Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Naomi Klein Is Sick of Benevolent Billionaires

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/magazine/naomi-klein-is-sick-of-benevolent-billionaires.html?_r=1

By Ana Marie Cox June 14, 2017

Your book “No Is Not Enough” frames Donald Trump’s impunity as a type of branding. How does that help explain him? He’s a culmination of many dangerous trends in the culture, especially the triumph of the idea that a successful corporation is first and foremost selling an idea of itself and a sense of belonging and identity to its customers. In the late ’80s, you saw brands start to sell the idea, the sense of belonging, first. That primacy of the brand does a lot to explain Trump, and how he has developed this intimate relationship with his base, why they expect so little of him and why he gets away with what he gets away with, because the rules of branding are really simple: Be true to your brand. The problem with Donald Trump is that he went and designed a brand that is entirely amoral.

Is he actually true to his brand? His brand is wealth and power, which is why he’s driven so mad by things like “President Bannon” and people disputing his wealth. Because if that’s the case — if he’s not as rich and powerful as he claims he is — that really does damage his brand. It is a tremendous weakness of Trump’s that he believes his own P.R. And it’s a central part of his brand that he is the guy who gets the deal, and it has been ever since his real first brand extension, “The Art of the Deal” — a book not written by him.

One criticism I had of your dissection of his brand was that you talk about him as if he’s a triumph of capitalism, even though he’s not — he inherited his wealth. I would argue that that’s the kind of capitalism we have now. I think there has always been a huge gap between what theories of capitalism say it is and how capitalism operates out in the world.

You argue that Democrats have to share the blame for Trump’s rise, partially in promoting the idea that the solution to vast inequality is to have nicer rich people, or philanthro-capitalism. Well, Trump’s pitch to voters was: “I’m rich. Sure, I have absolutely no experience in government, but the fact of my wealth is all the evidence you need that you can trust me to fix everything.” It’s an absurd pitch, but I don’t know how far away it is from why Americans have trusted Bill Gates to remake the American school system or Africa’s agriculture system. I don’t think there could’ve been a pitch as crass as Trump’s “I can fix America because I’m rich” without that groundwork laid by Davos and the Clinton Global Initiative.

There’s a quote in your book that the Trump phenomenon is an uncouth, vulgar echo of the dangerous idea that billionaires can solve our problems. I wonder if, also in Trump, we see a more uncouth and vulgar echo of another idea that the Democrats brought us: benevolent nepotism. Look at the structure of the Gates Foundation and this idea that, rather than trying to solve these huge global problems through institutions with some kind of democracy and transparency baked into them, we’re just going to outsource it to benevolent billionaires. Look at how the Gates Foundation allocates its money, and how it’s structured: it’s Bill Gates, his father and his wife and Warren Buffett — that has been interrogated a whole lot less than this current outsourcing of the world to Jared and Ivanka.

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