scale wrongdoing, mass-produced outrages that lead to widespread misery. It can’t be done without routinely deploying words like “perjury,” “forgery,” “fraud,” “deceit,” “corruption” and “rapaciousness.”

Keep reading... Show less

Beware: Huge Media Companies Are Selling Corporate Ideology as the 'New American Center'

“IT’S OFFICIAL,” the box on my screen announced in capital letters. “YOU’RE ONE OF THE BLEEDING HEARTS.”

Keep reading... Show less

What Are Democrats in the Senate Smoking? Caving into Right-Wingers to Cut Medicare Would Be Political Disaster

As the Bob Dylan song says: "Things should start to get interesting right about now." You may think they're alreadyinteresting -- what with government closings, threats of a debt default, and extremist rhetoric under the Capitol Dome -- but chances are we ain't seen nothin' yet.

Keep reading... Show less

Letter to an Angry Libertarian

Dear Libertarian:

Keep reading... Show less

7 Signs America Has Regressed Back To the Harsh, Cruel 19th Century

Tea Party Republicans long for the days when there were no government authorities to enforce laws and restrain the power of unchecked wealth, the days when there was no Justice Department, no SEC, no other agencies protecting Americans from the misdeeds of bankers and corporate titans. But it already seems as if our entire country has secretly been transported back in time. We may think we’re living in the 21st century, but all the signs suggest we’re living in an earlier and harsher era.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Breaking Bad's Walter White Is the Epitomal Greedy American CEO

Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly-up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. —Walter White

Keep reading... Show less

5 Wildly Offensive Comments and Actions by Rich Jerks

“The poor we shall always have with us,” said the Bible, and lately there are more of the poor than ever—over 50 million at last count. But that doesn’t stop wealthy Americans from saying things that reek of insensitivity and callousness toward those less fortunate than themselves, which nowadays is pretty much everybody.

Keep reading... Show less

7 Things About Prosecuting Wall Street You Wanted to Know (But Were Too Depressed to Ask)

President Obama's Justice Department, under the direction of Attorney General Eric Holder, hasn't indicted a single bank executive for the massive Wall Street crime wave that devastated the economy. The regulatory reform which followed the 2008 crisis wasn't nearly enough, and yet Republicans are trying to weaken even that.

Keep reading... Show less

8 Signs the Rich Have WAY Too Much Money

The statistics about wealth inequality in this country are both astonishing and alarming. But statistics can’t tell the entire story if they’re presented in isolation. Our country is increasingly being turned into a plaything for the ultra-rich. 

Keep reading... Show less

How Do We Fight the Hate-Filled Right Wing Agenda Without Succumbing to Hate Ourselves?

When is it fair to say that some political battles aren't just disagreements over policy, but actually represent a struggle between 'good' and 'evil' points of view? And when, if ever, is it helpful to say so?

Keep reading... Show less

Why Tom Friedman Is the Ayn Rand of Our Times

If Thomas Friedman didn't exist, America's high-tech entrepreneurs would have had to invent him.  Come to think of it, maybe they did. The dark science-fiction vision he celebrates serves them well, at pretty much everyone else's expense.

Keep reading... Show less

5 Powerful Men Who Were Catastrophically Wrong About the Economy - But Reaped Rewards Anyway

The boards are lighting up with consternation at the notion that Lawrence Summers might be rewarded for his vital role in triggering the 2008 financial crisis by being given the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve. Summers is reportedly lobbying hard for the job, along with many of his powerful Washington friends. (He has a lot of those.) There have been no denials from the White House, which may be treating these stories as a trial balloon—and a test of our national economic amnesia.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Are Americans So Passive?

From the first breaths of life to the last, our lives are being stolen out from under us. From infant care and early education to Social Security and Medicare, the dominant economic ideology is demanding more lifelong sacrifices from the vulnerable to appease the gods of wealth.

Keep reading... Show less

Are Corporations Trying to Distract Us with Social Issues While They Take Control of Our Economy?

I was having breakfast with a friend in North Carolina the day after that state voted against gay marriage, and after Barack Obama said on television that he now supported it. My friend knew I had supported the cause for a long time, so he asked me what I thought of Obama’s comments. I said "I think he’ll be tacking to the right economically once he’s re-elected."

Keep reading... Show less

9 Ways the Right’s Ayn Randian Experiment Screws Over the Young

Conservatives keep claiming liberals want a “cradle-to-grave nanny state.” That rhetoric has distracted us from the real social re-engineering taking place all around us. The right, along with its “centrist” collaborators, is transforming our nation into a bloodless and soulless Randian State.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES