Common Good, or Wealth Enhancement for the Few?

Marco Rubio, a Republican Senator from Florida, wrote a splendid op-ed in the April 21 New York Times. He lamented the movement to invest in financing for the few “over Main Street investment—individual enrichment over the common good.”  He continued, “Americans will overcome the challenge before us. But the society that follows should not be what it was before. We need a new vision to create a more resilient economy.”

Rubio called for “rebuilding a more productive, pro-worker economy (with) federal incentives for productive investments in workers and equipment” and for “discouraging unproductive behavior like stock buybacks.”

If the Senator and I were having a debate we might have different opinions about what the common good is, and how to define a “more productive, pro-worker economy.” But if he really believes what he wrote here, I believe we could find common ground. That would be progress.

The Belly of the Beast

 The protests against strict social distancing guidelines that required closing businesses and recreation areas did not grow up from grass-root.  Powerful right-wing political money and organizers are behind the movement that seems to me to be primarily designed to attack and discredit Democratic governors. Wisconsin ­­­­–––a key swing state in the 2020 presidential election–––is a prime example.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner’s story for The Guardian newspaper unmasks one of the major political and financial powers behind the protests in that state. Billionaire Liz Uihlein said she and her husband “loved Trump” and they have already donated $1.5 million to the president’s super pac, America First Action.  They also have given $20 million during this election cycle to other Republican groups. She is currently circulating a petition to have Wisconsin’s Democratic governor removed from office.

Ms. Uihlein is one of the 36 executives invited to participate on Trump’s telephone  call to discuss the national response to Covid-19. She believes the pandemic is “over hyped” by the media and it is “not as rampant as the press would have you make it.”

America: Exceptionalism in Reverse

 In my 2012 Book The Idea of America I wrote, “One insight I gained during my 2010 international trip emerged from a conversation with five Belgium graduate students over dinner in the home of Catherine Waelkens and Pieter Vanherpe in Kortrijk. My lesson from this gathering was that America loses power and social influence in direct proportion to the degree we behave as a solitary ‘superpower.’ Our influence is drained when we choose to be apart from other nations instead of a part of a viable and cooperative future.”

A few weeks earlier I had met Vijay in a hotel pub in New Delhi, India. He is an American-educated businessman from Mumbai who was in the capital to meet a client. I wrote this in the book: “Vijay extolled what he believes to be the virtues of America: freedom, democracy and an entrepreneurial spirit. The American people, he said,  ‘are good people, caring people, friendly people. And you have the know-how and the resources to lead the world to peace’. But, he added, ‘America can be a bully. You want others to treat you as a superpower and a superior rather than as a friend and partner. You define cooperation as others doing what you want them to do. This is not leadership.’”

Remember, these conversations were in 2010. On April 23, 2020 The New York Times published an article by Karrein Bennhold with the headline, “Sadness and Disbelief from a World Missing American Leadershp.”  Ms. Bennhold wrote “The pandemic sweeping the globe has done more than take lives and livelihoods from New Delhi to New York. It is shaking the fundamental assumptions about American exceptionalism––the special role that the United States has played for decades after World War II as the reach of its values and power made it a global leader and example in the world.”

  She quotes Dominique Moisi, a Paris-based political scientist as saying this about the American response to Covid-19, “America has not done badly, it has done exceptionally badly.” She wrote that Moisi “noted that the pandemic has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of just about every society…it has shown the value of Germany’s deep well of public trust and collective spirit… and in the United States, it has exposed two great weaknesses that have compounded one another: the erratic leadership of Mr. Trump, who has devalued expertise and often refused to follow the advice of his scientific advisers, and the absence of a robust public health system and social safety net.”

Moisi added, “This raises a question a question: Has America become the wrong kind of power with the wrong kind of priorities?”  This is a question we ought to ponder as we think about remaking our country. But while we do, remember my 2010 conversations with Vijay in India and the students in Belgium. Our nation’s problems in the world have deeper roots than the advent of the Trump administration.


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