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Democracy Now! - February 26, 2020

The 10th Democratic presidential debate took place Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina, and two billionaires were at either end of the stage: Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. Front-runner Bernie Sanders, who has made attacking the power of the “billionaire class” a central theme of his campaign, stood in the middle. It was a visual representation of the split within the Democratic Party, in which a growing number of people are “rising up against plutocracy,” says Anand Giridharadas, editor-at-large at Time magazine and author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. His recent piece for The New York Times is titled “The Billionaire Election: Does the world belong to them or to us?


AMYGOODMAN: Two out of seven. That’s the number of Democratic candidates in last night’s debate who are billionaires. Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer were at either end of the debate stage in Charleston, South Carolina, with front-runner Bernie Sanders front and center, facing a barrage of criticism from his challengers. He was flanked by former Vice President Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who all tried to appeal to African-American and moderate voters in a battleground state. This is moderator Norah O’Donnell questioning Bernie Sanders during the debate, which was sponsored by CBS and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.

NORAHO’DONNELL: Senator Sanders, we haven’t had a national unemployment rate this low for this long in 50 years. Here in South Carolina, the unemployment rate is even lower. How will you convince voters that a democratic socialist can do better than President Trump with the economy?
SEN.BERNIESANDERS: Well, you’re right. The economy is doing really great for people like Mr. Bloomberg and other billionaires. In the last three years, last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth. But you know what? For the ordinary American, things are not so good. Last year, real wage increases for the average worker were less than 1%. Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. Eighty-seven million Americans have no health insurance or are underinsured. Forty-five million people are struggling with student debt. Five hundred thousand people tonight are sleeping out on the street, including 30,000 veterans. That is not an economy that’s working for the American people. That’s an economy working for the 1%.
MICHAELBLOOMBERG: I think that Donald Trump thinks it would be better if he’s president. I do not think so. Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States. And that’s why Russia is helping you get elected, so you’ll lose to him.
SEN.BERNIESANDERS: Oh, Mr. Bloomberg. Let me tell Mr. Putin, OK, I’m not a good friend of President Xi of China. I think President Xi is an authoritarian leader. And let me tell Mr. Putin, who interfered in the 2016 election, tried to bring Americans against Americans: Hey, Mr. Putin, if I’m president of the United States, trust me, you’re not going to interfere in any more American elections.

AMYGOODMAN: So, this was the final debate before Saturday’s primary in South Carolina and Super Tuesday, when 14 states will vote. South Carolina TV station WCSC reported the Charleston County Democratic Party offered tickets to people who sponsored the debate at a cost of $1,750 to $3,200 per sponsorship, calling it the, quote, “only guaranteed way to get a ticket” to last night’s debate.

In a few minutes, we’ll go to South Carolina to get reaction there, but first we’re joined here in New York by Anand Giridharadas, editor-at-large of Time magazine. His book is called Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. On Sunday, he had a cover story of The New York Times Week in Review titled “The Billionaire Election: Does the world belong to them or to us?”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Anand.

ANANDGIRIDHARADAS: Thank you for having me, Amy.

AMYGOODMAN: So, that’s pretty astounding. Two of the seven Democratic candidates, considered so often the Republican — the people’s party, are billionaires. What does this say to you? Who were on the stage last night.

ANANDGIRIDHARADAS: Running to replace a self-described billionaire, who actually probably isn’t one. You know, let’s just stick with the physical scene that you just showed those shots of, because I think it’s a metaphor for what I have called the “billionaire election,” or the billionaire referendum that 2020 is. So, you’ve got these seven people on stage. On two ends are actual billionaires. The two candidates in the middle, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are candidates who have risen to prominence precisely on the platform of running against billionaires and the idea that billionaire power is excessive and is suffocating the American dream for people. Then you have the $1,700 to $3,200 tickets, which captures the way in which the Democratic Party is an ostrich, not understanding that we live in an age in which people are actually rising up against plutocracy, and this is the kind of, you know, foot fault that you don’t want to make. And then you have, you know, CBS, this big corporation, hosting the debate. Twitter is collaborating. That’s owned by a billionaire. Billionaires are the stewards, the captains of an economy that has generated so much of the rage this year that is being — that is presenting itself in the election.

And so, this is an election in which you have to have a stand. You have to know where you stand on the question of billionaires in order to vote in this primary and in this general election. If you don’t have a perspective on billionaires, you can’t actually make this choice meaningfully, because for very long in this country, the story that we have told about billionaires is they are like helium balloons. They’re just people who happened to have drifted up from among the rest of us. That’s been the story. And yes, they had more, and maybe the gap was a little too high, but they were just people who drifted up, and maybe if we could get more people a little helium and drift them up, then we’d be better off.

A new story is emerging, a truer story, which is that a lot of those folks, and certainly that class of people, is up there because they are standing on other people’s backs. And they stand on people’s backs by using and abusing tax havens like Bermuda — hello, Bloomberg. They stand on people’s backs by profiting from an economy, like the financial sector that has destroyed the American dream for so many people — hello, Michael Bloomberg. They stand on people’s backs by lobbying for bottle-service public policy that is of private benefit to them but detrimental to the public. And I think Americans are actually waking up to the fact that we have been living in this, what I call this winners-take-all America, in which the country is not being run for Americans. It is being run for money.

I actually have gotten tired of the language of inequality, even though I wrote an entire book about it — multiple books about it, because I think people don’t — it doesn’t click with people, what we’re actually talking about. So, if you are someone listening to this who’s not — I mean, you’re probably not, because you’re watching Democracy Now! — but someone who’s not so excited about the inequality issue, think about it this way. In every year, in this country and in all countries, a certain amount of future rains on all of us. A certain amount of progress rains on all of us. A certain amount of innovation rains on all of us. Right? “Innovation,” the Latin word for new stuff. And the question then becomes: When that new stuff, the future, progress, rains on us, who gets it? Who harvests the rainwater?

And what has actually happened is the future has become a thing that is privately gated and enjoyed and monopolized by very few people, which means that you can be living in an age where extraordinary things are being invented, the internet is being invented, medical advances are happening, but if you are not in the gated community that enjoys the fruits of the future, you are stuck in 1979. And that’s true as a matter of wages for many people. It’s true as a matter of health access for many people. It’s true as a matter of information access for many people, who are listening to media that is distorting their minds. And I think what’s at stake in 2020 is we wake up to the idea that either we are going to resign ourselves to living in a country that billionaires rule, or we’re going to actually muster the gumption to remind billionaires that they are living in our country. ...
Read full interview transcript at Democracy Now!