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“The Wealthy Criminal Class”



In 1883, Theodore Roosevelt, then a rising Republican star in the New York State Assembly, spoke on the floor of that body denouncing “Jay Gould and his associates,” whom he called “common thieves [who] belong to that most dangerous of all classes, the wealthy criminal class.”

T.R. was the only great Republican President of the 20th century. He achieved everlasting fame by strengthening the National Park System, reforming the civil service system, and, perhaps most importantly, becoming the “trust-busting” President, by which he put “the public interest” ahead of the ruthless pursuit of profit when it came to regulating giant corporations, thereby helping to usher in the Progressive Era of modern politics. In fact, it’s hard to believe he was a Republican. Today, Roosevelt would probably be a Democrat.

What led T.R. to denounce Jay Gould, one of the foremost capitalists of his time, was the latter’s control of New York City’s elevated railroad line. Roosevelt accused the multi-millionaire developer of gouging the line and concealing his enormous profits to evade paying taxes.

Ironically, Theodore Roosevelt was himself a scion of one of New York’s richest families. There were Roosevelt mansions in midtown Manhattan, in the Hudson River Valley and at Oyster Bay, on the North Shore of Long Island. He was raised amidst splendor and servants; his father, Theodore Sr., was described by T.R.’s biographer, Edmund Morris, as “handsome and wealthya generous philanthropist…without a trace of snobbery.” The son would out-do the father in service to the American working and middle classes.

T.R. knew first-hand the ultra-rich of this nation. He had grown up with their sons, ridden horses on their estates, attended Harvard with them; and he did not trust them, for he understood that they put greed ahead of the common interest, something he himself in his noblesse oblige never would do. His distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, surely took this progressive notion many steps further as a Democrat, but the concept of fairness and concern for the common man ran through generations of Roosevelt DNA. One of his most famous speeches, delivered shortly after he became President, concerned the policies, which he called “the Square Deal,” he hoped to enact. Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense.” T.R. in fact yoked together the two forces he felt were most threatening to America: “rich scoundrels and…corrupt politicians.”

Today, we have an American President who, like Teddy Roosevelt, is both rich and a Republican. But how different the two men are in temperament  and character! The current occupant of the White House is a member of the “wealthy criminal class”—this much is obvious from his pre-presidency business dealings, which have been extensively reported, and from what we are learning about the deception and collusion with Russian (and other) oligarchs that are coming to light in the ongoing investigations by Congress and the Special Counsel.

Were Trump to call for “honesty, decency and fair-dealing” for the American people, I think we wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The word “honesty” would evaporate on the lips of the most pathologically mendacious President in U.S. history. The word “decency” would turn to dust—this, from the man who boasts of grabbing women’s pussies, who destroyed the hopes and ambitions of the Dreamers (temporarily, we hope), whose racism against Obama resulted in the travesty of birtherism, whose strange, compromised attitude towards sexuality made him ban transgendered Americans from the military, who mocks the disabled and Mexicans, who discriminates against Muslims, who whips up fear and rage among white supremacists, who insults our closest allies, who demonizes scientists, whose first reaction to every challenge is to castigate and bully, who seems not to know the difference between governing and lining his own pockets and those of his nepotistic family.

How sad that the Republican Party has come to this. It used to be the Grand Old Party—the GOP. It is not “grand” anymore, but gruesome, having been taken hostage by a dangerous cabal of religious fanatics, white supremacists and, yes, a “wealthy criminal class,” epitomized by the Koch brothers and the Trump family, whose DNA swarms with–not noblesse oblige–but entitlement. They are “That most dangerous of all classes, the wealthy criminal class,” because they buy their influence on a complicit government and then impose their imperial will upon it, not for the good of all, but for their own greed and power. Their punishment awaits a time when the American public, awakened from a decades-long hallucination imposed upon them by the Republican attack machine, is restored to its senses, and in righteous indignation rises up and throws the bums out.

Sept. 11, 2001

Let Us Remember


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