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During my 14 years in America, which ended with the first stirrings of Donald Trump’s rise to power, liberals and “Conservatives” were like warring tribes. “Conservative,” when Bill Clinton was President, meant traditional Republicans, and right-leaning Democrats, who believed that America had to be strong, money had to be earned before it could be spent and nobody, other than the desperately poor or the elderly, should be free to claim welfare. But in the years that followed, the description came to include the unemployed, the under-paid, mountain men in coonskin caps, the Ku Klux Klan, unashamed xenophobes and assorted religious loons.
Today, the right-wing ragbag has expanded to bursting point, presided over by the multi-billionaire class who dominate the economy in the manner of the oligarchs of Russia or the Princes of Saudi Arabia.
The 0.01 per cent, approaching their apotheosis in the Age of Trump, are now firmly in control, and over the next four years we should begin to see what an America governed by the super-rich looks like. I am not optimistic.
But now let’s look at those who are out to stop them.
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The first thing to say about Liberalism is that it is a moveable, if mainly vegetarian, feast. Liberal Democrats in the UK are left-wing activists. Their voter base was appalled when the party entered into coalition with the Tories in 2010. In the Netherlands, the VVD is hard-nosed on the economy and welfare, but equally strong on social issues such as gay rights, abortion and race. The FDP in Germany similarly promotes free markets and privatisation, but is hot, too, on civil liberties. And so on and so on.
American liberals – not to be confused with the totality of the Democratic Party, most obviously supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders – are less structured, more warm and wooly. Their version of the creed, felt most intensely among upper income groups on the East and West coasts, has two agendas, one which works, the other that doesn’t.
The one that works is centred on individual liberty and freedom of conscience. American liberals believe in gay rights, same sex marriage, abortion on demand, transgender toilets, the legalisation of marijuana and gender and racial equality – in that order. During the Obama years, they made enormous strides with their top six key issues, though achieving little of consequence for what they have (again) rebranded as People of Colour.
The second agenda – the one with the potential to transform the wellbeing of the entire nation – embraces affordable healthcare, a balanced economy, secure jobs, guaranteed pensions, good schools for all and a positive engagement with the world. The problem is, gosh-darn it, that these things cost money – a lot of money – and the one thing liberals share with Conservatives is an unwillingness to open their wallets.
Liberals in the U.S. are overwhelmingly white, college-educated and work in the professions, business, the media, consultancy or the arts. During the Democratic primaries, if they were students or not long out of graduate school, they probably voted for Sanders, who represented real change. But they soon grow out of that. Older liberals, with mortgages and school fees to pay, went for Hillary, a safe bet who posed no threat to their bank accounts.
Most liberals own their own homes, or expect to. If they live in upscale areas, with high property taxes, the local public school can usually be relied on to provide their kids with with a safe environment and a functional pre-college education. Otherwise, they opt for “progressive” – i.e. private – schools, where the curriculum emphasises climate change and the coming rift with China. Liberals have black friends. They also have beach houses. And to keep the show on the road – because living liberally isn’t cheap – they rely on their accountants to minimise their tax bill.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are classic high-end Liberals. Obama is already wealthy, with a stash of some $12 million. But over the next ten years it is reasonable to assume that, one way or another, he will at least triple his income. He and his wife, both Harvard graduates from poor backgrounds, will expect their daughters to follow a similar academic path. It is even said that the outgoing President has black friends, though not, as yet, a beach house.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are at least two steps ahead of the Obamas. Like Tony Blair, they have used their celebrity to build up a fortune in excess of $120 million. Their daughter, Chelsea, married an ambitious investment banker with Goldman Sachs and now sits on the board of the much-storied Clinton Foundation, controlling assets valued at close to half a billion dollars.
Further up the income stream is the new generation of “cool” multi-billionaires, such as Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook – rumoured to be considering a tilt at the White House in 2020 – and Jeff Bezos, the Amazon boss, who as owner of the Washington Post has made it his life’s ambition to hold Trump’s feet to the fire.
Zuckerberg and his wife Chan have followed the lead of Bill and Melinda Gates and pledged $6bn of their $57bn fortune to fund research into “curing all disease”. Six years ago, Zuckerberg gave a more modest $100 million (25 days’ earnings) to a state school initiative in New Jersey, the result of his association with fast-rising Democrat Senator Cory Booker. Such charitable giving, fabulously generous by the standards of ordinary mortals, has done nothing to dilute the couple’s underlying wealth. Like the Gates, they grow richer with each passing year.
Bezos, a liberal to his fingertips, threw his enthusastic backing behind gay rights reform and has even indicated that he could endorse – or at least not oppose – an internet sales tax. At the same time, he has been careful down the years to make campaign contributions to candidates from both major parties, thus ensuring that whoever wins, he won’t lose. Amazon has probably undermined more jobs round the world than any other corporation, but its owner is sitting pretty. Over the last 15 months, his net worth increased by a staggering $20 billion, to $67 billion and counting, enabling him to indulge in some pretty hefty philanthropy.
Online billionaires are noticeably less harsh than their old-school equivalents. Well, how could they not be? They are younger and hipper. They built the intenet. They created social media. But much though they cheer on, and even sponsor, the Democrats’ liberal agenda, they are markedly less progressive when it comes to paying for it. Trump was roundly criticised when it emerged during the presidential campaign that he hadn’t paid any federal tax for 20 years. But Google, Amazon, Facebook and the rest – almost all of whose employees reportedly vote Democrat – have withheld billions more, not just from the U.S. but from every country (other than Luxembourg) in which they do business.
Liberals are mellow. They went to the same universities, watch the same movies and buy the same art. Until Sanders came along, they defined what passes for the Left in contemporary America. For the most part, you would be pleased to know them. If you are a caring (though not necessarily sharing) person, they tick all the right boxes. Yet they would no more volunteer to pay an extra 10 per cent in tax (or, indeed, accept the validity of an IRS demand) than they would cheer on a white police officer who had just shot an unarmed black man.
Liberals talk big on the need to rein in Wall Street and mega-corporations. They pray (sometimes literally) that more factories will open in the Mid-West to bring relief to the “little guys” and help wean them off their appalling racism and sexism. They complain that not enough federal money is spent on roads, railways and bridges, which they have been told are falling into serious disrepair. But don’t look to them for a contribution. For liberals, college fees, a beach house and preparing for a long and gilded retirement are what really wind their clock. They would regard it as positively un-American if they were to be asked to give up more than a sliver of their carefully-husbanded wealth for the common good. This is why, just like Hillary Clinton, they concentrate increasingly on the first half of their wish-list: equal rights for all: an important but largely cost-free social agenda.
Small wonder the poor and the left-behind, if they were white, voted in droves last November for a candidate who promised them his number one priority was job creation for Americans. These “Deplorables,” as Clinton disastrously referred to them, may or may not support transgender toilets (probably not), but they sure as Hell would like to know when they and their kids are going to be offered a proper job that will see them through to a well-deserved retirement. Trump will probably disappoint them, but they can’t be sure of that. What they can be sure of is that liberalism, for them, isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.