It started with Donald Trump’s racist tweets demanding that four Democratic congresswomen – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar – “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came”.
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All four women are American citizens and only one, Omar, was born overseas.
On Wednesday, at a rally in North Carolina, Trump continued his attack, especially on Omar. In response, the crowd chanted: “Send her back!”
Subsequently, Trump tried unconvincingly to distance himself from the chant.
The relevant question is not whether Trump is a racist. Of course he is. Or whether he’s going to continue bashing these members of Congress, who fill all his demonization boxes: Democrats, females, people of color, a Muslim. Of course he will.
The real question is whether the people bankrolling Trump and the Republican party are going to stop this rot before it consumes the politics of 2020, and perhaps more.
Early signs are not encouraging. Just before Trump’s North Carolina rally, the Republican National Committee released an ad attacking the “Squad”, as the four congresswomen have become known.
The ad opens with a clip of Ocasio-Cortez referring to migrant detention facilities as “concentration camps”, then saying “‘Never again’ means something”, referring to lessons from the Holocaust. That is followed by a clip from a 2018 primary debate where she asks her opponent, Joe Crowley, why he was willing to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Ice, “fascist” but not to call for its elimination.
It then cuts to Tlaib saying she agrees with Ocasio-Cortez’s “concentration camp” phrase, and to Pressley saying: “You will see the light. And if you don’t, we will bring the fire.”
There follows footage of an attack on an Ice facility in Washington state, showing a burned car, and a facility in Colorado where an American flag was replaced with the flag of Mexico.
It’s profoundly misleading. The clips are all taken out of context. Pressley’s reference to “fire” was part of a statement calling for a humane system and noting that positive change happens either because people see the light or feel the fire.
The RNC is intentionally and mendaciously fueling the same racism Trump is fueling, for the same purpose: whipping up the base.
Who is funding this horse manure? Much of the money that’s flowing into Republican coffers is coming from the same place it’s always come from: Wall Street.
Last year, JP Morgan contributed $149,908 to the RNC.
JP Morgan’s chairman and chief executive, Jamie Dimon, is no racist. A few months ago, in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, he said white people don’t adequately understand racial discrimination.
“If you’re white,” he said, “paint yourself black and walk down the street one day, and you’ll probably have a little more empathy for how some of these folks get treated. We need to make a special effort because this is a special problem.”
JP Morgan isn’t the only Wall Street firm backing Republicans. Between April and June, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell collected $3m but just 9% of it came from individuals in his home state, Kentucky. The biggest block came from Wall Street hedge funds like the Blackstone Group ($95,400), KKR ($51,000), and Apollo Global Management and Golden Tree Management ($65,100).
Why is Wall Street funding Trump’s GOP? Because it is delighted with what Trump and Senate Republicans are giving it: tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks.
Dimon was instrumental in getting the Trump-Republican tax cut through Congress. Last year it saved JP Morgan and the other big banks $21bn.
Trump and the Republicans have also given Wall Street more freedom. They defanged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and have allowed the banks to grow even larger, announcing more mergers and acquisitions in the first five months of 2019 than in any full-year period since the Street nearly imploded in 2008.
The result has been vastly more money for the Street. Last year’s bonus pool totaled $27.5bn – more than three times the combined incomes of the approximately 600,000 Americans earning the minimum wage.
Since Trump’s inauguration, JP Morgan’s stock is up nearly a third. Dimon earned $31m in 2018.
Asked recently how Trump was doing, Dimon gushed.
“Regulatory stuff, good.”
The summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un? A “great idea.”
He also complimented the administration’s “negotiating tactic” on China and called the relationship between big business and the White House “active and good”.
There is no ‘right’ v ‘left’: it is Trump and the oligarchs against the rest | Robert Reich
Asked about Trump saying the Fed had “gone crazy”, Dimon said he had “never seen a president who wanted interest rates to go up”.
Wall Street and the CEOs of major corporations have made a hellish deal – ignore Trump’s repugnance and provide ongoing support for the GOP regardless of its complicity in return for high returns. Perhaps they also believe that the flames of racism and xenophobia will distract the nation sufficiently for them to continue looting it.
But a deal with the devil can exact a large toll. Flames that distract now could lead to an uncontrollable conflagration.
The putative leaders of the American economy owe it to the nation: they must help douse this fire.
Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. He is also a columnist for Guardian US
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