The public must decide: Should billionaires be taxed out of existence, banished from the republic or forced to do the bidding of the poor one day in the year in a modern version of the medieval “Feast of Fools”? Put another way, the media have decided that the fisticuffs, in particular between Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and the billionaire class, has become the most popular extreme sport of the season.
Jamie Dimon, CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase, is a big name in finance but — if there is such a thing — a small billionaire, with a net worth clocking in at a mere $1.6 billion. That’s nevertheless about three times Jeffrey Epstein’s estimated fortune. And everyone now knows about Epstein’s lavish lifestyle. He owned a Caribbean island, a private jet nicknamed the Lolita Express, outlandishly expensive property in New York and Paris, and much else, including a painting of Bill Clinton in drag. And with his spare cash, he paid for the upkeep of countless underage ladies given a rare opportunity to hobnob (if that’s the right verb) with the elite, including US presidents, British royalty and celebrity lawyers.
Dimon wants us to believe that, though he is a billionaire, he has a strong moral sense or at least a commanding sense of decency. He objects to gratuitous criticism, especially of himself and his kind. He makes an important distinction in his “60 Minutes” interview aired on November 11: “I think you should vilify Nazis, but you shouldn’t vilify people who worked hard to accomplish things.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Treat someone as vile or of base moral worth, a practice considered socially maladroit, to be avoided especially with people who have shown their capacity to be authentically vile, coupled with their failure to recognize it.
There’s no obvious reason to suppose that Dimon is vile, especially if vile is taken in the traditional sense of being of low worth. With $1.6 billion to his name, his massive worth is uncontestable. It’s true that Dimon lands near the bottom of the billionaire class — meaning even Donald Trump may think of him as an upstart, if not a “loser” — but not only does the possession of a billion dollars place him in the highest echelons of wealth, but his salary of $30 million a year is considerably more than most billionaires hope to earn from their labors… when they actually have labors (other than philanthropy, their preferred form of PR).
But as Dimon says, in defense of fellow billionaires, because they “work hard” and “accomplish things,” they should only be vilified if they join the Nazi party. This presumably means that ordinary fascists should get a pass. It’s the Nazi bit that deserves vilification.
The interviewer, Lesley Stahl, wants to know who is the target of the progressive Democrats’ vilification? Is it Dimon himself? Or is it the class Dimon belongs to, that of billionaire bankers? Dimon may be taking things too personally. What people vilify is less the individual billionaires themselves than their acts. Politics should be about what people do, not who they are. But the media have good reasons for preferring the second approach.
At one point in his “60 Minutes” interview, Dimon even appears to agree that during the 2008 financial crisis, sins were committed. He refuses to name names (a consequence of there being “honor among thieves”?), but he does feel justified in outright vilifying some of his colleagues when he admits the following: “I believe that there were people … who were greedy, selfish, did the wrong stuff, overpaid themselves and couldn’t give a damn.”
At least they weren’t Nazis, since Dimon might then have felt it necessary to name names. By his own standards, being selfish and greedy and doing the “wrong stuff” doesn’t merit vilification, so why has he resorted to Senator Warren’s vile tactics. Those selfish people were, after all, working hard and accomplishing things.
Some may consider it a dodge on Jamie Dimon’s part to set the bar so high by only including Nazis among those who deserve to be vilified, but it does conveniently get him off the hook, especially when some people have done a thorough assessment of his very real crimes. On Dimon’s watch, JPMorgan Chase has been condemned for multiple crimes and fined nearly $29 billion over the past seven years. JPMorgan Chase is “the only U.S. bank in history to have pleaded guilty to three criminal felony counts and kept the same man, Dimon, as its CEO despite the unprecedented criminal charges,” write Pam Martens and Russ Martens.
For that level of criminal activity, we might expect a punishment similar to Eric Garner’s for peddling contraband cigarettes in the same city in which Dimon works. Garner’s punishment was to be strangled in the street by the authorities. Dimon has never been threatened with prison.
As a reward for that ability to “accomplish things” while personally escaping prosecution and accepting fines that, despite their size, are nowhere near the profit those crimes produced, Dimon has one of the highest salaries on Wall Street. And as he explained to Lesley Stahl, it may sound excessive, but he didn’t ask for that salary. In a variation of the old pretext, “the devil made me do it,” Dimon insists that the board made him take it. He’s a passive victim of the arbitrary will of his board that apparently feels he needs that level of salary. It may simply be the price they pay for Dimon’s accepting to be the figurehead who accepts to take the rap.
CBS made a clever move by interviewing Dimon. No interviewee could have done a better job demonstrating why the battle against billionaires stirs emotions and makes for an exciting public debate. Dimon’s defense was feeble, but don’t count on CBS or any of the corporate media to take the side of the progressive politicians attacking the billionaires.
As a media outlet, CBS wants to stir the drama, attract the eyeballs, stoke the fire and, more generally, provoke waves of indignation on both sides. “More noise” is the message on a placard used in sporting events to get the crowd’s emotions going. CBS knows that the billionaires have nothing to fear because there are at least seven solid perimeters of defense against the eventual assault of the masses, the most obvious one being that the masses would need billions of dollars to fund their revolution, but the billions they need all happen to be on the other side, some of it in the hands of the media themselves.
Does anyone seriously believe that Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, once elected, could implement a wealth tax? Barack Obama, with a majority in both houses of Congress, couldn’t even close Guantanamo Bay, the one concrete and uncomplicated thing he promised to do on his very first day in office. The point of the debate for the media has little to do with public policy and less with political ethics and economic justice. It has everything to do with selling emotion and stimulating the public’s feeling of righteous indignation.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.