Anti-Rich Rhetoric

Recently, venture capitalist Tom Perkins referred to “parallels” between the demonization of the one percent in the U.S. and Nazi Germany’s war against its Jews.  “From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.  There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.  This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking.  Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; I its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

This seems rather over-the-top, but let me play devil’s advocate.  Aren’t we always being told to be ever-vigilant against hatred and fear of the other in light of the Holocaust, that it is the height of naivete to think “it can’t happen here”?  The 99% movement is, by definition, a movement based on otherization.

Paul Krugman responds that “[e]xtreme inequality…creates a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality…the rich are different from you and me,” which of course only fuels the otherization critique.

His next response is not at all to the point: “[E]very group finds itself facing criticism, and ends up on the losing side of policy disputes, somewhere along the way,” Krugman says, referring to tax increases on the rich and financial regulation.  But Perkins is not at all referring to policies, and does not mention the Obama administration that Krugman focuses on in his response.  He is talking about rhetoric directed against the rich.

So should “groups of people” find themselves facing criticism?  I’m not talking about people who form a political group, whose political goals are criticized (the NRA, the Center for American Progress, unions, etc.)  I’m talking about groups criticized based on identity that they create for themselves or someone else create for them (plutocrats, the 1%, the Jews, Catholics, immigrants, etc?)  I would say not, especially when the criticism is for who these people are rather than what they do (meaning, it isn’t clear what someone would do to avoid the criticism, and membership in the group itself makes one a target.) 

I also don’t think that groups who feel under siege from a majority usually take criticism, or even policy defeats, in stride or treat them as legitimate, as Krugman says (“Normal people take it in stride; even if they’re angry and bitter over political setbacks, they don’t cry persecution, compare their critics to Nazis.”)  Gay groups certainly see themselves as persecuted when a marriage vote doesn’t go their way.  Hispanics seem to see anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, as in Arizona, as pretty illegitimate.  Some black people in Krugman’s city, New York, certainly see themselves as persecuted as a result of stop-and-frisk policies.  Even unions, who form interest groups and enter the political fray, see criticism of their agendas as expressions of hostility to the working class. 

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One thought on “Anti-Rich Rhetoric

  1. Of course, contrary to Krugman’s assertion, “normal people” cry persecution and compare their critics to Nazi’s all the time.

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