A lot has been made of Bernie Sanders wealth recently. Perhaps it's a fair topic of discussion but it isn't being discussed at all.l It's being used as a typical, divisive, smear in yet another attempt to destroy his campaign. The Republicans who love the idea of extreme wealth and kleptocracy and the establishment corporate Democrats now have a common enemy in Bernie and hearing that he had committed the unforgivable sin of becoming a millionaire was the blood in the water that they were all looking for.
Despite the fact a million dollars isn't nearly what it used to be, every attempt was made to focus on and make the most of Bernie's wealth. The reports were so over exaggerated and desperate in the tabloid tone they screeched about the "discovery" they were almost comical.
The main stream media chirped indignantly and pointed excitedly at the profits from Bernie's book sales like adolescents giggling at a stream of toilet paper trailing behind the shoe of the most popular girl at school.
Just as comical was the outdated idea that a million dollars somehow catapulted Bernie into a stratosphere of wealth where he could no longer have authenticity with average Americans. As I watched the pundits blather on in their exaggerated shock at this faux dilemma, I remembered the scene from Austin Powers where Dr. Evil, the bald, flamboyant villain, demands the sum of "One MILLION dollars". Placing his pinky to his lips in his signature evil sneer, he is advised somewhat clumsily by his cohorts that "Um, one million dollars isn't really as much money as it used to be" urging him that, well, he should ask for, you know, more than than that. So he repeats the demand but this time for one BILLION dollars.
But seriously, we need to have an actual discussion about it because the large progressive movement in this country needs to reevaluate what it means to be "wealthy" and to decide at what point wealth becomes a moral problem.
There have always been different ideological camps when it comes to wealth inequality and ideas of redistribution. Comments made recently on social media have made it abundantly clear to me that many people who decry the rich do so out of habit and reflex. Many are no longer speaking from a commitment to an ideology with consistent logical opposition to wealth but are often responding with a generic "bring down the rich" "the rich are evil" and are lighting the torches without considering that they don't apply these curses equally, carving out exemptions for sports and pop stars. Their protests and recent attacks on Bernie, while readily accepting Joe Biden is incoherent. Likewise the support that Trump sees among the very poor is what leads me to examine this perplexing inconsistency on wealth perception.
The "base" of people hating on the rich without an ideology are doing so out of a tremendous sense of disenfranchisement. They work hard and can't get ahead. Donald Trump so adeptly tapped into that emotion, that economic desperation, that his supporters were willing to cast aside the question of his own wealth, buying into his hopeful, if fraudulent image as a "common man who worked for what he has" and were inspired that they too could "work their way up" if they only had "a chance" brought back by an improved economy.
So deep was their need to believe in a possibility of economic revival that they questioned nothing about how Trump got so rich, about the fact that he inherited his wealth and took advantage of his status every step of the way.
Meanwhile, Hillary's cavalier expressions that she would "put a lot of coal miners out of work" brought attention to her total lack of empathy for the working class and that, combined with her long history of wealth and power made her completely impossible as a populist candidate.
Of course she appealed more to the more educated, the feminists, the average person disgusted by Trump's crass conduct. She crafted her image to be the opposite of what people hated about Trump. But she was still seen as one of the elite, out of touch with the economic reality of many.
The bottom line is that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both wealthy elites. But Trump appealed to those who hate or are distrustful of the rich, and Hillary did not. Trump's wealth was marketed as the story of the "self made man" whereas Hillary's was cast as corrupt and classic greed. Revelations of her Goldman Sachs speech didn't help.
Bernie obviously tapped into the feelings of frustration and was successful in getting the support of a larger portion of the base because.he had authenticity. But due to the process was not nominated as the Democratic Party.
For many who supported him, like myself, there was yet another layer of disenfranchisement and a disdain for the structures which support the elite. This caused a shift among Democrats. Some returned to a more traditional working party democratic base with more focus on progressive ideas including systemic wealth and race inequality, while others, more focused on Hillary's loss to Trump gravitated to the establishment Democratic Party who concerned themselves with social issues that they could contrast against Trump like feminist and LGBT issues, not wanting to focus on wealth disparity.