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Robert Reich: Capitalist Thugs – OpEd

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Uber’s then-chief executive Travis Kalanick texted fellow executives that “violence guarantees success” when clashes with taxi drivers broke out in 2016 in Paris, a key market for the company. Uber leveraged the violence against its drivers to win sympathy from regulators and the public, as it also did in South Africa where Uber drivers were burned when their cars were set on fire. (This look inside Uber’s internal deliberations came from records Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann turned over to the Guardian.)

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I’ve been thinking about Uber’s capitalist thuggery in light of the corporations underwriting Trump’s thuggery, which includes violent groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers that led the attack on the U.S. Capitol. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” Trump former aide Steve Bannon predicted on his radio show on January 5, 2021.

Trump’s thuggery continues to this day. A phone message received by White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson just before she testified before the January 6 committee warned that someone “let me know you have your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal. And you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”

If this sounds like a gangster threat, that’s the point.  

During Hutchinson’s earlier depositions before the committee, her legal counsel was paid for by Trump’s “Save America PAC” (the PAC paid the legal expenses of other panel witnesses, too. When she realized “she couldn’t call her attorney to say ‘Hey, I’ve got more information’” because the attorney “was there to insulate the big guy,” according to a friend, she secured free counsel who would not inhibit her. Now, after testifying in public, Hutchinson is in hiding.

Meanwhile, the “big guy” continues to stir up his mob with lies about stolen elections and secret plots — fueling a new wave of threats against committee members. Several have increased their personal security. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, co-chair Rep. Liz Cheney, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger have security details; other members have requested them. Kinzinger, one of the panel’s two Republican members alongside Cheney, says he’s received “constant” death threats. “There is violence in the future, I’m going to tell you,” Kinzinger told ABC. “And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can’t expect any differently.” Kinzinger has announced he will not be seeking re-election. Cheney has paused participating in public events in part because of safety concerns.

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Does any of this remind you of Hitler’s Brown Shirts or Mussolini’s Blackshirts?

At the least, it should raise questions about the wealthy individuals and corporations that continue to bankroll this thuggery – among them, billionaires Peter Thiel, Rebecca Mercer, Charles Koch, Home Depot cofounder Bernie Marcus, ex-casino mogul Steve Wynn, and shipping magnate Richard Uihlein.

Funding is also coming from Boeing, Koch Industries, Home Depot, FedEx, General Dynamics, Toyota, AT&T, Valero Energy, Lockheed Martin, UPS, Raytheon, Marathon Petroleum, General Motors and FedEx. In April alone (the most recent month for which data is available) Fortune 500 companies and trade organizations gave more than $1.4 million to members of Congress who voted not to certify the election results. AT&T led the pack, giving $95,000 to election objectors.

Toyota is even funding Trump ally Congressman Andrew Biggs, a fervent devotee of the Big Lie who refuses to comply with a congressional subpoena to testify before the committee. Six congressmen who have refused to testify have raked in more than $826,000 from corporate donors since the assault on the Capitol.

Why are these wealthy individuals and corporations doing this? Presumably because they want to pay as little in taxes as possible and believe Trump and his Republicans will deliver even more tax cuts than they did before.

But how is this capitalist thuggery in pursuit of profits different from Uber’s thuggery? And is it more excusable than the political thuggery it’s enabling?

To state the question in historical terms, how different is their behavior from the wealthy European industrialists who quietly backed the fascists in the 1920s and 1930s? These billionaire and corporate funders are as complicit as are the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in threatening American democracy.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at robertreich.substack.com. Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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