A friend of mine asked a group of like-minded folks a set of questions. I paraphrase, but the questions were:
- I've always assumed people who built huge wealth were smarter than the average business person, but with Trump that seems not to be the case. He does a lot of counterproductive and self-harming things.
- How does someone as undisciplined, apparently emotionally crippled, and someone with such low regard for the intelligence of the people he leads, rise not only to financial success but to the presidency?
- If someone like Trump could do so well, what keeps the rest of us from succeeding similarly.
Here are my thoughts:
- Our peers of successful, but not uber wealthy people, would all do a lot better financially if we were given $40M and even better if the figure is closer to $200M when starting out our careers - so there's that.
- If the courts made it easy for us to simply refuse to pay in our industry, and we were crooked and amoral enough to use it, that would make a huge difference.
- If tax law favored the industry we just happened to inherit from a rich father, that combined with the legal advantages above, would be overwhelming. Think about how much in taxes and services you've paid in your life. It has to be at least $1M dollars and for some of us, could be millions of dollars. Trump potentially has paid $0 in taxes for "nearly 20 years". No taxes, and stiffing contractors = lots of personal financial wealth
- Americans revere the very rich, for reasons I find dizzying, and no matter whether they deserve it, as our middle-class neighbors associate great wealth with the American dream, no matter how hard that dream is for many to believe.
- We have been living our lives, at least since 1980, in a country dominated by right-leaning politics, whose only real goal is an unabashed protection of the donor class. Pay-to-play is a serious problem, and oddly was a big deal in Hillary's loss - as if Trump is not a part of the donor class. None of us (I presume) are really wealthy enough to be in the donor class - sure, a hundred thousand at most in contributions over a lifetime is not nothing, but it's not donor class level support, which ranges into the millions per year, even a billion dollars per year.
- The Citizens United SCOTUS ruling has made it even worse for ordinary Americans to have a voice in our politics, and the donor class now drowns out all others. Bernie's decision to refuse large donors and take contributions from ordinary Americans only was a remarkable thing. And shows there is hope for a reversal of the trends favoring the donor class might be possible.
- Raising taxes on the donor class so that our rates are truly progressive again. To what level is a good debate to have.
- Reversing Citizens United and re-capping contribution levels for political donations, or public funding only for elections are a good place to start.
- Rewriting the tax code. I'd be in favor of an overall reduction in tax rates, so long as donor class deductions (e.g. carried interest) were eliminated, but not middle-class breaks like writing off mortgage interest.
- The overall rule, is that building and maintaining a strong middle-class, creates the conditions for free markets to best thrive. The super rich don't need to be richer through tax policy, but the conditions we have in our politics and money in politics in particular, have created the conditions where politicians of both parties, but much more GOP politicians endlessly argue for tax cuts for the rich. On top of this, we are experiencing the worst middle-class conditions in my life (this video is mind-blowing, and I've embedded it below) in terms of wealth accumulation, things are getting worse, and I strongly believe, are the reason we have the conditions that explain why we have "President Trump" at all.