When a regional governor named Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river in January 49 BC it ignited a civil war in Rome. After his term in office had ended and he was ordered to disband his army, Caesar refused to step down. He had other ideas. Big ideas. Ideas of regime change. Of imperial rule and personal glory.
If it sounds all-too-familiar, a little too much like the history of ancient Rome is repeating itself in the here and now, you’re not alone. America, like Rome, is an empire. And, like the Roman Empire, America has had a great run, reaching the zenith of its economic and military power after World War II, when it was the undisputed leader of the Free World, establishing a global trading system and a vast array of strategic alliances and military bases that encircled the Soviet Union, it’s only serious rival for world domination.
And now, like Rome, America is facing the distinct possibility of being rule by a dictator. But there’s a big difference: Unlike the Roman emperors of antiquity, Donald Trump doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about making or keeping America great. It’s just his way of casting pearls before swine, creating a smokescreen for what he really cares about, namely, keeping himself and his super-rich backers in power.
Power and wealth go hand-in-hand. More than any other time in the past century, America’s super-rich are triumphant.
The unparalleled power of the presidency, gives Trump and the 1% of Americans who own 40% of the nation’s wealth the means to protect and amass ever greater personal wealth. The very same folks who garner 90% of the nation’s income.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the collective net worth of the world’s richest 500 individuals jumped by 25 percent or $1.2 trillion in 2019. Another report found “that income inequality in the United States is at its highest point since data started being collected more than 50 years ago.”
As Megan Cassella writes in a recent piece for Politico.com, “The path toward economic recovery in the U.S. has become sharply divided, with wealthier Americans earning and saving at record levels while the poorest struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table.” Cassella points out that the yawning wealth and income gaps in the U.S.—the widest of any other nation in the G-7—are growing wider. She further notes that the richest Americans saved “a stunning $3.2 trillion in July, the same month that more than 1 in 7 households with children told the U.S. Census Bureau they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food.”
I can’t think of a quicker way to get an accurate picture of just how wide the wealth and income gaps in the U.S. have become than to consult Robert Reich’s Twitter account. On September 5, 2020, for example, he tweeted:
The 4 richest men in America have now amassed $542 billion in wealth. That’s more than the bottom half of all Americans combined.
Two days later, September 7, Reich tweeted:
Since 1990, America’s billionaires have increased their wealth by 1,130 percent. That’s more than 200 times greater than the median American household.
When Reich argues that “America capitalism is completely off the rails,“ he knows what he’s talking about. The train wreck is in the numbers. The federal government’s own published statistics. You know, real facts—a.k.a., Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.
Nothing threatens the wealth of the 1% more than fairness. The idea that the rich should pay their fair share of taxes, for example. Here’s Robert Reich, this time talking about Trump and taxes in an interview with Salon’s Chauncey Devega in April 2019:
Donald Trump is a living, breathing moral hazard. His policies are designed to make himself and his allies rich through such things as changing the tax code and deregulating entire industries. Never mind all of his alleged and in some cases publicly documented illegal behavior. How come there are not enough prominent people speaking truth to power by saying, “Look at Trump’s policies and how they’re making him and people like him rich.”
For all practical purposes, the Republican Party has ceased to exist. It’s an altogether different creature than it was when Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1960)was president. Today, it is a party with no heart and no soul. Trump & Co., obsequiously aided and abetted by Mitch McConnell, hijacked the national and state party organizations, but kept the name. Which is how the Grand Old Party (GOP) has become a party of TAPPERS tap dancing to the tune of a new and nefarious out-of-the-box political party I’m calling the Trump Again Party (TAP).
Tap, tap, tap.
Julius Caesar’s daring act of defiance in 49 BC amounted to insurrection, treason, and a declaration of war. In crossing the Rubicon, he knew there was no turning back. As his army forded the shallow river, Caesar is reputed to have said, “the die is cast.”. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In a very real sense, the 2020 election is America’s Rubicon moment.* If the TAPPERS win and Trump, like Putin, becomes president for life, America will have crossed the Rubicon. The result will be a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, a full-scale praetorian state parading as a democratic republic to, uh, protect public safety.
And there will be no turning back.
*I wish to note and correct to typos in earlier piece entitled “America’s Rubicon Moment”. On October 29, 2018, Trump tweeted: “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.”