“The arrogance of power”, a flaw in the body politic, was defined in Senator Bill Fulbright’s book of the same name [The Arrogance of Power, 1966] in which he “attacked the [Vietnam] war’s justification, Congress’ failure to set limits on it, and the dangerous and delusional impulses that gave rise to it”.
Whether you agree with “the elite consensus that US military intervention in Indochina was necessitated by cold war geopolitics” or the books premise that it was not, Fulbright’s aim was high. His view of politics and world affairs was Olympian, his scope worldwide. His “arrogance of power” was the flawed “presumption on the part of a nation that its power gives it the right to intervene in the affairs of less powerful nations”.
Today the “arrogance of power” has been dumbed down to its literal meaning – the ability to act with an attitude of superiority in an overbearing and presumptuous manner – the very antithesis of “Noblesse Oblige”.
The current iteration of arrogance started with the political rise of Bill Clinton [a/k/a William Blythe III], a white cracker from Hope, Arkansas. It has grown exponentially during the short tenure of Donald Trump, a short fingered vulgarian from Jamaica, Queens.
To fully appreciate today’s sad state of affairs you have to take a gander at history. After Oxford and Yale Law School, mainly on scholarships and grants, Bill Clinton, ironically once a clerk in Senator Fulbright’s Washington office, was elected Arkansas Attorney General in 1976, at a salary, if memory serves, of $17,500. Two years later he was elected Governor serving for a total for 12 years. At no time did Bill Clinton’s salary exceed $35,000, nor his total income $46,854 dollars a year – see the Clintons’ 1991 income tax return.
Yet, as Arkansas’s chief executive he was charged with dealing with likes of Walmart, a company that employs 2.2 million people world-wide, Tyson Foods, America’s second-largest food production company and Dillard’s Department Stores with 350 retail locations throughout the United States. For tiny Arkansas Bill Clinton had an enormous presence and influence, he was flying with the local eagles notwithstanding his miserly salary and threadbare financial status. This disconnect, and his and Hillary’s resulting envy and resentment, only amplified when Bill was elected President in 1992.
With that Bill Clinton was not only flying with the eagles, he was soaring above them in Air Force One. He was no longer dealing with mere shopkeepers, Sam Walton and Bill Dillard, he was dealing with the heads of state, potentates and kings, Hollywood royalty. No longer on his radar were retail chains now he had on his screen multinational, multibillion dollar corporations, Boeing, Lockheed, Exxon Mobil, certainly not Walmart or Target.
The power that the executives of these select companies flaunted and enjoyed were commensurate with those of enjoyed by the President of the United States. Bill Clinton, and by extension Hillary, came to believe that these perks were their just due and not just the fleeting perks of office. This malady soon extended to the West Wing, then on to the rest of the Executive Branch and migrated to Congress up on Capitol Hill – only the judiciary seemed immune.
This virus destroyed the last vestiges of populism and democracy that existed in Washington and which made it the swamp of entrenched interest that Donald Trump promised to drain. Of course, this state of affairs was aided along by Richard Milhous Nixon and Ronnie Reagan but starkly in contrast to Harry Truman, who had retired to his front porch in Independence, Missouri; or Dwight Eisenhower’s rustications from a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; or Jimmy Carter’s peace initiatives forays from rural Plains, Georgia.
The arrogance of power was Hillary Clinton’s Achille’s heel which hobbled her campaign and cost her both the 2008 and the 2016 elections. Upon leaving the White House she found herself “dead broke” and not “truly well off” even though, while still the First Lady, she and Bill bought a $1.7 million 11 room, five-bedroom, 100-year-old Dutch colonial in Chappaqua, New York. Bill, now a private citizen, promptly cashed in on his Presidency, flying high some 22 times on a convicted pedophile’s Boeing 727 jet.
Private jets keeping popping up in Bill Clinton’s post presidential life. He often travelled with Ron Burkle, “the California supermarket billionaire and investor who is [his] bachelor buddy, fund raiser, and business partner” on Burkle’s “usual means of transport … [a] custom-converted Boing 757 that Clinton calls “Ron Air” and that Burkle’s own circle of young aides privately refer to as ‘Air Fuck One’”.
Do not forget Frank Giustra’s MD-87 McDonnell Douglas jet, the Canadian mining multimillionaire’s plane that carried them to Kazakhstan for dinner with President Nursultan Nazabayev, a dictator if there ever was one. Within days Giustra signed an agreement for uranium exploitation in that country and the Clinton foundation received a $31.3 million donation with a pledge for an additional $100 million. I won’t burden you with additional facts documenting the Clinton’s net worth of at least $100 million and their control of a multi-billion-dollar free spending-at-will Foundation.
It seems that air travel best epitomizes today’s state of arrogance of power. Tom Price was a second rate, lackluster Member of the House of Representatives from an Atlanta suburb. He was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services in February, 2017 amidst controversy over conflict of interest and self-dealing. Between May and September, 2017 Price took 24 private chartered flights and “expended more than $1 million of [taxpayer money] for his own travel on private charter and military aircraft. Many of the flights were between cities that are easily accessible by train or car and have frequent, low cost commercial airline service”. After offering to reimburse the government for only $52,000, he was fired or allowed to resign, take your pick.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs multimillionaire, has a like taxpayer paid frequent flier habit. He has taken seven chartered flights to Italy, London, Miami, Las Vegas including the infamous jaunt with his new bride to Louisville/Fort Knox to view the gold and the eclipse at taxpayer expense for a total of $811,796. Fortuitously his request for honeymoon transportation aboard an Air Force jet was withdrawn – had it been granted Mnuchin would most likely be an ex-Secretary of the Treasury.
Not to be forgotten for jet set travel are Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and of course the President himself with each visit to Mar-A-Lago weekend jaunt costing taxpayers at least $3.6 million and counting.
I will not enumerate the other well documented arrogances of power: the disregard of rules and norms for nepotism, self-dealing, conflict of interest, emolument prohibitions, lying and false and libelous statements. I will mention one especially galling: after berating and criminalizing Hillary Clinton’s use of private server emails – I can still hear the campaign chants of “lock her up, lock her up” – Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s most trusted senior advisors have been discovered to being guilty of the same offense once ensconced in the White House.
I write of the state arrogance in the United States because this is where I live and is before me in plain view. Do not despair arrogance and power are universal. If you are reading this in a foreign land just change the names to those in power locally, add appropriate dates and acts of well documented locally sourced abuse of power, and you can be just like us.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com.