Monday, July 09, 2018

The Vast Fortune Behind Trump's Immigration Regime

splinternews |  Tanton’s individual persistence was at bottom made possible by the greater persistence of wealth across generations in the United States, coming to fruition in the hundreds of millions of dollars that Cordelia Scaife May left to the Colcom Foundation when she died. What endures is not any individual or personality but capital and institutions. Tanton’s best political skill was not his analysis or his rhetoric but his ability to flatter wealthy racists. He was not a great theoretician or leader or organizer, but an adroit servant of capital’s class interests, for this is how the capitalist class exerts power—not by engaging in democratic politics, but by creating a bulwark against it.

Ironically, Tanton recognized this dynamic himself, however accidentally, in his striving for an essentially American identity. “I think there is such a thing as an American culture, however difficult it may be to define,” he once mused. “For instance, the United States is the most philanthropic society on the face of the earth, and most of the work that FAIR and our opponents do is supported by philanthropy. Few, if any, other cultures have developed the idea of public philanthropy as strongly as we have here.”

What he failed to recognize is that the very idea of public philanthropy as it is practiced in the United States of America is wholly the creation of the American plutocracy—wealthy industrialists and corporate scions seeking ways to consolidate and protect their money over time. While the practice of establishing private family trusts and foundations and of spending copious amounts of money on ostensibly philanthropic (though in fact political) causes is now commonplace among the capitalist class, it was not always so. The first of these, the Rockefeller Foundation, was formed in 1913; a century later, according to political scientist Robert Reich, there were over 100,000 private foundations in the United States, controlling over $800 billion. “The tax code turned many extraordinarily wealthy families, intent upon preserving their fortunes, into major forces in America’s civic sector,” Jane Mayer writes in Dark Money. “In order to shelter themselves from taxes, they were required to invent a public philanthropic role.”

Scaife, were the beneficiaries of two charitable trusts of $50 million each, structured such that, after 20 years of donating all net income from the trusts to nonprofit charities, the siblings would receive their $50 million principals. Their mother did the same in 1961, setting up a pair of $25 million trusts, and again in 1963, setting up another $100 million in trusts for her grandchildren. Mellon Scaife, who once called a reporter for the Columbia Journalism Review a “fucking Communist cunt,” would go on to make some $1 billion in political and philanthropic contributions over a 50-year period, anticipating the Koch brothers’ current reign and shaping the right-wing of American politics for half a century. In a secret memoir, obtained by Mayer, Mellon Scaife gloated, “Isn’t it grand how tax law gets written?”

There is deep and horrible irony in Mellon family money, which powered American imperialism in Central and South America and which grew as a result of that imperial expansion, now being spent to denigrate and punish the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the men and women whose countries the Mellons helped to colonize, who now come to the United States seeking respite from their nations’ ruin. For people like Tanton and Scaife May or organizations like FAIR and CIS, the point is not to purge the United States of immigrants wholly but to ensure the continued immiseration and suffering of the poor and the dispossessed—the most destitute of whom, it is no accident, are mostly people of color.

The activity of the Tanton network and the support it has received from one of America’s oldest imperial families shows above all how one faction of the ruling class, at least, imagines it can create a permanent underclass from which to extract value: first, by dehumanizing migrants in the minds of the citizens; then, by allowing them to sell their labor to employers across the country; and finally, in the prisons and detention centers where they are housed until deportation, and the cycle begins anew. In turn, this contributes to the continued creation of a massive population of surplus labor, which puts downward pressure on wages for all workers.