(Portside) -- We are, the cliché goes, reliving the Gilded Age. Then as now the mega-rich wax ever fatter while the chasm between poor and prosperous yawns ever wider. Then as now over-consumption by the kleptocracy is an obscenity. So is the brutal suppression of organized labor. So is the buying and selling of elective and appointed offices. So is the mounting repression of Indigenous peoples, immigrants and African Americans. If history is not repeating itself, as the commonplace goes, it surely seems to be closely in rhyme. But really it’s not. And that’s really dangerous. To explain:
Historically speaking, Commodore Vanderbilt and the Koch Brothers are entirely different species of plutocrat. The good Commodore amassed wealth and deployed it in order to get still more by beggaring his neighbors: full stop. For the infinitely more ambitious Koch brothers limitless wealth means underwriting networks of specialists, media outlets, think tanks and academic outposts, institutions that work together to engineer a slow moving coup d’etat. A fatter investment portfolio does not interest them. What does is taking control of American governance and bending it to their antidemocratic will. And there is a still more important contrast. While the Commodore was all greed and no ethics, the Koch brothers truly believe that they are deeply moral people who are doing us all an enormous service. That makes them far more dangerous than any later nineteenth century tycoon.
So the Gilded Age analogy fails us and it is imperative that we get the history right. Unless we decisively map the Koch brothers historically to learn what they truly represent, we greatly diminish our ability to resist their initiatives, overturn their claims to morality and work for a less divided nation. (That bromide about winners writing history could not be more apt.)
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