Winning and whining are insufferable

January 28, 2014

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins took a beating by his former employer for likening today’s class warfare to the Holocaust, with the mega-wealthy 1 percent as victims of “Nazi” repression.

In what The Wall Street Journal obediently termed a “Progressive Kristallnacht,” the grand old man of Silicon Valley said those who criticize wealth inequality are like Nazis pursuing “class demonization.”

The firm he founded, known as Kleiner Perkins, immediately disavowed the 82-year-old Perkins, saying, “We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.”

I can’t imagine what bubble of privilege Perkins inhabits that would cause him to play the Holocaust card in a time of actual genocides around the world and trespassing on the actual suffering of Jews in Nazi Europe.

To be winning and yet still whining is insufferable and tone-deaf.

So let’s do some further schooling of Tom Perkins.

Class war isn’t a resentment of success. It is a reaction against stealing, unearned privilege and arrogance.

The mega-wealthy have engineered a salary structure that pays them far more than executives have ever earned. They have frozen or reduced compensation for all others. They have rewarded executives for anti-social behavior like offshoring jobs, acquiring companies and then slicing payrolls, and moving workers to part-time without benefits wherever possible.

All this while moving their own wealth offshore to minimize taxes, living in Gilded Age opulence and being proud of it, and creating a class of lawyers, advisers, and lobbyists who earn lofty salaries for nothing more than preserving the wealth of the wealthy.

The aggression of an Occupy movement — short-lived, yet impactful — doesn’t come close to the aggression that the mega-wealthy employ to defend their turf and aggrandize their wealth.

They cheat: The banking scandals of the past decade were basically about cheating; Silicon Valley firms like Google monetize trust by selling privacy.

They buy politicians and political campaigns and gladly corrupt governments. They fight minimum wage increases, the provision of affordable health care, food stamps and unemployment benefits — as if any dollar spent on helping the less fortunate was a dollar they couldn’t get their hands on.

Now people are waking up to what has been done to them. They resent it, and they want it to end. Defenders of the greed machine are pushing back.

So, yes, a class war is underway. It has been waged by the wealthy against all others, but now the underclasses are becoming more informed.

This isn’t the Nazi era revisited. It is the American Revolution, when “embattled farmers” stopped tolerating the predations of the rich.

The American dream doesn’t mean watching the mega-wealthy buy magnificent sailboats, live in mansions or hold self-congratulatory conferences. The dream is to work hard, have one’s work recognized, build careers, live better today than yesterday, send one’s children to college and beyond, and retire with adequate means.

The American dream isn’t a spectator sport. It is participation. And when the mega-wealthy like Tom Perkins presume to grab far more than they deserve and then to preen as superior beings, while denying the dream to others, something is profoundly wrong.

If Perkins wants an historical antecedent, he might consult the final days of the Roman Empire, when a corrupt ruling class abandoned any pretense of wisdom and civility and simply stole, bullied and lived large.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

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