‘If you were not a multi-billionaire... do you think you would be sitting here today?” US Senator Bernie Sanders asked Betsy Devos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, during a senate committee hearing.
“I do think there would be that possibility,” Devos responded. “I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children.”
The socialist senator’s attack on Devos, like that on many of her opponents, is not just about what she may lack – enough experience – but also about what she does have – too much money. This is an interesting phenomenon. While in the Socialist Republic of Romania where I grew up, anyone caught with evidence of wealth – i.e, a pair of American jeans – might be grabbed and interrogated by police, in the US, having money was never in itself considered a crime.
Something seems to have changed during the 2016 US election. The ugly, polarizing rhetoric of my childhood that my father satirized in Gulliver in the Land of Lies
– a book that earned him a 25-year prison sentence – has moved from Marxist college courses into mainstream liberal discourse. While it is socially unacceptable to hate people for the color of their skin, it is now perfectly acceptable to hate them for the content of their wallets. It is morally reprehensible to judge human beings for their sexual choices; it is perfectly permissible to abhor them for their career choices. It is sacrilegious to bash individuals for their marital status; it is fashionable to blast them for their financial status. We cannot deride our fellows for where they go to worship Friday, Saturday or Sunday. We can, however, despise them for where they go to work during the week. If that place happens to be Wall Street, it is OK to call them the scum of the earth.
The first sparks of class hatred may have been ignited by an older pair than Marx and Engels: Cain and Abel. Throughout the ages, this virulent form of hatred has caused humanity endless suffering. I am not only talking about the “class enemies” who were hacked, guillotined, beaten and murdered during bloody revolutions. I am also talking about the millions of victims in cities and in villages, in gulags and in prisons, in Russia and in Romania, in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, in China and in Vietnam, who suffered from starvation, incarceration, torture and execution – the consequences of the reorganization of societies according to the ideology of class warfare. Millions continue to suffer in Cuba, Venezuela and most cruelly in North Korea.
Class hatred is racial hatred’s twin sib. But to call it by its name is unacceptable in progressive circles.
It is despicable to hate a woman for being a woman, but honorable to hate a woman for being a rich woman. This is the plain and simple message that Bernie Sanders’ supporters are now preparing for the voters they plan to poach from Trump in 2020. Horrible as it is, sexism “is irrelevant to the question that confronted us in the Democratic primary,” writes Fredrik Deboer in a Washington Post piece linked to Senator Sanders’ December 1, 2016 essay in the same publication attacking president-elect Trump for saving the 1,000 carrier workers their jobs instead of punishing their bosses. Deboer explains that Hillary Clinton’s greatest sin was being “an immensely wealthy woman” who hung out with immensely “wealthy celebrities.” “The millionaire from New York,” during her ill-fated campaign against the “animated hate Muppet, Donald Trump,” even had the audacity to suggest that the billionaire from New York “wasn’t really all that rich.”
In the typical Marxist fashion I was taught in Romanian grade school, the writer juxtaposes the big city “smooth operator” capitalist villain and “the small city New Deal granddad from Vermont.” Surely the people’s hero could have won the presidential race by “contrasting Trump’s ostentatious wealth with his own shabby aesthetic.” Never again should American voters be confused with a choice between a millionaire and a billionaire. In the future, the contrast must be as stark as night and day, good and evil: the crooked billionaires vs. the honest workers.
As a college professor, I can tell you that class warfare sounds seductive to a generation raised with lots of video game cartoons and very little world history.
Class hatred and racial hatred walk hand in hand. Many liberals don’t get that. They find it abhorrent to hate Jews for being Jews, but acceptable to hate rich Jews for being rich. This is the plain and simple message of an avalanche of articles that have swept through respected liberal publications. In “Is Jared Kushner the ‘Court Jew’ of Donald Trump’s Realm” (The Forward
7/19/2016) Jonathan Levy accuses “modern prince of the Jews Jared Kushner” of doing what antisemites have accused Jews of throughout their history: earning racial hatred through their own treachery.
The writer claims that “Donald the Great,” like Charlemagne, deliberately sought out a rich Jew and married him to his daughter so “no matter how egregiously anti-Semitic he and his followers might appear, he can always say, ‘but look at my son-in-law, you don’t get more Jewish than him!’” Though Clinton isn’t the target of his article, Levy feels the need to inform us that she is “the mother-in law herself of a nice Jewish boy,” implying that the wealthy New Yorker also sought out one of those “court Jews” for a son-in-law.
In the equally scathing article “In his Office, Good Jewish Boy Jared Kushner Reads the Sages” (The Forward
, November 22, 2016), Daniel J. Solomon mocks Kushner for his “pretty Jewish office,” where he granted “an exclusive Forbes
profile” that presented the rich, smart young Jew as “the brains behind father-in-law Donald Trump’s successful bid for the presidency.” Is it to spare Sanders this classic antisemitic association of Jews with corruption that moves his supporters to call their hero’s socialist plans “Sanders’ Nordic-style egalitarian policies?”
Abraham Cahan, editor of The Jewish Daily Forward
, was proud to be both a Jewish socialist and an immigrant who lived the American dream. A founder of the most popular Yiddish newspaper in the world, Cahan saw people as individuals, not cartoons. Like Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was honored for his leadership by both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Cahan recognized the spark of Judaism in every Jew and the spark of humanity in every human being. In The Rise of David Levinsky
(1917), considered one of the great business novels of American literature, Cahan traces the rise from rags to riches of a Russian Jewish immigrant who becomes a multi-millionaire in the garment industry with the help of his Talmudic brains, honest face, hard work and the generosity of other self-made Jewish millionaires intent on helping younger members of their community succeed.
Cahan’s complex characterization of a “class enemy” would have made him unpublishable in the Eastern-bloc socialist republics of my childhood, where humanists like Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn and Kundera were persecuted and banned. Today’s young writers and journalists should not forget the effect of class hatred on artistic expression and freedom of speech.
Ultimately, if each of us remembered the Jewish dictum “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow,” or the Christian “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or the American we are all created equal and have equal rights “to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we would never classify, stereotype or demonize each other.
The author is English Department Chair at Touro College Los Angeles. She is the author of
Subterranean Towers: A Father-Daughter Story. You can follow her @bragin_irina.