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Tomgram: Liz Theoharis, Why Martin Luther King Day Should Matter

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Only one thing truly hurt him at a gut level, and it wasn't the endangerment of his vice president in a Capitol attacked by a rabid mob sporting the Confederate flag, MAGA hats, and anti-Semitic T-shirts. Nor, believe it or not, was it even the threat of being the first president in American history to be impeached twice; nor having Deutsche Bank (which kept him afloat for years) and other major corporate entities suddenly sever ties with him; nor even having one of his major financial supporters, Sheldon Adelson, die on him. For Donald Trump, the biggest blow of last week was reportedly the Professional Golfers' Association, or P.G.A., announcement that it was taking its 2022 championship match away from the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. In other words, the man who had visited golf courses more than 300 times during his presidency had suddenly become the golf equivalent of an undocumented immigrant and, according to those close to him, that truly "gutted" him.

As to what gutted so many other Americans in the last year, ranging from evictions to job loss, racism to death by Covid-19, this president could clearly have cared less and the eternally richer billionaires of this country didn't seem to give much of a damn either; nor, in fact, did his wife Melania who, in what may have been her final message from the White House, vaguely bemoaned violence on Capitol Hill only after she had fiercely bemoaned her own treatment by unnamed critics ("salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false and misleading accusations on me").

As it happens, with just days left in Trump's presidency, the self-proclaimed richest, most awesome superpower on planet Earth is now a basket case of the first order and a symbol around the globe of what not to do in a pandemic. As even the Washington "swamp" deserts Donald Trump, Joe Biden and crew face a hell on Earth of a kind that TomDispatch regular Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign and author of Always With Us?: What Jesus Really Said About the Poor, lays out vividly on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Tom

The Earth Does Not Belong to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s True Legacy

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2020 will go down as the deadliest year in American history, significantly due to the devastation delivered by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, count in nearly two trillion dollars in damage from climate events (many caused by, or heightened by, intensifying global warming), a surge of incidents of police violence inflicted on Black and Native peoples, and millions more Americans joining the ranks of the poor even as small numbers of billionaires soared ever further into the financial heavens. And it's already obvious that 2021 is likely to prove another harrowing year.

In the first weeks of January alone, Covid-19 deaths have risen to unprecedented levels; record turnout elected Georgia's first Black and Jewish Senators in a runoff where race-baiting, red-baiting, and voter suppression were still alive and well; and a racist, white nationalist mob swarmed the Capitol emboldened by the president, as well as senators, representatives, and other officials, in an attempt to subvert and possibly take down our democratic system. The January 6th attack on that building was by no means a singular event (in a country where local officials have in recent years been similarly threatened). It did, however, highlight dramatically the growing menace of illiberal and anti-democratic forces building in power. And one thing is guaranteed: its impact will hit the poor and people of color most strikingly. Social media and news reports suggest that, with an emboldened white supremacist movement on the rise, more such attacks are being planned.

Many have claimed that those rioters (and the president's infamous "base" more generally) were all, in essence, poor, working-class white people. In reality, however, among those who have led such racist attacks are business leaders, executives, and multimillionaires. As author Sarah Smash writes, "'Poor uneducated whites' are neither the base/majority nor the explanation for Trumpism: stories now abound of middle-class and even affluent white insurrectionists leading and joining the hateful charge at the U.S. Capitol."

Indeed, it would be better to take a more careful look at the rich and powerful, as the storming of the Capitol on January 6th once again exposes the Make America Great Again movement for the sort of fake populism that has, in these years, served elites all too "richly." And the more we learn about that coordinated astroturf assault, the more the dark money that lay behind its origins all these years comes to light.

Questions Must Be Raised

Eleven months into the pandemic, we are living through the most unequal recession in modern American history. For the poor and precarious, this last year was a nightmare that dwarfed the 2007-2008 recession. Between March and October, nearly 67 million people lost work. This month alone about 20 million of them are collecting unemployment. By the end of 2020, one in five adults with children reported that, at times, they didn't have enough to eat, while one in five renters were behind on their payments and faced the threat of eviction during the winter months of a still rampant virus.

At the same time, the wealth of America's 651 billionaires increased by more than $1 trillion to a total of about $4 trillion. At the start of 2020, Jeff Bezos was the only American with a net worth of more than $100 billion. By the end of the year, he was joined by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk and just last week Elon Musk passed Bezos as the richest person in the world.

A look at the wealthiest of wealthy Americans reveals a cross-section of industry from the leaders of tech companies like Amazon and Facebook to the top executives of financial institutions like Berkshire Hathaway and Quicken Loans to those heading retail giants like Walmart and Nike, all of which collectively employ millions of workers. At Amazon, where the median pay is about $35,000 a year, Bezos could have distributed the $71.4 billion he made in the last pandemic year to his own endangered workers and he would still have had well more than $100 billion left.

A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness put it this way:

"Never before has America seen such an accumulation of wealth in so few hands. As tens of millions of Americans suffer from the health and economic ravages of this pandemic, a few hundred billionaires add to their massive fortunes. Their profits are so immense that America's billionaires could pay for a major Covid relief bill and still not lose a dime of their pre-virus riches."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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