Disil­lu­sion­ment with the G20 and Trump

From fleec­ing and scam­ming in­vestors to fleec­ing and scam­ming com­mon folks

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - TONY LO PRESTI

A hos­tile un­der­cur­rent of dis­trust, anger and dis­con­tent from pro­test­ers met world lead­ers at the G20 sum­mit held in Ham­burg, Ger­many. These anti-cap­i­tal­ist protests were aimed at the G20 lead­ers for their in­jus­tice in de-pri­or­i­tiz­ing the real and press­ing con­cerns of the pub­lic and es­pe­cially the poor — by fo­cus­ing more on is­sues such as trade and cli­mate that have no im­me­di­ate ef­fect in im­prov­ing the lives of the peo­ple these lead­ers gov­ern.

The G20 event, which in­cited vi­o­lent clashes be­tween po­lice and demon­stra­tors and cul­mi­nated in van­dal­ism and loot­ing in the city, un­der­scored the dis­junc­tion be­tween the pow­er­ful and those with­out power whom they im­pact. Sig­nif­i­cantly, much of the ire of demon­stra­tors was di­rected at lead­ers like Don­ald Trump, a bil­lion­aire whose pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies have dis­con­certed many Euro­peans.

Such re­sent­ment of Trump is un­der­stand­able, given that he was lucky to have been born rich and to grow up with all the ad­van­tages to suc­ceed — com­fort­ably shel­tered un­der the um­brella of his fa­ther’s wealth and far re­moved from the hard­ships faced by peo­ple born poor. As a busi­ness mogul, his chief in­ter­est in life has been the ac­cre­tion of per­sonal wealth; as a politi­cian, it is now the preser­va­tion of his po­lit­i­cal power as pres­i­dent. Trump has shied away from se­ri­ous char­i­ta­ble phi­lan­thropy, and some Amer­i­cans do not even be­lieve that a rich and self-cen­tred man like Trump is sin­cerely in­ter­ested in help­ing those be­neath his tier of wealth and power.

Trump crit­ics per­ceive him as a dis­sem­bler who dis­guised him­self as a cham­pion of eco­nom­i­cally dis­tressed heart­land vot­ers for the pur­pose of gulling them to vote for him. This per­cep­tion is jus­ti­fi­ably based on Trump’s well-known hypocrisy. For ex­am­ple, when he was a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Trump de­nounced Wall Street bankers and promised to break their po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic clout and force them to pay higher taxes. But when he be­came pres­i­dent, he re­versed his prom­ises by ap­point­ing many Wall Street bil­lion­aires into his ad­min­is­tra­tive cir­cle — a turn­about that elicited press bash­ing.

Trump sup­port­ers ar­gue that a cab­i­net with a pro-busi­ness bias will help grow the U.S. econ­omy and cre­ate jobs for the poor. That may be true, Trump crit­ics re­but, but who will ben­e­fit more from the eco­nomic growth, the rich or the poor? Trump de­trac­tors claim that his ap­point­ments of Wall Street bil­lion­aires to pro­tect and pro­mote the eco­nomic in­ter­ests of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, es­pe­cially the poor, is a big con — akin to en­trust­ing wolves to guard and en­sure the safety of sheep.

At a June 2017 rally in Iowa, Trump de­fended his flip-flop­ping ap­point­ment of wealthy peo­ple like Gary Cohn, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Gold­man Sachs in­vest­ment bank, and bil­lion­aire Wil­bur Ross, as­sert­ing: “I just don’t want a poor per­son” in charge of the U.S. econ­omy. Trump’s state­ment re­veals a big­oted con­tempt for the in­tel­li­gence of the poor and ad­vances his hy­poth­e­sis that if you’re not wealthy, you’re not smart — which is a fal­la­cious gen­er­al­iza­tion eas­ily de­bunked by Alexan­der Hamil­ton, a poor politi­cian who be­came the first U.S. Secretary of the Trea­sury and bril­liantly ran the Amer­i­can econ­omy and fi­nances dur­ing Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s pres­i­dency.

Trump’s boast­ful ma­te­ri­al­ism also over­looks the fact that wealth does not nec­es­sar­ily con­fer hap­pi­ness — the pala­tial res­i­dences of the wealthy are of­ten lit­tered with the shards of bro­ken fam­i­lies, scan­dals, or sui­cides. That the at­tain­ment of wealth is not the be-all and end-all of hu­man life is also val­i­dated by re­li­gious teach­ers — like Gau­tama Bud­dha and Je­sus Christ — who es­sen­tially taught that the ac­qui­si­tion of spir­i­tual wis­dom (and not ma­te­rial wealth) is life’s great­est goal.

Of course, in keep­ing with his prone­ness to play hide and seek with hon­esty and truth, Trump left out a cou­ple of dis­qui­et­ing facts that should raise con­cerns about his ap­pointees. One is that Cohn’s de­ci­sion­mak­ing led to the 2008 Amer­i­can fi­nan­cial cri­sis in which Gold­man Sachs lost $1.2 bil­lion of its in­vestors’ money — so why would Trump want him as his chief eco­nomic ad­viser? An­other omis­sion is that Ross was in­stru­men­tal in Trump avoid­ing bank­ruptcy dur­ing the 1990s and in sav­ing Trump’s own­er­ship of the Taj Ma­hal casino. Ob­vi­ously, Trump did not dis­close this last fact at the Iowa rally be­cause he wanted to cover up his pen­chant for us­ing po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ments to re­ward cronies or loy­al­ists who have sup­ported and helped him in the past.

Those who fear that Trump’s in­tent is to cre­ate a gov­ern­ment run by an oli­garchy of wealthy peo­ple with Trump as its king­pin, may be dis­ap­pointed to learn that it is al­ready a fait ac­com­pli. The Amer­i­can peo­ple paved the way for it six months ago, when they elected a bil­lion­aire with­out any po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence as their pres­i­dent — be­cause he sold them the false­hood that his wealth qual­i­fied him for the job.

Tony Lo Presti is a for­mer ed­u­ca­tor and for­mer Hamil­to­nian

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