Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Philosophy of Government

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We’ve arrived once again at that time of year when the op-ed pages of America’s newspapers fill up with celebrations of democracy and the American Revolution’s enormous contribution to it.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

But this year’s hearty salutes to the Spirit of ’76 come against an unsettling backdrop. We don’t just have a sitting president elected with a distinct minority of the vote. We have as president a man of enormous wealth, who suggests that individuals of enormous wealth should run our government.

“I just don’t want a poor person” in the cabinet, President Trump recently told a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The President wants rich people in the cabinet — and he has them. Mega-millionaires and a few billionaires make up most of his key top appointments. And that rates as a good thing, the President assures us.

“Somebody said, ‘Why’d you appoint rich person to be in charge of the economy,’” he explained in Iowa. “I said, ‘Because that’s the kind of thinking we want.’”

Back before the American Revolution, the rich and powerful in America’s original 13 colonies thought along the same lines. Men of means, they felt, deserved to run the colonial show. Property qualifications for voting and office-holding, historian Clement Fatovic points out, kept colonials of modest means sitting on the political sidelines.

These rigged rules “concentrated political power in the hands of the wealthy,” Fatovic notes in his 2015 book, America’s Founding and the Struggle Over Economic Inequality. But the outbreak of the American Revolution shook up this “politics of deference.” Average colonials, Fatovic shows, “became more outspoken in questioning hierarchical attitudes and practices.” Patriots made one of their early targets “the notion that the rich have a right to govern.”

Even many of the rich themselves began to question that right. On one level, they had no choice. The need to “mobilize people for the struggle for independence,” Fatovic observes, “compelled elites to rethink the role of the marginalized and subordinated.”

“Equality,” adds historian Gordon Wood, would end up becoming “the most radical and most powerful ideological force let loose in the Revolution.”

Nothing would do more to ensure the success of the new American republic, Noah Webster would proclaim during the debate over the Constitution, than achieving “a general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property.” Nothing would destroy that republic quicker, he told his peers, than tolerating a “vast inequality of fortunes.”

In the years right after the American Revolution, illustrious leaders like Thomas Jefferson would join the likes of Noah Webster and, as Fatovic details in his revealing history, unleash “a steady volley of criticisms against the ills of economic inequality.”

Severe inequality, Jefferson charged, locks in “patterns of domination and dependence.” Vast divides between the rich and everyone else, other critics of inequality added, erode trust and corrode social solidarity.

The leaders of America’s founding generation, Fatovic acknowledges, had “complicated and sometimes inconsistent views.” Some like Jefferson could declare a commitment to greater equality and still hold slaves. Others like Benjamin Rush, a doctor in Philadelphia who signed the Declaration of Independence, called for an end to slavery. Emancipation would “diminish opulence in a few,” Rush explained, “and promote that equal distribution of property, which  appears best calculated to promote the welfare of Society.”

But all these early leaders of the American nation shared a commitment, as Connecticut Congregational minister Benjamin Trumbull put it, “not to suffer a few persons to amass all the riches and wealth” of their young nation.

We would do wise to pay heed to their counsel. After all, as Clement Fatovic reminds us, these early Americans were undertaking what amounted to “an experiment in self-government.”

“The recognition that this experiment could fail,” Fatovic notes, “made them highly sensitive to the conditions necessary for its success.”

Much of the generation of 1776 saw economic inequality as the prime threat to that success. We should, too.


Reposted from Our Future

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Campaign for America's Future

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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