“The health of the economy is correctly measured by assessing how well the wealth is distributed. Human beings have always been driven to create and acquire more wealth and hence people's private fortunes have always grown and will continue to do so - so there's no need to worry about economic growth. Instead, we need to ensure that the wealth is circulating throughout the society and isn't just collecting in the hands of the few.”
The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the US has come as a shock to many. However, such a protest vote was inevitable due to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. In this post, we will explore how this political environment is not just bad for the poor and minorities but everyone including the rich.
PART 5: How did the concentration of wealth get Trump elected?
In the previous post, I noted that:
“Trump is seen, despite his proposed pro-rich economic policies, as a non-establishment candidate who champions the cause of poor white Americans… is the real reason for their anger; their bleak economic prospects? Specifically, he is appealing to the poor working-class whites by promising to be tough on corporations... "throughout his campaign, he's been telling a story about a $2.5 billion car factory that a Detroit automaker wants to build in Mexico, and how as president he's going to stop it.”
Perhaps the best summary of what happened was foreshadowed in millionaire Michael Moore's movie Trumpland; released in October to woo reluctant Democrats to vote for Clinton. Although the movie mocks droning Muslim (which have killed at least 474 innocent people), it summarized the sentiment of the working class towards Trump as follows:
“He is the human Molotov cocktail that they’ve been waiting for, the human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives from them“
And throw the Molotov cocktail they did!
Despite the hype, it’s not just about hating minorities. It's about a system that neglects the masses and favours the elites.
A 2014 Princeton study of 1,779 public policies enacted between 1982 and 2001 found that the rich were successful in blocking policies they didn’t like 82% of the time and were able to pass the laws they liked 45% of the time. In contrast, the “average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [Emphasis added]
What the study illustrates is how the elites can use their money and power to effectively run the country.
So whether the masses had voted in Trump or Clinton, they are really just electing the Head Servant to the elite.
With respect to the "Muslim ban", the Republican establishment at the outset was against this. This includes Dick Cheney who said it “goes against everything we stand for and believe in”, Trump-fan Chris Christie said it was “a ridiculous position” and Senator Marc Rubio was also against it.
Obviously, this is not because Republicans love Muslims. But to paraphrase what Malcolm X says below, it's that they need “house Muslims” to police “field Muslims”. Bill O’Reilly tries to explain this to Trump in this interview. So there's a low likelihood anything will be done about this as well.
But the real question is: will Trump reign in business interest?
Stock markets have gone to record highs “embracing the Trump presidency”, insiders are saying that cancelling NAFTA is all talk, and the banks will continue to have a friendly person in the White House (with Obama being their previous man who received at least $43.2 million from the banks in 2012). Trump, for his part, intends to remove post-Financial Crisis Dodd-Frank legislation (discussed here).
Sorry Trump fans, that's the reality of Capitalism. The new boss is the same as the old boss. Trump will dance to the tune of the elites, just as Obama did for the last 8 years.
The US presidency and electoral system has been designed right from the start to protect the elites from the masses. As one of America’s Founding Father, James Madison, noted:
“Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”
Consequently, the idea that Trump can stand up to the banks or landowners of today, contradicts the system of government the Founding Fathers established in America.
Will the elites be able to fool the masses forever?
Some among the elites don’t think so.
In “Beware, fellow plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming”, billionaire Nick Hanauer, actually paints a bleak future for the rich – yes the rich:
“So what do I see in our future today, you ask? I see pitchforks, as in angry mobs with pitchforks, because while people like us plutocrats are living beyond the dreams of avarice, the other 99 percent of our fellow citizens are falling farther and farther behind…And if wealth, power, and income continue to concentrate at the very tippy top, our society will change from a capitalist democracy to a neo-feudalist rentier society like 18th-century France. That was France before the revolution and the mobs with the pitchfork… You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state or an uprising. The pitchforks will come for us if we do not address this. It's not a matter of if, it's when. And it will be terrible when they come for everyone, but particularly for people like us plutocrats.” [Emphasis Added]
What Hanauer realizes is that an economic system that creates massive inequality and poverty will end up with the people in that society seeking a new way to organize that society. Sometimes this can happen peacefully as it did when Prophet Muhammad (saw) was made the ruler of Madinah. However, sometimes it has not, such as the French Revolution that Hanauer mentions above.
(On a side note, it’s bewildering to realize that everyone is anxious in the US. The worker is afraid he may lose his job. The welfare recipient is afraid to lose their support. The black person stopped by a cop is afraid to lose their life. And the rich are afraid the poor are going to rise up and kill them. There’s no peace for nobody.)
Consequently, for a harmonious, just and stable society, everyone –including the rich – need an economic system that actively works to circulate wealth in the society. The rich people who don’t want such a system should take to reflect on this verse that Allah (swt) revealed in the Quran and take it to heart:
“And it could be that you hate something and it is good for you, and it could be that you love something and it is bad for you, and Allah knows and you know not." [TMQ 2:216]
What prevents the elite takeover in the Islamic Society?
Let’s start by looking at how much security the rulers of the Islamic State required from their people over the centuries.
In sharp contrast to the level of security needed to host the 2010 G-20 Summit in Toronto which featured security perimeters, massive walls of fences, helicopters, squads in riot gear, the Caliphs who ruled the Muslims from the time of Prophet Muhammad until the Caliphate was destroyed did not require such security measures. This was particular to Islam as observed by a Roman official visiting Caliph Umar bin al-Khattab (ra). When the Roman arrived in Madinah (the capital of the state), he inquired as to the whereabouts of Umar. To his surprise, he was directed to a man sleeping under a tree. There was no army of 10,000 men, a 3-meter high fence, or special weapons protecting Umar. When the Roman saw this he stated: “O Umar! You ruled. You were just. Thus you were safe. And thus you slept.” The Roman knew that there was no way for his emperor to sleep like this because of the injustice and inequality in the Roman Empire.
So what led to a system of justice and equality such that the ruler could sleep without a care under a tree with no security or precautions? And what prevents the elite takeover of the system?
The answer can be explained by two factors.
Firstly, there is a greater circulation of wealth and less economic disparity as we’ve discussed over the last few posts. Secondly, the system is divinely revealed and unchangeable regardless of who is in power, whether he is wealthy or poor. So no one can change the laws and policies to be in their own favour. For example, when the same Umar tried to limit the amount of money a woman receives as a part of the marriage contract, an ordinary woman disputed with him showing his opinion to be contrary to revelation causing him to reverse his policy immediately.
Going back to the misgivings of the 61% of Americans who are dissatisfied with the "size and influence of major corporations", the issue of the elites having one rule for themselves and another for everyone else is a problem that Prophet Muhammad (saw) warned us about. We should not having a two-tiered system of justice as this will lead to the destruction of the society.
Usama Bin Zayd (ra), one of his companions approached him seeking to intercede on behalf of an elite woman (from the tribe of Bani Makhzoom) who had committed theft. After Usama made his request to the Prophet (saw), the colour of his face changed (meaning he got angry), and said:
“Do you intercede in one of the prescribed punishments of Allah?” He (Usama) said: 'Messenger of Allah, seek forgiveness for me.’ When it was dusk, the Prophet (saw) stood up and gave an address. He (first) glorified Allah as He deserves, and then said: “Now to our topic. This (injustice) destroyed those before you that when any one of (high) rank committed theft among them, they spared him, and when any weak one among them committed theft, they inflicted the prescribed punishment upon him. By Him in Whose Hand is my life, even if Fatima daughter of Muhammad were to commit theft, I would have cut off her hand.” [Muslim] [Emphasis added].
Matt Taibbi talks at length about the two tiered US justice system, in his book, The Divide. (Click here for my summary).
The election of Trump is a wake-up call
For those surprised by Trump's victory, this should be a wake-up call.
Even Capitalist enterprises, like the McKinsey Institute, have published studies indicating that people are doing worse in the developed countries than the preceding generation. The ultimate cause, however, is the system itself. It doesn't care about the fact that wealth is not properly distributed. All it cares about is producing more and more - even it ends up in the dumpster.
Instead of worrying about production, we should look at the distribution of wealth. All members should be able to satisfy their basic needs as well as have the means to acquire luxurious goods beyond that. If the system can't do this, why should the people believe in it?
Before I close, I wanted to go back to Hanauer's comment above on the necessity of the police state to maintain such inequality. Mass surveillance, a massive prison system and a corrupt political system is already in place. Glen Greenwald reminds us that it was the Obama Administration that has armed Trump with draconian powers. Chris Hedges in this article notes that the Trump supporters are not going to buy this deception for long and will eventually come out with the pitchforks. However, he goes on to warns us that:
"The military, under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, is empowered to carry out the extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens within the United States, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in our black sites"
Looks like Hanauer's fellow plutocrats have taken his warning to heart. Although the poor may be coming, it seems that the rich are ready.