It turns out that my guess as to who hosted the private meeting Donald Trump had at 740 Park Avenue the day after the Senate passed the Trump GOP massive tax cut for the wealthy was wrong.
I said it was probably David Koch, and that Trumpty-Dumpty no doubt has his hand out for a little sugar from the windfall Trump’s Republican Party was giving the Koch family and their pals.
But the New York Times is reporting—six days after the meeting—that the host was Stephen A, Schwarzman, the billionaire founder of private equity behemoth Blackstone Group, another trust fund baby who has turned his head start into an estimated $11.2 billion in net worth. The Times report claims that the group included old New York friends and real estate colleagues, a tip-off that at least part of the article is spun from air or that almost no one attended, as Trump doesn’t have many if any New York friends or real estate colleagues after his buffoonish public behavior before and during “The Apprentice,” thousands of lawsuits involving legitimate New York businesses he stiffed and his six bankruptcies that cost plenty of New York real estate interests lots of money. New York’s wealthy and powerful elite have considered The Donald a joke since before one of his ex-wives first called him The Donald.
Supposedly many in the group who met with Trump at Schwarzman’s luxury apartment, urged Trump to pressure the Republicans in Congress to roll back plans to end the tax deduction for state and local taxes. Ending the deduction is expected to cost high-tax, high-benefit states like New York, California and New Jersey billions of dollars—part of the way Republicans are planning to pay for the enormous tax break they are giving to everybody assembled in Schwarzman’s apartment except for the servers and security.
My bad guess as to whom Trump visited matters not to the points I was trying to make when I—alone among news reporters and pundits—reported the meeting earlier this week. Whatever else was discussed, we can be sure that Trump had his hand out. We can also rest certain that whoever else was in the plush environs of the Schwarzman residence with Stephen A. and the Donald, they were multi-millionaires or billionaires aligned with conservative causes. The self-seeking and self-satisfied moneyed elite whose opinion matters more to Republicans and many Democrats than the will of the people.
And we can rest assured that self-interest was in the minds and on the lips of everyone present. Remember that it was Schwarzman who in 2010 compared President Obama’s proposal to increase taxation on “carried interest” profits to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. I guess he needs all that money to indulge his well-documented hobby of collecting expensive antiques and fine art furniture.
The question remains as to who was riled enough about my OpEdge article and had the juice to force a “correction” at the head of a front-page Times article. The article was about the fact that Trump is going against many other New York moneybags in wanting to end the state deduction. The fairly lengthy piece never returns to the meeting, or even to Schwarzman. The mention of the meeting was a factoid throwaway that was entirely unnecessary for the article and a fairly weak beginning to it.
So who wanted the record corrected? Was it Koch, who doesn’t seem to want to have any public association with the erratic and ignorant leader of the current administration? Or was it Schwarzman, who in the past has embraced his connection to Trump and his role as a Trump advisor? I doubt it was Trump himself, who would have no reason to correct a small inaccuracy in a blog reaching 40,000 people, and every reason in the world to pretend to the American people that he doesn’t spend a lot of time trawling for dollars amongst the ultra-wealthy. Although I have strong circumstantial evidence that the Times has ripped off my OpEdge and Jampole Communications ideas before, I doubt it was the Times that started the ball rolling after seeing my article, because the Times always knew Trump was headed to the Big Apple to beg for cash. It published two photos that referenced Trump’s day-after-the-tax-heist trip in the Sunday paper without explaining the reason for the visit. Of course maybe after seeing the OpEdge article, the Times editors realized they had an interesting little factoid they could use to flesh out a broader story.
We’ll never know, just as we’ll never know what was really said at the meeting. I doubt, however, the conversation veered anywhere close to discussing government actions that would help the vast majority of Americans not worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.
As many others have pointed out, the Republican Party hasn’t wasted any time letting the other shoe drop. They’re dancing their standard two-step of first creating a deficit by cutting taxes on the wealthy and then wailing that the deficit is hurting the economy; of course, the only way to fix it by cutting government spending on social welfare programs.
Reagan pulled this swindle in the 1980’s. Bush did it in the first decade of the 21st century.
And now the Republicans are about to take the first step of the same old swindle by giving the ultra-wealthy the largest tax cut in American history. Most everyone knows that the Trump GOP plan is to pay for this new federal largesse to our least needy in three ways: 1) Cutting spending; 2) Raising taxes on the middle class; 3) Creating a deficit.
Typically, the GOP waits a few years before calling for slashing federal spending, but this crass and brazen new Trump-led GOP has already begun to call for deep cuts to close the large and soon to get larger deficit. Both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have explicitly said that the next step is to radically shrink Medicare and Social Security.
Yes, Social Security. Remember, Reagan tried to go after the government run insurance program into which employees pay 6.25% of their earnings (up to a very low $118,500 annually) for the promise of a steady check once they retire. Social Security provides the bulk of retirement income for most Americans. The best Reagan could do was raise the tax, trim benefits and enable the federal government to borrow money from the Social Security Trust Fund. Since then, Republicans routinely treat Social Security as if it were part of the budget, and not a separate Trust Fund.
Bush II went after Social Security literally the day after his second inauguration and it backfired. Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission wanted to lower Social Security benefits as a way to pay for the great tax cut to the wealthy it was proposing. That went nowhere fast.
Now the Republicans are ready for another assault on Social Security as part of a broader plan to get the federal government out of the business of helping anyone except those who don’t need the help. There’s little chance they’ll succeed in doing much more than raising the retirement age or trimming the benefit. Too many people depend upon on Social Security, so like any head-on assault against the Affordable Care Act, an attempt to end or radically change Social Security will fail. Little nibbles at its edges, however, have succeeded before, so even as the GOP fire-bombers ask for a radical change such as privatization, the so-called moderates will be pushing to nip and tuck the program—lowering annual increases, raising the retirement age, increasing the tax, anything but raising the cap on income assessed the Social Security tax, which would of course hurt rich folk.
One reason that Social Security is so hard for the GOP to attack is that everyone uses it, and so it is impossible for the GOP to pretend that only the undeserving receive Social Security benefits, like they do with welfare, food stamps and Medicaid.
For those unhip to the language of racial coding, when the Republicans label a group like food stamp recipients as underserving, they mean “of color,” and more recently also “immigrant.” They revel in assuming that most recipients of aid from the government are minorities, and then playing on the racism that many whites still harbor—the secret feeling that whites are superior and, the not-so-secret fear that minorities are taking away the good jobs, the promotions and the college acceptances, deserving none of it. In fact, whites born and raised in the good ole U-S-of-A make up the overwhelming majority of the recipients of virtually all social welfare programs. But if the GOP can convince their base that only minorities—the undeserving—receive the benefit, they have a good chance of keeping their support.
We can already see the GOP begin to demonize the poor. Many news and opinion articles are repeating some of the odious things Republicans have been saying to justify cutting social welfare programs. Comments by Senators Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch that blamed the poor for their predicament have rightfully received widespread condemnation. Grassley said that poor folk would be rich if they spent less on booze, women and movies. Hatch chided poor children without healthcare for “not lifting a finger” to help themselves.
Behind the racism of these comments is a secondary code that the news media does not pick up on, and in fact often enables. To a much smaller, but much richer base than the uneducated white wage-working class, goes this secondary message: It’s not just minorities and immigrants who are inferior, undeserving and responsible for their own dire condition—it is anyone who isn’t rich. The rich got that way through their hard work, deserve what they have and don’t deserve to have it taken away from them—no matter what.
The idea of the deserving rich and the underserving poor predates Ronald Reagan’s politics of selfishness. It is a mutation of what sociologists call the “Protestant ethic.” The Protestant ethic starts with the idea that it’s not prayer or ritual or even faith that gets you into heaven, but good works in the real world. But one form of Protestantism, Calvinism, added the concept of “predestination” that those deserving god’s grace and a glorious afterlife were predetermined. As early as the Dutch Golden Age—decades before social thinkers were using Darwin’s theories to justify letting the wealthy prey on everyone else in a deregulated, laissez-faire market economy—the Protestant ethic underwent a secular inversion, at least in business circles and among the clericals feeding at their trough. The idea arose that becoming a success, and specifically a financial success, was a sign of goodness and god’s grace. Conversely, the poor manifested their inferiority by virtue of being poor. In a sense, everyone becomes self-made, untethered from their social background and wealth and the vagaries of chance. We know you’re inherently good because you’re rich. We assume that the poor remain so because they are inherently bad. The virtue of the “self-made multimillionaire,” as the right-looking-center publication The Economist once described Mitt Romney.
Of course the real world is far different, full of virtuous teachers, professors, nurses, home health aides and other educators and care-givers who make less money than they would as corporate attorneys or investment bankers. It’s also full of virtuous bus drivers, security guards, construction workers, janitors, telemarketers, cashiers, burger flippers and other low-paid jobs who work just as hard as corporate CEOs, hedge fund managers, advertising executives and professional athletes, but make much less money.
The wealthy have been playing one form or another of the “we deserve it” card since the emergence of modern democracy. Racism makes it easier to play because a racial inferior is by definition undeserving. But the ultra-wealthy merely use racism to divide and conquer. Believe me, they—and by “they” I mean the Trumps, Kochs, DeVoses, Mnuchins, Mercers, Anschutzes, Scaifes and their ilk—have just as much disdain for all poor people as the poor uneducated cracker cruising white power websites has for minorities.
There wasn’t anything in the news about what Donald Trump did the day after the Senate gave the current Administration an enormous win by passing a tax bill which will produce the greatest shifting of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy in American history.
You might assume that like on most days, Trumpty-Dumpty played a little golf and tweeted inanities. But if you check his schedule posted online you’ll see that he jetted to New York for three fundraisers. The narcissistic ignoramus to whom the Electoral College gave the most votes last year took a victory lap with both tiny-fingered hands outstretched palms up for cash.
At 11:20 am on December 2, The Donald delivered remarks at a Trump campaign breakfast, raising money for his reelection, a slush fund that will no doubt end up feeding Trump businesses. Next at 12:35 pm came a speech at a National Republican Committee fundraiser. We can assume that the money raised at that event will fund Republican Party operations and races.
The last fundraiser, at 1:50 pm, is the most intriguing of all. All the schedule says is that Trump “speaks to a smaller group of RNC donors.”
Wonder who that smaller group was and where they met? By luck of the draw, I can give you that information.
They met in the apartment building next to the one in which my wife and I live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The reason I know this fact is that our street was blocked off for a few hours by sand trucks and was swarming with local police and Secret Service agents, one of whom told us it was Trump who was coming. A special receiving tent was erected at the side entrance to the building where the overgrown orange infant was headed. No one was allowed to walk on the street, and when we left, we were told that to get back into our building, we would have to supply identification. Just as we were leaving for the afternoon, we saw a procession of limousines arrive. At the end of the article you can find two photos that suggest how elaborately authorities cordoned off the area for Trump’s visit.
The building in question is 740 Park Avenue, a long-time New York symbol of ultra-wealth. 740 Park has its own Wikipedia page and a book has been written about it, 740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building by Michael Gross. Some of the current or former inhabitants of 740 include Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (whose grandfather built it), John D. Rockefeller, Saul Steinberg, Steve Schwarzman, Ronald Lauder, Ronald Perelman, Vera Wang, John Thain and Steve Ross, most of whom are certified billionaires.
While the Donald may have been visiting any of the thirty odd ultra-wealthy tenants in this venerable Art Deco building, I will state with extreme confidence he was there to see David Koch, of the infamous Koch brothers, the main organizers of the juggernaut of rightwing money that has funded conservative think tanks, backed conservative politicians and advocated for lower taxes and deregulation for the past few decades.
As Jane Mayer’s Dark Money details, the Koch brothers, sons of an original founder of the John Birch Society, are the primary organizers of the 40-year campaign of a small coterie of billionaires to change the American political agenda for their own selfish ends. Her book explains the process by which our country has reached the point at which it is overwhelmingly centrist-looking-left but controlled by right-wingers, especially at the state level. It explains how the Democrats could outvote the Republicans by millions and still not have a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. It explains why the mass media focuses on inessential issues such as the deficit or promulgates ridiculous myths such as the social value of lowering taxes and the idea that science is unsure about global warming.
In her update of Dark Money that includes what happened in 2016, Mayer reports that the Kochs kept a billion dollars in their and their associates’ pockets during the last election cycle that they had planned to spend to sway the 2016 presidential election for just about any Republican candidate other than Donald Trump. Yet even though the Kochs sat on their hands in the 2016 election, they are now deeply embedded in the Trump Administration. Mayer reports that the Trump administration is crawling with Koch operatives and lobbyists. Mike Pence was the Koch’s first choice for president in 2012 and has received significant financial support from the Kochs in the past. The Kochs set new CIA Director Mike Pompeo up in business and have provided him with financial support throughout his political career. Then there’s the cabinet, that skewers towards the kind of anti-regulation, pro-oil, climate deniers that the Koch Bro’s love to love. Did Trump say he would “drain the swamp” or “join the swamp?”
In the meeting with Koch and friends, we can only imagine the self-serving bombast with which Trump overstated his role in getting the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (AKA the “Despoiling of the Middle Class by the Wealthy Act”) passed. He certainly didn’t turn any Democrats, and I doubt that he was the reason that the hypocrites John McCain and Jeff Flake decided to vote for the tax heist. I doubt it was Trump who convinced Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins that 13 million was an acceptable number of Americans to lose their healthcare to fund vast tax giveaways to millionaires, multimillionaires and billionaires. And he certainly didn’t influence the public or businesses, since every survey showed that the vast majority of Americans and American business owners and operators were vehemently opposed to the bill. In retrospect, his main role in force feeding this dangerous legislation through Congress was to keep embarrassing himself with tweets about his various feuds that dominated the top of the news, pushing the awful details of the tax bill to less prominent coverage.
It could be a coincidence that Trump paid homage to Koch and pals the day after the Senate passed the bill, since the signs that there would be no parking on Saturday December 2 had been up on Park Avenue all week. On the other hand, the timing was convenient. Not even waiting 24 hours to beg for money seems completely in character for the crass, tone-deaf Trump.
Trump wants money from David and Charles Koch and their ultra-wealthy cronies, to be sure—for his reelection, for his various business ventures that can profit from campaign expenditures and for the dozens of lawyers he is employing related to the Mueller investigation into Trump’s probable collusion with the Russians during the election and his ham-handed attempts to cover it up. I imagine he would also like Koch to support candidates least likely to vote for impeachment.
I doubt that the erratic, pompous, crude and ignorant Trump mixed all that well with the patrician and hardheaded Koch crowd. I see so many funny ways the meeting played out—Did Koch serve fast food hamburgers because he knows that’s what the Donald likes to eat? Or did Trump take one look at a spread of various tapas, sushi or crudities and dig into his pocket for a candy bar? What comparison to his own garish nouveau riche home and hotels did he make upon seeing the Koch’s furnishings? How crude was he in asking for the bucks? How many overblown guarantees did he make?
The Kochs already have just about everything they wanted from the 2016 election. The tax law will save them tens of millions of dollars right away, and billions more for their heirs at their deaths. The current administration is rapidly undoing a generation of regulations that protect the environment and level the playing field between large corporations and everyone else. The federal government is turning its back on climate change policies. The Department of Education is focusing its energies on privatization. There can be no doubt that the Koch crew would feel more comfortable with Mike Pence as president, or Paul Ryan if Pence has to resign because he helped to collude or cover-up. They’ll be less happy if the Democrats sweep in 2018 and Nancy Pelosi ends up in the White House. My guess then is that once Mueller has presented his evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Republicans will abandon Trumpty-Dumpty, impeach and convict if Trump does not resign first.
Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, or the current occupant of the Oval Office—whoever is officially in charge by the summer of 2018, the Kochs and their fellow billionaires will continue to pull the strings. And one way or another, the 2018 election—like that of 2000, 2010 and 2016—will be one of the most important in U.S. history. Times are desperate for America, and certainly for the left. The side that wants a polluted, poorly educated nation of rich and poor has the money and the structural advantage they gained from gerrymandering after the 2010 election and creating a multitude of state laws that make it harder to register and to vote. All the American people have is the vote itself.