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“F*ck the billionaires” Isn’t Just Fun To Say — It’s Politically Strategic

Demonizing the super-rich is good, and extremely necessary.

This past weekend, 30+ comrades and I rallied in Beverly Hills to protest the cruel and outrageous tax bill that was just passed by Senate Republicans. As Kelsey Goldberg writes, the idea was that if we make our anger visible to the super-rich, if we disrupt their exceedingly comfortable lives, maybe they’ll start to give a shit about the rest of us.

F-bombs were dropped, middle fingers were waved, drivers of ostentatious cars were heckled, and patrons of fancy restaurants were scolded. It was all extremely cathartic, and I think lots of us came away feeling energized, ready to continue the fight.

Photo by Molly Lambert (just to be clear, this is not me)

The point I want to make here, though, is that there is lasting political value to be gained from these types of demonstrations, and vulgar anger aimed at the super-rich more generally, that goes beyond the personal satisfaction derived from the outpouring of pent-up energy.

Demonizing the super-rich is good, and extremely necessary.

If we ever want to actually redistribute power and resources, we must create the common-sense understanding that the billionaires are Public Enemy №1. They have been waging class war for decades, profiting in all sorts of ways off of the falling living standards of the 99% (who do you think benefits from low wages and expensive housing and healthcare?), endless war, and the destruction of our planet. Only once the super-rich are thoroughly demonized can we hope to mobilize the political will to aggressively curtail their power and redistribute their wealth.

Let’s think about the reactionary legislation of the 1990s — a time when racist, classist, neoliberal ideas were absolutely hegemonic — to demonstrate how public policy follows common-sense understandings of the world. Bill Clinton thought it politically strategic and necessary (and maybe good public policy) to end welfare in 1996 only because poor Black women had been blamed as the source of all of society’s problems since the mid-1970s. The same goes for Black men and the disastrous 1994 crime bill. Conservatives had succeeded in creating a common-sense that blamed poor non-whites for poverty and crime, and sadistically put forward warped notions of personal discipline and responsibility as the remedies. Public policy eventually followed.

So ignore the squeamish friends and family who warn that this class-war rhetoric will turn away potential allies. The time for win-win solutions is long past. Aggressive redistribution is so clearly necessary for real, substantive change. But that will never come unless we on the left make common-sense our understanding of the billionaires as the enemy. Protests in rich neighborhoods is but one strategy for doing so.