Greed and griev­ance

The Star Democrat - - OPINION - GEORGIE ANNE GEYER Georgie Anne Geyer has been a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent and com­men­ta­tor on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer@juno. com.

WASH­ING­TON — Like many Amer­i­cans struck by the lib­eral ver­sus conser va­tive po­lit­i­cal and so­cial di­vides in Amer­ica, I have been try­ing to make some sense of it all these last few tor­ment­ing weeks.

But be­fore ad­dress­ing Ka­vanaugh ver­sus Ford, the reds ver­sus the blues, and Don­ald Trump ver­sus the world, I must first make a shame­ful con­fes­sion. It’s em­bar­rass­ing, no doubt about it, but try to re­strain your hoots and boos.

The fact is, in to­day’s ex­trem­ist po­lit­i­cal-ends-re­ally-do-jus­tify-anymeans Amer­ica, I am a mod­er­ate. I am a cen­trist, a woman jour­nal­ist who loves his­tory and ra­tio­nal so­lu­tions. I like my coun­try to bal­ance both moral­ity and prag­ma­tism in its poli­cies, at home and abroad, and I be­lieve it is pos­si­ble. So, there, it’s out!

Words writ­ten to me in a let­ter from Fa­ther Roger Veke­mans, a bril­liant Je­suit priest I knew in Chile dur­ing its bit­ter demo­cratic-com­mu­nist con­flict in the 1970s, re­main my fa­vorite in­spi­ra­tional quote.

“No fight against the right will drive me to the left, and no fight against the left will drive me to the right,” he wrote me, long af­ter Chile had bless­edly cho­sen democ­racy. “Once and for all, I have cho­sen the ex­treme cen­ter.”

Re­cently I found some other won­der­ful words, though alarm­ing, from an equally re­spected thinker, ones that may shed more di­rect light on where we are to­day.

Writ­ing from Lon­don in the Fi­nan­cial Times, econ­o­mist Martin Wolf fo­cused on two words to de­scribe our cur­rent prob­lems: greed and griev­ance. In­deed, the head­line on the col­umn was “How we lost Amer­ica to greed and envy.”

The Bri­tish, Aus­trian-born writer, who all his life has been pro-Amer­i­can, wrote of the widely held be­lief that once Amer­ica “stood for some­thing so at­trac­tive that it seemed to be ‘ours.’” But to­day that as­sump­tion is be­ing gravely un­der­mined; in Don­ald Trump, Wolf sees a pol­i­tics of “pluto-pop­ulism,” es­sen­tially a plu­to­cratic sys­tem of “re­lent­less and sys­tem­atic de­vo­tion to the in­ter­ests of the rich” com­bined with a pop­ulism that of­fers the “na­tion­al­ism and pro­tec­tion­ism wanted by the Repub­li­can base.”

Greed, as Wolf and many oth­ers see it, is rep­re­sented by Pres­i­dent Trump and the en­tire Trump fam­ily’s his­tory of fraud, in­come tax eva­sion and moun­tains of lies. Griev­ance he sees in terms of the white work­ing class and its sense of alien­ation and loss at the hands of “elit­ists” on the two glob­al­ist coasts.

And while I em­brace these two words as cen­tral keys to un­der­stand­ing our na­tion to­day, I must ex­pand on them.

Greed in Amer­ica is not con­fined to the Trumps. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s friends in the hedge funds of Wall Street sweat greed; bank pres­i­dents who left their posts with un­told mil­lions af­ter fleec­ing their clients reg­is­ter as both Repub­li­can and Demo­crat.

In my home­town of Chicago, J.B. Pritzker, the prom­i­nent bil­lion­aire of the Hy­att Ho­tels fam­ily who is run­ning for gov­er­nor as a Demo­crat, has been pub­licly ac­cused of de­lib­er­ately haul­ing out five toi­lets from a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar town­house the fam­ily owns on North As­tor Street — all in or­der to avoid pay­ing taxes on the house, which amount to the equiv­a­lent of a night at the opera to him.

How does one even be­gin to un­der­stand how greed moves al­ready enor­mously wealthy men to such small acts like this, which will for­ever de­fine him in the un­for­giv­ing pub­lic mind?

Nor is griev­ance con­fined to the now largely Repub­li­can white work­ing class. Ob­vi­ously, AfricanAmer­i­cans in par­tic­u­lar have the first call on griev­ance talk, and they are now mostly Democrats; then we have women, Lati­nos, new im­mi­grants, old im­mi­grants and so on.

Many of them, per­haps most, have a right to their com­plaints, but strat­egy on the part of both Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats should aim at cam­paigns of pro­por­tion­al­ity, where one group’s rights are bal­anced among oth­ers’ rights, and a moral cen­ter does not lose track of our found­ing prin­ci­ples.

How se­duc­tively and sedi­tiously dis­gust­ing greed and over­wrought griev­ance sweep through the cor­ri­dors — and the al­leys — of Amer­i­can life to­day. One feeds the other un­til ev­ery­thing ends in re­sent­ment, in re­crim­i­na­tion and, fi­nally, in re­treat from a healthy, bal­anced so­ci­ety.

There are some su­perb Amer­i­cans in pub­lic life — think of Bill and Melinda Gates, War­ren Buf­fett, the Bloombergs and the Bushes — but we are over­bur­dened by too many greedy peo­ple, grasp­ing the han­dles of griev­ance at any cost.

Greed and griev­ance: How do we con­trol them both and bring them back into pro­por­tion in our un­bal­anced so­ci­ety? What can we do to pre­vent weeks like this last one from hap­pen­ing again?

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