A billionaire’s tweet serves as the canary in the coal mine, while money funds the derangement of the American right…

Democracy For Sale

Elon Musk recently purchased free speech at a bargain. In fact, Twitter has now become a place for plutocrats like Musk to titillate anti-democratic everymen while turning a tidy profit for themselves. Next up? Democracy itself is on sale to the highest bidder. On Friday Musk used his new toy to spread awful and unsubstantiated filth:

Musk is purported to be the richest man in the world with a reported net worth of $241 billion. It doesn’t make him smart. It doesn’t make him “good.” He is rich beyond the need for more, and yet, his hastily deleted tweet suggests that, in America, and at this time, wealth may be the greatest impediment to democracy. Like many of the super-rich, Musk was born into wealth. A native South African was born in Pretoria to a Canadian-born mother and South African father who was half-owner of a Zambian emerald mine. Musk’s politics seems fluid and tied to his bank account. He is known in the past to have given to both parties. He describes himself as a libertarian, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, then Joe Biden in 2020. When Democratic progressives proposed a “billionaires tax” as part of their winning agenda, Musk declared them the party of hate and division and said he will support Florida’s Governor DeSantis in 2024. If Musk weren’t so wealthy, none of these details would matter much, but his money and notoriety have acted like a lightning rod when he used his new twitter-toy to spread a disgusting rumor about an 82-year-old man who was brutally attacked in his home. Money can buy many things but class isn’t one.

The point has been made in different ways on this site many times. Dark money unleashed by the 2010 Citizens United decision has placed plutocrats in a position to purchase our democracy. And let us not kid ourselves, democracy as we know it is for sale. Wealthy men without conscience are all around us, and they believe their wealth deserves to provide them with proportionate privilege- as if in a democracy equality has limits and a pricetag. In the 2007 film, There Will be Blood, Daniel Plainview, played by the remarkable actor Daniel-Day Lewis, is the epitome of the runaway plutocrat who prizes the pursuit of wealth above all human decency- a citizen united to wealth. The film presages today’s mixed bag of wealth, religion, and politics as Plainview becomes dehumanized by his pursuit of riches as a stand-in for pure greed. The Day-Lewis character recites the “plutocrat’s syllogism” as he refers to what is his real aim in life-- and like his modern protege, it reads like a tweet:

I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.

— Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood

I fear that this is what we are now witnessing from a Republican Party that has lost its way. The attack on Friday of Paul Pelosi is reduced by a man who has more than he can possibly want or need in life to 140 characters- in a tweet he later refused to own. What Musk knows all too well, once his words were written, they refuse to go away and become part of the mania spewed from the right-wing pulpit.

Daniel Plainview: “One night, I’m gonna come to you, inside of your house, wherever you’re sleeping, and I’m going to cut your throat.”

Nothing they say should be taken in jest, or mistaken as bluster. Unwilling to dirty their own hands, they just leave it to crazies to do their bidding. “Derangement” entered the RW lexicon as a way to excuse and explain why white men with guns shoot up schools, food markets, and other large gathering places. For example, David DePape, a devotee of Q and a disciple of the Big Lie, was officially deranged and not inspired by right-wing extremism when he attacked Mr. Pelosi on Friday. DePape like most white lone nuts was better described as unhinged- unaffiliated with their cause despite the fact that he was quoting their bible.

Derangement as a “syndrome” can be traced back in time to political commentator and columnist Charles Krauthammer. He coined the phrase “Bush deranged syndrome” to account for the anger felt by many towards George W. Bush in 2003 as he hacky-sacked his way on a revenge tour through the Middle East in search of WMD. His reaction to the awful attacks on 9/11 targeted Afghanistan and Iraq while ignoring the fact that it was mostly native Saudis who planned and carried out the attacks. The phrase morphed sometime in 2015 as Esther Goldberg writing for the American Spectator recoined it as Trump Derangement Syndrome as it was meant to capture the revulsion exhibited by orthodox Republicans to dismiss the Trump primary juggernaut. It is now the “go-to” term to deny reality- that they own the poisoned political climate they rely on to confuse and distort voters.

While wealthy men have often occupied the seats of power, dark money has purchased the anonymity that hides intent and threatens democracy with its secrecy. With enough money pouring into the airwaves and blogosphere, the national interest is on the block, for sale to the highest bidder. Republicans, as they try to dismiss the Pelosi attack as something random and unattached to their rhetoric, can be heard as a discordant chorus screaming at us to listen. They mean business.

Their descent into unbridled capitalism is in contrast to the mitigating factors of democratic governance that share and distribute the nation’s bounty. America’s riches can be attributed to contributors. not competitors, with assets shared equitably. Some of us share more than others, others receive more than most. In a democracy, the freedom to choose and the right to equal opportunity are far more worthy goals than unrivaled wealth and power. Daniel Plainview is an archetype of the unrestrained plutocrat- a man who is never satisfied until he has more:

“What’s this? Why don’t I own this? Why don’t I own this?”

- Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood

Republicans are out to “own this “- an America darkly skewed from the storied American Dream. The “derangement” they hold out as proof that the Democrats are ineffective and responsible for most of the troubles that confront us is actually the doppelganger of their own rapacious greed. Dark money now allows them to be nameless in that pursuit. It is the cost we have all paid for the hollow reasoning that has followed the Scalia decision to sell democracy and justice to the highest, unknown bidder.

Citizens United and the dark money pit it has legitimized has, in fact, divided us- rich from poor, black from white, Democrat from Republican, rational from… deranged.

Originally published at https://vincerizzo.substack.com on November 1, 2022.

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Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.

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Vince Rizzo

Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.