What does the Virginia election matter when the American establishment itself is rotten?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 2, 2021

The Virginia gubernatorial election campaign in full swing. Photo: Rashmee Roshan Lall

The day of the November 2 Virginia gubernatorial election, I finally got round to reading Ed Luce’s contribution in the Financial Times’ Swamp Notes. The four-year-old, twice-weekly newsletter addresses “the intersection of money and power in US politics”. Mr Luce and another of the FT’s big brains and senior US columnists, Rana Foroohar, take it in turns to “discuss the biggest themes driving US politics, business and markets from Washington, New York and beyond”.

This is rather a long way of saying that Swamp Notes is generally on point and very sharp about it too.

Mr Luce’s most recent observations bore the headline “That creeping sense of western dread” and made a very important point: Namely, that America’s establishment is worth trillions but has little morality or ethics and thereby no right to society’s respect.

Mr Luce noted that nearly a year since Donald Trump was defeated by Joe Biden, things have neither become clearer nor more comfortable about what we’re seeing in America. A year ago, it was still possible to see Mr Trump as an “aberration” but now we fear it is Mr Biden who is the aberration. “Try as he might to do the right thing — and mostly, I believe, that is what he is aiming to do — the forces arraigned against constructive change in America are overwhelmingly strong.”

That includes the Republican Party, held fast in its “post-democratic Trumpian nativism” and the Democratic Party, which is disarray, as well as the group Mr Luce very deliberately calls the “upper classes”.

The meat of the argument is that America’s establishment has forgotten the lessons of history, which is to say that “societies with pragmatic elites understand that you have to bend if you are not to break.”

Here are a couple of paras from Mr Luce’s piece worth reading:

“There is nothing flexible about America’s elite today — and no FDR on the horizon to force them to accommodate. What we are witnessing, instead, is an economic elite that continues to fill its boots. America might still be wracked by Sir Angus Deaton’s “deaths of despair” — the Nobel Prize-winning economist has recently updated his research to show that rising suicide and early death rates are now visible among non-whites, including African Americans and Hispanics.

“But its moneyed classes are loath to pay a few extra cents on the dollar to cover America’s health costs, or give parents the right to a few weeks of paid leave. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk spoke up for most of America’s billionaires, I suspect, when he tweeted: “Eventually they run out of other people’s money, then they come for you.” This was on the same day that his net wealth increased by $36bn (on Tesla’s soaring share price), to make him the richest human in history, at least on paper. Musk was reacting to the since torpedoed Democratic plan to impose a tax on the unrealised capital gains of US billionaires (roughly 700 people would have qualified). Musk’s net worth when he tweeted that was $289bn.”

It is enough to disgust anyone.

What does the Virginia election matter when the American establishment itself is so rotten?