In the wake of billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins saying that he thinks the richest Americans are on the verge of being rounded up into Nazi-style concentration camps, Josh Marshall tries to understand the psychology and sociology of that utterly deluded belief.
Let me state the phenomenon as clearly as possible: The extremely wealthy are objectively far wealthier, far more politically powerful and find a far more indulgent political class than at any time in almost a century – at least. And yet at the same time they palpably feel more isolated, abused and powerless than at any time over the same period and sense some genuine peril to the whole mix of privileges, power and wealth they hold.
There is a disconnect there that is so massive and glaring that it demands some sociocultural explanation. I’ve written about this before. But I confess not terribly well because I’ve found it a difficult issue to get my arms fully around and to reorient my focus on day to day events to the longer horizon. But I do think it’s one of the core political and economic issues of our time and deserves real explanation.
I first started noticing this when I saw several years ago that many of the wealthiest people in the country, especially people in financial services, not only didn’t support Obama (not terribly surprising) but had a real and palpable sense that he was out to get them. This was hard to reconcile with the fact that Obama, along with President Bush, had pushed through a series of very unpopular laws and programs and fixes that had not only stabilized global capitalism, saved Wall Street but saved the personal fortunes (and perhaps even the personal liberty) of the people who were turning so acidly against him. Indeed, through the critical years of 2009, 10 and 11 he was serving as what amounted to Wall Street’s personal heat shield, absorbing as political damage the public revulsion at the bailout policies that had kept Wall Street whole.
Honestly, I think he’s giving them far too much credit. Do the mega-rich really think that they’re living in mortal peril? Not very likely. They’re selling a narrative and the target audience for that marketing pitch are those who aren’t rich but have largely fallen for the ridiculous idea that setting the top income tax rate back to where it was in the 1990s is “class warfare.” That rhetoric serves as a cloak over or distraction from the real class warfare, which includes cuts in public assistance and laws that weaken labor unions. They don’t really believe this crap, they’re engaged in a marketing campaign.