The first indication that something is going on is usually circumstantial.
I was walking home from a spectacularly expensive Broadway play when the two fur coat and hat wearing ladies in front of me exchanged their anxieties. That Mayor Bill de Blasio would soon pilfer their earnings with burdensome tax increases on the one percent, one of them said.
“We’ll be living in Venezuela soon,” she assured her companion. “He’ll be a dictator stealing from us and giving to the poor to make himself popular.”
Her companion made a face. “How on earth could we go from Bloomberg to de Blasio in one election cycle? Doesn’t socialism usually take years to take hold?”
Looking at them, elaborately coiffed and manicured and surrounded by a rabble dispelling force field of Chanel No. 5, it was hard to feel their pain. My lack of compassion for them was aided by their lack of compassion for anyone else.
They hailed two taxis and were ferried off into the night as the common folks mugged for photographs beneath giant corporate signage that exhorted them to buy M&M’s and American Apparel and deposit their money in Bank of America.
Something was going on, though. I haven’t heard the rich express anxiety over anything or anyone in one and a half decades.
Clearly they are anticipating a reckoning. But what will it look like when it comes?
The next indication that our super rich are growing restive came when Fox News basic blowhard Sean Hannity was making darker predictions about the fate of the rich like himself under the state governor and new mayor.
“I can’t wait to get out of here. I really can’t,’’ Hannity told his viewers, adding, “I don’t want to pay their 10 percent state tax anymore. I live in the second-highest property taxed county in the entire country in Nassau County. I can’t wait to sell my house to somebody who wants it. I can’t wait to pay no state income tax down in Florida or Texas.”
For all his shadow play, Hannity didn’t move though. Instead he simply listed his smaller “gold coast” Long Island home for $3.6 million.
An 8,000-square-foot beachfront home with four bedrooms, five and a half baths, set on two rolling acres, he could afford to split the difference. It was only one of the two homes that he owns on Long Island.
“I’m getting out of New York, I’m not loved here,” the despondent Hannity later told Texas Governor Rick Perry on his program. “I’m like an orphan. I don’t have state, I don’t have a home.”
Hannity is many things, but an impoverished orphan he is not.
What is rattling extreme conservatives so much about the de Blasio and Obama era that they resort to absurd rhetoric so quickly? Is there a real sense of panic behind these comments or are they upping the ante before anyone notices how tough they don’t have it?
Why are the nation’s richest people suddenly afraid that a populist “Kill the Rich” movement is beginning to assemble here in New York and nationally?
“From the Occupy Wall Street movement to the demonization of the rich... I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” wrote coddled millionaire Tom Perkins to The San Francisco Chronicle recently.
“There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these ‘techno geeks’ can pay...This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant progressive radicalism unthinkable now?”
Although this is an extreme view, it is not misleading to say this level of hubris and over the top paranoia has grown among the nation’s top tier.
The rich now are richer than at any time in over 100 years. They are also more isolated in their fabulous luxury.
That’s why they are beginning to feel exposed. It’s why they now feel more threatened and powerless than they have in decades. They are finally beginning to perceive there is some peril in holding so much power and wealth.
In their long vacation from the reality, the nation’s super-rich have become super-radicalized. They have long ago decoupled from the fate of the nation, which they currently perceive only as a threat to their status.
It’s one of the ironies of enormous personal success, it turns out. You can build your mighty castle and live in it alone, but the world you now look down on will start to look further and further away and increasingly dangerous.