Why Tom Perkins infuriates me so much: A tactless fiasco

It has been a few weeks and the world has moved on to more pressing matters since then, but I still have a bone to pick with a certain Mr Tom Perkins. For anyone who needs reminding, he is a venture capitalist who made the exceptionally offensive comparison between the “demonised” American upper class to the Jews of Germany during Kristallnacht and the Holocaust.

Before anyone accuses me of flogging a dead horse, I want to acknowledge the fact that Mr Perkins has indeed apologised profusely about his tasteless analogy. In fact, I am not going to talk about the comparison at all. It is the statements he made during his apology that have got me so worked up.

Mr Perkins said that while he deeply regrets the comparison he made, he still stands by the essence of his initial statement. Namely, that any time a minority is attacked by a majority, it is just plain wrong. And, with the top one percent of the US population clearly being a numerical minority, it is unfair that the remaining 99 percent should bully them so.

Mr Perkins calling the rich a mistreated minority insults the real struggles of minorities

My short response to this statement is a snort of derision accompanied by a few choice words too colourful to print. The longer version has a few points to it.
First of all, what Mr Perkins has so wonderfully glossed over is the fact that the top one percent is not vilified nearly as much as he thinks. Celebrity culture being what it is, the majority of the world, and certainly the majority of the US, are quite happy to ignore the obscene riches of Mr Perkins’s type and focus their attention on rebellious child stars, a charismatic but weak head of state, and the grandeur of a sporting event held halfway across the world.

The top one percent are not all representatives of greed and egocentricity; consider the philanthropic work of Bill and Melinda Gates for instance. However, the fact remains that the richest 85 people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. And most of them are quite happy to play the victim whenever someone raises even the faintest of objections, while splashing their money on extravagant lifestyles instead of putting it to good use.

Mr Perkins also forgets how much influence his persecuted minority really wields. It is no exaggeration to say that in a capitalist world, the rich have more power than the poor, but this is even more so in a place like the US.

Individual donations can influence legislation and financially powerful groups can sway Congress away from doing what is morally correct. Examples include the influence of the tobacco lobby with regards to smoking legislation and the NRA with regards to squashing attempts at gun control.

Consider further the economic arguments against something as desirable as universal healthcare (the Affordable Care Act) or sexual minority worker rights (ENDA), and you realise exactly how deep the influence of Mr. Perkins and co. really goes. If I was able to have so much power over what my country does, I would be quite happy to tolerate criticism, especially if it is warranted.

There is also the added fact that I find Mr Perkins’s equation to the rich being a mistreated minority insulting to the very real harassment that minorities around the world have to face.

It is bad enough that Perkins then goes on to whine about the fact that people who are now struggling to make ends meet – many due to the financial meltdown precipitated by the upper classes – would naturally not be happy about the situation. It is far worse that he then dares to compare himself explicitly to a historically persecuted minority and, in his apology, implicitly to the countless racial, national and sexual minorities facing prison, torture and death day in and day out.

I do not know Mr Perkins. I have no right to judge him on a personal level. But I have no qualms in unequivocally despising his comments and what they stand for.
If Mr Perkins thinks that he has managed to get away with his shambles of an apology, he has another thing coming. And while I doubt this is going to grab his attention, I hope that others in his position do not make the same ignorant mistake.


Header Image Courtesy of flickr.com/jdlasica


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