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Activists spell out #TaxTheRich at Times Square in New York City. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Billionaire Bombardment of Democracy

Isn't it time Biden and the Democrats came out clearly against the billionaires abusing their wealth and power by suppressing the wages of average working people and flooding our democracy with their money?

The richest person in America tweeted last week that Democrats have "become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican."

This billionaire bombardment gives Biden and the Democrats an opportunity to tell America whose side they're on and whose side they're not on—in effect, to declare class war on the class warriors.

Hello? Democrats are the party of division and hate? What planet has Elon been living on?

Meanwhile, the second-richest person in America (Jeff Bezos) tweeted that the Democrats' proposed tax hikes on the rich will not tame inflation and their proposed spending would worsen it (he's wrong, and I'll explain why in another post).

In addition to last week's billionaire tweetstorm, it was reported that Oracle's Larry Ellison (#7 on Forbes' list of richest Americans) in November 2020 joined Sean Hannity, Lindsay Graham, and Trump's attorney to discuss strategies for contesting the presidential election results.

Oh, and Ellison has dumped some $25 million into a Super PAC supporting South Carolina Republican senator Tim Scott, a Trump endorsee.

As I noted last week, another billionaire, Peter Thiel, has donated at least as much to Trump-endorsed Republicans in senate primaries.

Not to mention Trump-diehards Charles Koch (#16 on the Forbes list), Rupert Murdoch (#31), and Carl Icahn (#43).

This is the same crew, not incidentally, that's been fighting unions and flooding Congress and statehouses with cash to support Trump election deniers, prevent tax hikes on themselves, and kill off Biden's and the Democrats' agenda (more on this in a moment).  

This billionaire bombardment gives Biden and the Democrats an opportunity to tell America whose side they're on and whose side they're not on—in effect, to declare class war on the class warriors.

Will they take it?

Not in over a century has so much of the nation's wealth been concentrated at the very top—in the richest one-tenth of one percent of the richest one-tenth of one percent. Not in seventy years have corporations been as flush with cash, notwithstanding the stock market's recent selloff. Not since the 1890s have CEOs raked in as much pay relative to average workers. Not since the creation of the income tax have the super-rich paid as low a rate as they do now relative to tax rate paid by most other Americans.

Isn't it time for Biden and the Democrats to tell this to America?

Wealth isn't a zero-sum game in which more at the top necessarily means less below, but wealth is tied to power—and power is a zero-sum game.

Many of America's wealthiest and most powerful are now gathering for their annual gabfest in Davos, Switzerland, just as the annual get-together of America's right (CPAC) is coming to a close in Budapest, Hungary. The two conferences are beginning to converge. Although the CEOs and hedge fund managers at Davos profess to worry about America's record inequality and tout "corporate social responsibility," their own corporate political action committees are doing everything possible to squelch tax increases on them, and to prevent additional spending on health care, child care, and other needs of average working people.

Meanwhile, not even the Republicans' billionaire backers can disguise the total absence of a Republican agenda to help average working people.

The reason Democrats haven't been able to get their agenda through the Senate and raise taxes on billionaires or on big corporations to pay for it—or even repeal the Trump tax cuts that went mostly to the top—is because Democrats have only 48 senate votes (all fifty Senate Republicans are against these measures, and the other two senate Democrats are major beneficiaries of campaign donations from corporations and the rich).

Isn't it time for Biden and the Democrats tell this to the American people, and offer them a clear choice in the upcoming midterms and beyond?

Billionaires are mounting a class war. Republican lawmakers are mounting a culture war to deflect attention from it.

On October 31, 1936, in New York's Madison Square Garden, Franklin D. Roosevelt, facing a bruising re-election bid, defined the stakes much as they are today. He explained that America was in a struggle against "business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering" and that a wealthy elite "had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs."

He continued: "We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob."

Then FDR said, in words similar to what Joe Biden and Democrats should be using against the billionaires and bigots who are now arrayed against them:

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

Isn't it time Biden and the Democrats came out clearly against the billionaires abusing their wealth and power by suppressing the wages of average working people and flooding our democracy with their money? And against the culture warriors who are covering up for them? Isn't it time for Biden and the Democrats to explain why they haven't been able to get their agenda through Congress?

Biden and the Democrats should tell Americans which side they are on—and ask America to choose sides.

PS: ICYMI, here's a clip from my appearance on "The Simpsons" last night, where I had a chance to explain the reasons for America's staggering inequality in 8 seconds. (I probably got more across to more people in those 8 seconds than in all the books I've written and all the classes I've taught, combined.)

© 2021
Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include:  "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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