Why I’m a Patriotic Millionaire: Andrew Ellis

I am joining the Patriotic Millionaires for one big reason: sitting on the sidelines and watching is no longer an option – at least not for me.  

An increasing number of our fellow citizens feel disparaged by an economy and a politics that offers little or no security, that rewards the few and ignores the many, and that erodes our confidence in those who are supposed to be working for us.  This is not the first time that we have confronted such problems but it is the first time in which one of our two leading political parties has chosen to leverage that fear and make it the core of its message.  

The Trumpism that has infected the right is not a belief in a set of policies. Rather, Trumpism is openly and unabashedly the politics of rage and resentment, of jealousy and fear, of hierarchy and social status (and its policies, to the extent they exist, such as its anti-immigrant policies, are the manifestations of its politics). Attend a rally; it is there for all to see. Trumpism presents all choices as a zero sum game in which gains are measured as yours or mine; the very idea of the common good is subsumed by a desperate clamor for survival among competitors.  The rising tide does not lift all boats; if it lifts yours, then mine must be sinking.   

I don’t believe that.  I never have and I never will.  I know what John Kennedy meant when he argued that a rising tide lifts all boats.  He used the phrase (memorably but not exclusively) in a speech on August 17, 1962, in Pueblo, Colorado, in support of a public works project:

What I preach is the interdependence of the United States. We are not 50 countries—we are one country of 50 states and one people. And I believe that those programs which make life better for some of our people will make life better for all of our people. A rising tide lifts all the boats.

It was no clarion call for tax reduction (as reimagined by Reagan and Laffler).  Rather, he was calling on each of us – individually and collectively – to see the benefit to all in helping others.  That is the dream that I embraced fifty years ago, a dream that I believe motivates those who have joined PM.  

And I am not oblivious to the irony that the most powerful voices that can challenge Trumpism belong to those who have benefitted the most from it – the 1%, or more realistically, the 1% of the 1%. It falls to us to make the case that America’s wealthy want to contribute our fair share.  As corporate shareholders, it falls to us to drive America’s corporations to act in service of all of our stakeholders: our fellow shareholders, our employees and our customers. We can reward those who acknowledge the truth of Biden’s fair election and climate science without regard to political affiliation and deny our support and contributions to the advocates of sedition, Jim Crow 2.0, voter suppression and gerrymandering.  

It saddens me to witness the kind of domestic political conflicts that currently mark our country.  I feel as if our policy disputes have devolved into a battle about democracy itself – a conflict that I could not imagine as a young man in the ‘60’s.  

It is my view that we are no longer engaged in a partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans. Rather, we are engaged in a fight between those who support the rule of law and democracy and those who would cast their lot with autocrats in the hope that a strong leader will protect them. It is not a complicated choice. It took a civil war to choose Lincoln and the Union over an agricultural economy that could not survive without free labor.  It took a world war and the Great Depression to choose an activist government over laissez-faire survivalism. Today, we face a comparable and fundamental choice. 

It is this change in American politics that drew me to the Patriotic Millionaires. Do I agree with its progressive agenda? Yes I do. Do I think that we should end the carried interest loophole? Yes, I do. Do I think that we should tax extraordinary wealth? Yes, I do – but I don’t think that extraordinary wealth is an evil to be crushed. Rather, it presents an equitable opportunity to act in service to every American, including the 74 million who voted for “the other guy.” 

Let me explain my thinking.  First, by raising taxes on the rich, we can pay the bills for the expenditures we need to make, expenditures that will help millions of Americans up and down the economic ladder. Second, simply printing money or borrowing it ultimately leads to inflation (currently 7%) which is a tax on the spending power of the dollar and is imposed on all of us but hurts middle and lower class Americans much harder than the rich.  Third, inflation, coupled with defensive protecting ourselves against a wealth tax, ignores the source of our success: an economy that is 70% driven by consumers.  If not enough resources are made available to consumers, our economy fails.  Fourth, and finally, extreme wealth inequality exacerbates the very resentment and anger that fuels so much of our political division these days.  

However, we need to be mindful of H.L. Mencken’s sagacious insight: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  The domination of wealth in our politics — to serve solely its own ends — is a problem. Insufficient resources to address our nation’s most basic needs equitably is a problem.  Inequality of opportunity is a problem.  But, characterizing success as “evil” – which is how it is heard by millions of Americans when extreme wealth is characterized as “evil” —  only serves to alienate those we wish to enlist as supporters.  

My personal goal is to restore Kennedy’s call to its rightful position as a guiding light to our political decisions.  As a new member of the Patriotic Millionaires, I hope that we can use our success as individuals to “lift all boats” and promote a more stable democracy without alienating a huge percentage of Americans. Certainly, it is a tall order.  

Down the road, when my grandchildren ask me if I did anything to prevent the decline of American democracy, I’m not sure what I will say. Except I do know one thing: I will not say that I did nothing. I’m here; I’m standing up, and I’m supporting the Patriotic Millionaires and the work that we do. And, if it seems impossible at the moment to make any progress, I take a lot of comfort from a quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Related Posts