France’s most notorious female con artist, Marthe Hanau, was imprisoned in the 1930s for defrauding naïve French investors of so much money that financial markets, and the government, collapsed.
Madame Hanau, who bribed government officials, was a high-wattage charlatan. She was so skilled at deceiving gullible investors, the New Yorker magazine’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, dryly reported, “that, as the judge agreed, only when she was in prison would the stupid be safe.” (Hanau escaped.)
How many prisons would it take, really, to save the gullible from blandishments of charlatans? Hello? People?
This tale of a disastrous charlatan and disastrous enablers resonates as we survey the carnage wrought by Donald Trump.
Too often, Trump’s enablers are lumped into a carefully worded category: “low-information voters.” (In our enlightened times, we have no “stupid” people, only “low information” ones.) Many of them remain tethered to the Charlatan-in-Chief despite glaringly awkward, ill-fitting facts on the ground.
But let’s not hang all the weight of our national misfortune around the necks of gullible voters. Give credit where it’s overdue: to the decidedly non-gullible
Entirely too little has been made of the political marriage of the super-wealthy and evangelicals, who joined to support this malodourous presidency. The wealthy – always outnumbered at the ballot box — have more to gain by enlisting evangelical voters than Christians have in cozying up to titans of commerce.
Might some of these corporate chieftains presume that anyone who believes in God can be made to believe anything, including that a Divine Hand guides Donald Trump? Oh, surely not.
The president gifted the rich with a tax cut, once again transferring wealth upward. Evangelicals’ fealty gained them presumably sympathetic judges, the humiliation of a soiled brand and personal self-harm.
Pious or profane, workers and consumers who supported Trump abetted their own disenfranchisement. He gutted regulations that protected them from corporate misbehavior. The Food and Drug Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Labor Relations Board are among worker and consumer protection agencies weakened by Trump.
Trump used the pandemic as an excuse to jettison more of the safeguards meant to strike a fair balance of power between citizens and corporations. Without that balance, we live under just another form of tyranny — capture by corporate oligarchs.
Here’s an example of how that works: The Department of Agriculture actually allowed poultry plants with ongoing coronavirus outbreaks to increase speeds of processing lines from 140 birds whizzing by workers per minute to 175. Bon appetit!
This upped already dire coronavirus infection risks for Trump-designated “essential” workers — usually treated as non-essential human beings. They were designated as “essential,” it turns out, not to feed American consumers but to enrich producers exporting many more chickens to China.
The melding of big business and Christian nationalism was examined in the July 13 issue of the New Yorker by investigative reporter Jane Meyer, who detailed how Trump helped his corporate donors remove worker safety protections during the pandemic. One of them, Ronald Cameron, owns the nation’s sixth-largest chicken processing firm, Mountaire Corp.
Cameron, who attends an evangelical church, donated millions of dollars to Trump and formerly was on the board of the Washington, D.C.-based Fellowship Foundation. It offers dormitory housing to members of Congress and sponsors the annual National Prayer Breakfast summit attended by Congressional lawmakers and the business elite.
Favoring the powerful
Foundation members, indicated Eric Williams, a pastor at the North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio, have hijacked Christianity: “They think God favors the powerful and that Jesus came as a leader of the rich and powerful, not of the powerless.”
Cameron and his company are sole donors to his $327 million Jesus Fund, which mostly gives tax-deductible donations to “organizations that esteem traditional, Scripture-based values for government.” Donations are laundered through the National Christian Foundation, the nation’s eighth-largest charity, which washes away donors’ fingerprints and doesn’t disclose recipients, Meyer reports.
In 2018, when Cameron gave it $18 million, the National Christian Foundation passed onward $1.7 billion in grants to 26,000 organizations, including the Boy Scouts and Federalist Society, which grooms and vets conservative U.S. Supreme Court nominees.
Meanwhile, the source of Cameron’s wealth, the poultry workers, had the cost of personal safety gear deducted from their paychecks and were denied pay for the time required to put it on. This parsimony cost the company $8 million to settle, Meyer writes.
Mountaire’s workers are paid $13 an hour. When the pandemic hit, they briefly got a $1 raise, quickly rescinded. Workers say they cannot afford Mountaire’s medical plan so they rely on Medicaid. They’re not informed when co-workers are infected with coronavirus. They’ve filed a complaint charging that Mountaire illegally conspired to decertify their union.
Is this the capitalism Jesus likes?
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.