Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand…Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. – F. Scott Fitzgerald
We’ve tried to understand what motivates working-class hatred. Now when the wealthy engage in conservative politics,
they do so in a somewhat rational, if short-sighted, effort to maintain their own wealth and privilege. They do not perceive themselves as victims.
Or at least that used to be the case. For the past twenty years now, the United States has seen a relatively new phenomenon: individuals and families – the Kochs, the Mercers, the Waltons, the Uihleins, Sheldon Adelson (who recently rewarded Trump for moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by giving yet another $30 million to the Republicans), Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Marcus, Paul Singer, Betsy DeVoss and other members of Donald Trump’s cabinet, among the 540 billionaires in the U.S. – who have absolutely dominated politics. These are the American olligarchs.
You say you never heard this phrase? The media, of course, never describe them as such, preferring to apply the term only to Russians, as if the mega-rich in America choose to remain above the fray and stay home counting their money. Here is another aspect of American myth: we really don’t hate the rich as people do in other countries, because we subscribe to bogus assumptions that we might someday join them.
I’m not talking about your average, run-of-the-mill, arriviste, rich person with only one or two billion in assets. Some of these people actually have worked hard to amass their fortunes. Perhaps they remain somewhat insecure about their status in comparison with those who have much more, so they remain in the game of influencing politicians toward the goal of maximizing their wealth.
In the past several election cycles these people have donated inconceivably massive amounts of money to politicians. They give primarily to Republicans of course. But not always: Barack Obama collected more money from Wall Street than anyone before or since.
Certainly, some of this activity represents conventional quid pro pro investment. But at a certain point, materialist analysis fails us. Of course, we always ask cui bono – who profits? But I’m talking about people who are so fabulously wealthy that simple calculations of wealth enhancement really don’t seem to be in play.
What motivates these people? Most of them do not appear to be fundamentalist Christians. They don’t seem to be angry about losing status relative to women and people of color as the rank-and-file Tea-Partiers are (even as the Kochs have sustained them financially for many years).
Ideology? The Kochs and the Mercers in particular, have been described as “libertarian purists,” who passionately hate government regulation with religious intensity, who really believe that their philosophies, if fully enacted, would transform the world and improve all our lives.
I suppose some of them are as mentally and certainly as morally unstable as Trump appears to be, since their wealth has insulated them from the consequences of their actions. I suppose it’s easy to subscribe to crazy ideologies that deny the facts of climate change – even when they have more information about it than we do – when you live on an estate, tended by a flock of servants. It’s easy – in an America that blames the poor for their own condition and reassures the wealthy that they are among the saved – to feel that you are entitled to your wealth – that you deserve it – simply because you have it, to be unaware of Balzac’s charge that “At the base of every great fortune there is a great crime.”
It may even be easy to convince yourself that you pulled yourself entirely up by your own bootstraps – that white privilege, huge inheritances, elite educations, bought politicians, massive government subsidies and tax credits had nothing to do with it. As Jim Hightower said of George Bush Sr., he was “born on third base and thought he had hit a triple.”
But psychoanalyzing such people doesn’t get us very far. We need to understand the myths that they embody. That’s easy enough with Trump supporters (sorry if you think I’m being too judgmental): the myth of innocence is collapsing as quickly as the economy, and along with it their privileged sense of masculine, productive, gun-toting, heroic, white supremacy. They are pissed, especially at you and me, whom they have been taught to perceive as having destroyed their world with our “liberal” values. And let’s compartmentalize our compassion for a minute and acknowledge that large numbers of them are viciously, proudly racist (see my comparison above between white and black evangelicals). But I’m talking about the people who pay the bills for all the hate, the one percent of the one percent.
I’m trying to understand the myths that drive these people. It seems clear that they are enacting our national myths of innocence, exceptionalism and manifest destiny for us. But to go deeper we have look at three archetypes: the Warrior, the King and the Apocalypse. The Warrior serves the King, but they both have the potential of serving the Apocalypse. And we can’t really understand any of these themes without considering a fourth archetype that I’ve already been talking about: initiation.