Eat the Rich

The rich are rioting. “Wealthy NYC woman busted in BLM rampage.” “Inside the privileged lives of protesters busted for rioting in Manhattan.” “Lancaster protester held on $1 million bail is a sorority girl.”       

“What else is new?” you might ask. There has always been a segment of the upper-class elite infatuated with revolution. Tom Wolfe famously lampooned this 50 years ago in Radical Chic, chronicling Leonard Bernstein’s cocktail party for the Black Panthers at his Park Avenue duplex. Going back further, John Reed, in between trips to Moscow, cheered on the Bolsheviks from a lovely old home in tony Croton-on-Hudson. And the wealthy industrialist Friedrich Engels bankrolled his Communist collaborator Karl Marx.

But they were rebels against their class. Even in 1970, Bernstein and his artsy East Side set were probably still in the political minority among the well-to-do (perhaps even among the Manhattan well-to-do). Sure, their views were unpopular in the boardrooms of corporate America. What’s different now is that the Left’s 50-year “long march through the institutions” has swept triumphantly through those boardrooms—and through the affluent neighborhoods where their denizens live—leaving an overwhelmingly and stiflingly dominant ideology of Woke Capitalism in its wake. 

The result is, while still somewhat self-interestedly conservative on economic issues, the business community has become the single most powerful force for authoritarian cultural leftism. They support everything from bullying legislators to repealing religious freedom laws to firing dissenters from liberal orthodoxy. And the wealthy have become the most zealous adherents of this orthodoxy.

And it’s everywhere, not just in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. It’s Coke. It’s Pepsi. It’s Nabisco using Oreos to teach kids about transgenderism. It’s Procter & Gamble attacking masculinity. It’s Mastercard and Visa “financially blacklisting” conservatives and thus denying them the “very means of functioning in a capitalist society.” It’s Town & Country, a Hearst publication, raising money for Black Lives Matter and bail funds for “peaceful protesters.”

The movement of the corporate elite and the wealthy towards cultural leftism and away from the Republican Party has been going on for at least 30, if not 50, years—long before Donald Trump came down the escalator. 

As observers going back to the late Christopher Lasch have observed, corporate America and the upper classes have been the leaders of the cultural revolution in the Western world. The leftward gallop accelerated with Trump’s election, though. Hillary Clinton carried the nation’s most affluent counties, outperforming even Barack Obama among upper-income and upper-status voters. (Clinton boasted she won the “dynamic” voters responsible for two-thirds of the nation’s GDP.) 

This trend continued in 2018, with wealthy voters leading the blue wave. This year Joe Biden appears to have widened Clinton’s 2016 lead among highly educated whites. And Wall Street has contributed five times as much to Biden as to Trump.

Many pro-business conservatives rationalize that corporate executives don’t really believe any of the leftist theology they spout. But why is this a comfort? Such thinking is, to use a favorite word of the Left, denial. 

The image of the essentially conservative businessman rolling his eyes at political correctness but going along for whatever reason is comforting because it lulls conservatives into thinking that all is still right in their world. That image may have been accurate in, say, 1985, at the dawn of the “politically correct” age. But it hasn’t been for a long time. This isn’t only about money (though their global customer base in China and other places certainly has no objections to tearing down traditional America). It’s about culture and values. This is corporate and upper-status America’s religion now, inculcated in them from grade school, and, as a glance at any corporate website these days will show, they are bent on imposing it with missionary zeal.

Contrary to the pipe dreams of the libertarian-leaning GOP establishment and donors who counsel ever more social liberalism, and ever more doctrinaire fiscal conservatism in pursuit of the Holy Grail of the Greenwich vote, the rich are never going to vote Republican again in our lifetimes—no matter how many illegal aliens we let in or babies we abort. The Democrats will always outbid us on culture: “I’ll see you Drag Queen Story Hour and raise you ‘Abolish the police!’” And because their cultural views are quasi-religious, more tax breaks won’t matter.

As the affluent have moved dramatically to the Left and become the mainstay of the Democratic Party, millions of “Reagan Democrats”—repelled by increasing Democratic radicalism on a broad range of social issues such as crime—have over the last 50 years become the base of the Republican Party, transforming it from a permanent minority of the country club/Wall Street elite to a functional majority party of the working- and lower-middle classes. Nonetheless, the GOP continued reflexively to back “business-friendly” economic policies that harmed these voters—making it perhaps the only political party in history to support the interests of its enemies over those of its own backers.

Prodded by the populist movement represented by the Trump victory, the Right finally has begun to adjust to this new political reality and break with some of the smelly old pro-business and “free market” orthodoxies of the Cold War era. But it needs to go further, and explicitly ally with the economic left on issues like tax fairness and health care that impact our voters, just as business expressly allies with the cultural Left on issues that concern the elite.

For one thing, this would be good politics—essential politics, in fact. According to a Voter Study Group report, across-the-board economic and social conservatives are just 23 percent of the electorate. Consistent liberals are, scarily, 44 percent. Fiscally liberal and socially conservative populists—the heavily blue-collar Reagan Democrats—are 29 percent, while the much-touted socially liberal-fiscally conservative elites are less than 4 percent (“an army of generals without any troops behind them” as F. H. Buckley has called them). Have a look at the chart illustrating this report. That’s the lonely libertarians in the lower right quadrant: 

So conservatives have to make a choice. They can ally with the libertarian 4 percent who agree with them on the capital gains tax but not on men in the ladies’ room. That will only get them up to 27 percent of the electorate, however. Or they can ally with the populist 29 percent who agree with them on crime, immigration, religious freedom, etc., but not on economics. That will, for now, allow them to eke out a 52 percent majority. But they can’t have it both ways.

Beyond the politics, though, it’s the right thing to do in terms of policy—and in no way inconsistent with the traditional conservatism that focused on non-market institutions like religion and the family before the Right allied with corporate interests. A detailed economic agenda is beyond the scope of this piece, but here are a few issues where it’s time for right-of-center populists to come all the way out of the closet:

Healthcare: Leftists spout so much jargon in that breathless NPR-meets-Hallmark-card way of theirs that it’s tempting to dismiss it all out-of-hand. But one of these things is not like the others:

  • “Men can get pregnant.”
  • “Slavery is America’s foundational experience.”
  • “Healthcare is a human right.”
  • 2+2 can equal 5.”

Of course healthcare is a human right. Ronald Reagan settled that when he supported and signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, prohibiting hospital emergency rooms from turning away patients because of inability to pay. It’s a human right for the same reason that police protection is a human right—a principle with which presumably all conservatives other than a tiny libertarian fringe concur, even while the Left seems to be rejecting it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that conservatives need to accept socialized medicine, Medicare for All, or even necessarily a public option. But it does mean that until we have a viable replacement that leaves no one uncovered we need to drop our opposition to Obamacare right now before it costs Donald Trump the election.

Wealth Taxation: The wealth gap between upper-income families and the middle class and poor has grown sharply over the last 40 years, contemporaneously with the rise of globalism and the disappearance of blue-collar manufacturing jobs. And, as we have seen, this increasingly concentrated wealth is in the hands of the Woke Capitalist Left. Elizabeth Warren’s original wealth tax proposal would have imposed a 2 percent levy on net worth between $50 million and $1 billion and a 3 percent levy on net worth above $1 billion. (She later increased the latter to 4 percent and then 6 percent, but since we’re conservatives let’s take the more conservative plan.) This would still leave Jeff Bezos with about $198 billion. Get out the violins!

Why shouldn’t the Right support this modest effort to slightly reduce the burgeoning inequality between a wealthy liberal elite and average, more conservative, Americans? The nation has long relied on a far larger and more regressive wealth tax on the one form of wealth possessed by large numbers of ordinary middle-class Americans: the property tax. One of the uses to which a progressive national wealth tax could be put is revenue sharing to allow localities to provide property tax relief to these ordinary Americans. 

Capital Gains: As Tucker Carlson has observed,

Why do we tax capital at half the rate of labor? Why is it fair that some inherited-money loser living off the interest from an investment portfolio he didn’t create pays half the tax dollars that you do? Is he twice as necessary as you are? Does he contribute twice as much to America?

The Old Right response that investment income should be taxed at a lower rate than wage income because, allegedly, it was already subject to the corporate tax shows how fiscal conservatives, like social liberals, can use academic theory and jargon to arrive at conclusions that are clearly preposterous. 

It was an entirely different entity that paid the corporate tax. The “free market” economist eruditely explaining to me that, as a typical stock market investor, I somehow also paid the corporate tax of the company issuing my stock, even though it didn’t come out of my bank account, makes as much sense as the progressive sociologist eruditely explaining why I’m responsible for slavery even though my ancestors weren’t here when there were slaves.

The bottom line is that George Soros and Meryl Streep should pay the same rate on their portfolios that a West Virginia coal miner or a Staten Island sanitation worker pays on their respective wages. And I should pay the same rate on a transaction my investment guy does for me without me even knowing about it as on a brief or article I bust my butt to write.

Free marketeers and old-line economic conservatives may cry, as they always do, that this is “Socialism!” Of course, it’s not; in fact, it’s the outline of a populist program that may save us from AOC-style socialism. But, to paraphrase Patrick Henry, as the new Right declares its independence from the antiquated old regime, “If this be socialism, make the most of it.”

Get the news corporate media won't tell you.

Get caught up on today's must read stores!

By submitting your information, you agree to receive exclusive AG+ content, including special promotions, and agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms. By providing your phone number and checking the box to opt in, you are consenting to receive recurring SMS/MMS messages, including automated texts, to that number from my short code. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end. SMS opt-in will not be sold, rented, or shared.

About Dennis Saffran

Dennis Saffran is a Queens, N.Y.-based appellate attorney and political and policy writer whose work has appeared in City Journal, The Federalist, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. Follow him on twitter @dennisjsaffran.

Photo: Getty Images