Trump stokes division with racism and rage – and the American oligarchy purrs
Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images
Jamie Dimon, managing director of JPMorgan Chase, took his knee in front of cameras in a branch of his bank last week. Larry Fink, CEO of the giant BlackRock mutual fund, rejected racial prejudice. Starbucks promised to "be in solidarity with our black partners, customers and communities". David Solomon, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, said he mourns "for the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other victims of racism".
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And so on, across the top levels of American business, a pouring out of solidarity with those who protest brutal police killings and systemic racism against black Americans.
But most of it is for the show.
JPMorgan has made it difficult for black people to get mortgage loans. In 2017, the bank paid $ 55 million to settle a Justice Department lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against minority borrowers. Researchers have found that banks routinely charge black mortgage borrowers higher interest rates than white borrowers and deny them mortgages that white applicants would have received.
BlackRock is one of the largest investors in private prisons and disproportionately locks up black and Latin American men.
Starbucks has banned baristas from wearing Black Lives Matter clothing and has struggled with racism in its stores for years as managers accuse black customers of entering and refusing them bathrooms that white customers have access to.
Last week criticized Frederick Baba, a senior executive at Goldman Sachs, who criticized managers for not supporting junior bankers from different backgrounds.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes - in the halls of Congress and in the corridors of state houses, in fundraisers and in private briefings for candidates, in strategy meetings with political activists and PR specialists - the CEOs who condemn racism and receive huge tax cuts and receive a wealth tax fend off.
As a result, the nation cannot afford anything as ambitious as a massive Marshall Plan to provide poor communities with first-class schools, first-class health care and affordable housing.
The CEOs oppose a living wage and a universal basic income. They don't want cartel laws to endanger their market power and consumers have to pay more. They reject stricter regulations against red lining or bans on payday loans, which disproportionately burden both black and brown people.
Perhaps the most revealing is that they are silent about Donald Trump's bigotry. Indeed, many tacitly fund the re-election of a president whose political rise began with a racist conspiracy theory and which continues to encourage white supremacists.
This goes beyond mere hypocrisy. America's super-rich have accumulated more wealth and power than ever before since the late 19th century “robber knights” - enough to achieve the desired legislative results and organize the system for their own benefit.
The country's billionaires have risen by $ 565 billion since the pandemic, despite 42.6 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits. The loss of jobs has hit the black Americans disproportionately, and the race-race gap and US prosperity continues to grow.
The rich know that white and black Americans are less likely to look up and see where wealth and power have gone, as long as there is racist hostility.
They are less likely to notice that the market is against them all. They will stick to the meritocratic myth that they are paid what they are "worth" in the market and that the obstacles they face come from themselves rather than from an unjust system.
Racism reduces the likelihood that they will band together to threaten this system.
This is not a new strategy. Throughout history, the rich have used racism to divide people and thereby strengthen themselves.
Half a century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. observed something similar about the old southern aristocracy that “conquered the world and gave it to poor white man Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for food that his empty pockets could not deliver, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird who told him that no matter how bad he was, he was at least a white man, better than one Black man."
Trump is the best thing that has ever happened to the new American oligarchy, and not just because he has given them tax cuts and regulatory setbacks.
He has also fueled division and racism, so most Americans don't see CEOs receive exorbitant wages while lowering average workers' wages, and don't notice huge tax cuts and bailouts for large corporations and riches, while most people with inadequate schools get by and affordable health care, and don't pay attention to bribery of officials through unlimited campaign donations.
Systemic injustices can only be remedied if power is redistributed. Power is only redistributed when the vast majority - white, black and brown - join together to secure it.
Which is what the oligarchy fears most.
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Saving Capitalism: For the many, not the few, and the common good. His new book The System: Who manipulated it, how we fix it? He is a columnist for Guardian US
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