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The Plutocracy Strikes Back: CNN Compares Bernie Sanders to Coronavirus

When I was young, people used to rail against plutocracy, and you always thought they were a bit kooky. But now I don't know what else you would call the United States.

Radio personality and CNN weekend host Michael Smerconish came under fire Saturday—along with the network—for "casually" portraying the surging prospects of Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders as comparable to the threat of the infectious coronavirus which continues to spread in the United States and around the world. (Photo: YouTube Screengrab/TRN Show/David Doel)

Radio personality and CNN weekend host Michael Smerconish came under fire Saturday—along with the network—for "casually" portraying the surging prospects of Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders as comparable to the threat of the infectious coronavirus. (Photo: YouTube Screengrab/TRN Show/David Doel)

On Saturday morning CNN host Michael Smerconish compared Sen. Bernie Sanders to the coronavirus, asking if anything could stop either one. CNN has apologized.

Smerconish is a lifelong Republican who left the party in 2008 in part over George W. Bush’s inability to kill Osama Bin Laden and he voted for Barack Obama. His trajectory shows how close the corporate wing of the Democratic Party is to the old pre-Trump Republican Party, such that people felt comfortable migrating between them.

Another corporate Democrat, Chris Matthews of MSNBC, likened Bernie Sanders’ overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses to the fall of France to the Nazis.

These two instances of Bernie Derangement Syndrome are particularly unfortunate because Sanders is a Jewish American who lost family in the Nazi Holocaust, and the Nazis notoriously spoke of Jews as a disease in their racist body politic, which they held, monstrously, needed to be eradicated.

This keeps happening because Sanders threatens the established Plutocratic order in the United States.

When I was young, people used to rail against plutocracy, and you always thought they were a bit kooky. But now I don’t know what else you would call the United States. We have three billionaires running for president, and the Roberts Court has given them permission just to use their own money to buy the election if they can (Trump could). The billionaires who comprise the Forbes 400 wealthiest owned more wealth in 2017 than the bottom 64 percent of the United States population. That is, these four hundred multi-billionaires have more than 212 million of America’s 327 million citizens combined. And the Forbes list isn’t even all of the billionaires. People with only one billion aren’t even wealthy enough to be on it.

The top one percent now own 40 percent of the privately held wealth in the United States. In the Eisenhower era, the top one percent only owned 25 percent of the privately held wealth. Yes, the staid Republican-ruled Father Knows Best America of the 1950s was a Bernie Sanders social democratic paradise in comparison to today’s plutocracy. (h/t Seattle Times.)

They got to have so much of the country’s wealth because the top one percent, some 3 million people, annually take home 20 percent of the country’s income. That means that of all the US economic growth since 1970, almost none of it has gone to the working people at the bottom of the pile, whose average wages have been relatively flat for 50 years. The increases in wealth are scooped up by a tiny group.

It is as though all the extra money in the country went to the 3 million people in Arkansas, and everyone else in the country were wage slaves mostly making $12 an hour.

And if we scan out from the top one percent to the top 20 percent, these 6.5 million people own 90 percent of the country’s wealth. It would be like people in Indiana owning 90 percent of the wealth in the US, with everyone else in relative poverty.

Having so much money lets you buy congressmen and senators, something called “legislative capture,” so that the uber-wealthy can just change any rules that get in the way of their continual accumulation of the lion’s share of the nation’s income.

People like Smerconish and Matthews are fine with this avalanche of inequality and all the lives it blights and all the monopolies it creates and perpetuates.

If Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic front runner, the crucial problems of inequality and wealth concentration will be put front and center. For the Plutocrats, who have been able to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes because they also own the mass media, this possibility is indeed a nightmare– it is the fall of France to the Nazis or a virulent virus threatening the purity of their bodily fluids.

People invested in this plutocracy are rooting so hard for Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg that they are blue in the face, though their real color is red. That is why for the next two days we will hear enormous hype about the Biden win in South Carolina. I like Joe Biden personally and congratulate him on his victory. But he won’t address wealth concentration or inequality if he becomes president, and my guess is that he won’t touch the Trump tax cut for the billionaires. But his fourth and fifth place finishes so far and his poor performance even in New Hampshire don’t suggest to me that he actually has much momentum, and South Carolina could be a fluke.

Not only will we hear a lot of hype around candidates who support the plutocracy, but the outrageous attacks on Sanders, using innuendo and Nazi imagery, will continue in the corporate media, which is owned by the billionaires.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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