America’s Billionaire Boys Club has been on top of the world in the tough 2020s for everyone — except when they’ve liquidated a few billion dollars here or there to get on their spaceship and soar above.

During a global pandemic that killed a million of their fellow Americans, the country’s roughly 600 billionaires saw their wealth increase by around 55%, with the richest of the rich doing even better than that. Moreover, not even the (barely) 2021 Democratic Party takeover of Capitol Hill can produce the votes to raise taxes on those top earners, even as the middle class struggles with the cost of health care. , college … and now everything in between.

So why are the American oligarchs all of a sudden so miserable?

Exhibit A, of course, was the ridiculously public midlife crisis of the world’s richest man (at least as of this afternoon), electric car and space mogul Elon Musk , whose estimated $210 billion under his mattress is equal to 1% of US gross domestic product. In recent weeks, Musk, who just turned 50, has tried to prove that “the poor man wants to be rich, the rich man wants to be king, and a king is not satisfied until he rules everything” is more than just lyrics by Bruce Springsteen.

It didn’t go well.

Philadelphia-educated Musk’s scheme to buy up Twitter with a combination of his obscene wealth and other people’s money, take over the world’s most beloved social media site and declare himself a brand hero of “free speech” which tends to be freest for privileged white men, did not go as he had planned. It’s not just that the love Musk has taken from conservatives for his plans to overhaul Twitter (and, among other things, bring back the banned Donald Trump) hasn’t been matched by the enmity of so many. others who do not want their social networks Musked.

Musk’s increasingly manic and arguably lopsided tweets now not only seem poised to kill the Twitter deal (and, if it does, thank goodness), but his bizarre public behavior has raised questions about its biggest high-tech empire. In the past six weeks alone, shares of Musk’s flagship company Tesla have plunged 40%, wiping out some $400 billion in wealth for the South African-born American and his investors.

By bringing so much attention to himself, Musk has helped people focus on some of the other unseemly aspects of his rise to the greatest fortune in human history, including a growing investigation into the harassment of black employees. , racist graffiti and other prejudice at Tesla’s California factory. , and now a report that Musk’s other major company, SpaceX, paid $250,000 to an employee who claimed the CEO exposed himself and made him a sexual proposition – an extreme moment in a culture more wide of misogyny in Musk World. Like the Greek legend of Icarus, the SpaceX mogul appears to have flown too close to the sun, and we’re watching the wax and feathers quickly melt away.

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What has been fascinating to watch, however – perhaps in a perverse way – is how Musk’s public meltdown has led him to openly embrace the toxic political culture of the far right, including the strange notion that the real power in society lies not in our orbit of kleptocrats like Musk or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, but with a “cancel culture” of educated progressives.

On Wednesday, Musk tweeted that he was quitting the Democratic Party, which he said had “become the party of division + hate,” to join the GOP. To put that claim into context, it came just hours after Republicans in Pennsylvania nominated a Jan. 6 participant as their gubernatorial candidate and after four days in which conservatives appeared to be doubling down on the racist theories that were driving the 18-year-old who murdered 10 black people in a Buffalo supermarket. Since then, Musk has traveled to Brazil to meet with that country’s autocratic leader, Jair Bolsonaro, and – reportedly in response to accusations of sexual misconduct – claimed he was creating a team of lawyers and that “there will be blood.”

Even crazier, Musk isn’t the only American billionaire melting down on Twitter or finding common cause with the political right. Bezos – whose net worth soared to $132 billion as shoppers fully embraced Amazon during the pandemic lockdown – appeared rarely on social media but has now started retweeting conservative thought leaders and openly feuding with President Joe Biden, calling the idea of ​​pairing higher corporate taxes with fighting inflation “just bad direction.”

Match Musk and Bezos’ political rightward shift with this month’s revelation that Oracle founder Larry Ellison (current net worth: $94.5 billion) participated in a November 2020 call with Sean Hannity and Senator Lindsey Graham, among others, about contesting Donald Trump’s election loss against Biden, and you see the ingredients of a trend. Once upon a time, billionaires claimed to at least be socially progressive. But at a time when their wealth and status — especially amid allegations like those against Musk or around Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ bizarre ties to late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — are under attack, they find solidarity with the fetid swamp of white male supremacy that is modern conservatism.

Part of this is Psychology 101 – which you can leave here for 11 minutes in space, but when you come back it’s the same old place, where all the money in the world can’t buy you love or the respect. It probably irritates Musk and Bezos that more people don’t look up to them for skyrocketing to the top of America’s meritocracy, because more and more of us are seeing how this so-called meritocracy is just a game that was rigged from Day One.

But billionaires also understand that the threats to their status — and their wealth — are starting to become more real. Bezos, in particular, seems shaken by the first successful vote to unionize an Amazon warehouse, in Staten Island, and the fact that Biden hailed the leaders of the new union. And they know that at least midterm, their ability to avoid higher federal taxes is likely hanging on the nails of former progressive renegade Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

It’s disturbing how little attention has been paid in 2022 to a political phenomenon that may seem like old news but continues to shape our world, for the worse. It is the unlimited flow of campaign money from the super-rich aimed at circumventing the will of ordinary people. The richest man in my home state of Pennsylvania, a libertarian hedge-fund billionaire named Jeff Yass, has so far spent $18 million on the 2022 races, largely to install a legislature. state that would undermine our public schools. Nationally, Trump’s Silicon Valley man, billionaire Peter Thiel, is busy electing extremists to the US Senate in Ohio’s JD Vance and Arizona’s Blake Masters.

Yet even this bizarre billionaire trick is getting harder and harder to pull off. In Pittsburgh, wealthy interests invested $4.5 million to try to keep a true populist — pro-unionist and anti-climate change activist Summer Lee — out of an open seat in Congress, and failed. No wonder the oligarchs have come to believe that owning our elections is not enough – that in an era of nanosecond political dialogue, they must now control the entire conversation.

So Musk couldn’t think of a better use of his pandemic-infected windfall than to single-handedly take control of Twitter, while Bezos accepts praise for maintaining investigative reporting in his Washington Post even as his editorial board shoots aid to the middle class as student debt relief, and Thiel serves as enforcer – closing the original Gawker with a lawsuit that had a chilling effect on real free speech, the genre that criticizes billionaires.

It’s time for Americans to remember that even though there are 600 of us, there are 330,999,400 of us, and even though we still theoretically have a democracy, we can use these tools, in many ways. For starters, the Biden administration can do a lot more to weaponize Bezos’ fears about the rise of labor unions than just pat the people of Staten Island on the back. The president and his team should move much faster to implement recent pro-union recommendations from his task force. America’s middle class was much stronger when unions were at their height in the 1950s – when the CEO precursors to Musk and Bezos earned a fraction of today’s obscene spoils.

But Biden also needs to make sure his No. 1 priority by Election Day is to work with Democrats and favor, or bludgeon, or whatever, a deal that would significantly raise Musk’s taxes, Bezos and their fellow billionaires and multi-millionaires then use that windfall for programs aimed at rebuilding the middle class. The president’s latest proposal — raising $360 billion over a decade by taxing the top 0.1% at a higher rate and for unrealized gains in their stock portfolios — should just be the starting point. . We should talk more seriously about ideas like Senator Elizabeth Warren’s aggressive wealth tax. Indeed, Musk’s meltdown almost sounds like a plea for those of us in the 99% to lift him out of his current misery.

Those dollars could be put to good use, starting with Congress’ unconscionable failure to extend the expanded Child Tax Credit, which has pushed 3.7 million of our children back into food insecurity and poverty. I would also like to see a wealth tax paid for free or nearly free public universities and trade schools, which would allow Biden to end the current student debt crisis without looking at the start of a new one. After all, Musk, Bezos and the like have gotten so rich off the innovations of their young workers grappling with a big chunk of that $1.75 trillion drag. Getting those whiny, spoiled oligarchs to pay it back is the only thing I can think of that would be even nicer than shutting them up.

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