And what, you may be wondering, is “passive greed”?
Look, I know you’re not nakedly greedy, a rapacious monster trying to grab all you can no matter how woeful the means or the consequences. Me either. Of course we have striven to gain the wherewithal to support our families, make ourselves feel good, and be generous contributors to our communities, but that’s not naked greed. It’s just, well, what normal people do to escape and/or avoid the pains of poverty. Seeking prosperity is not naked greed, and it won't kill America.
But passive greed might.
By “passive greed” I mean hanging on to what we have but don’t really need, at exactly the moment when letting go of some of it would be really, really important.
I’m talking now to myself and to anyone else—you?—who has been fortunate enough to attain a little prosperity. Particularly those of us with adequate incomes to live on and some savings and investments--a "nest egg"--that goes up or down by whole percentage points some days without our even noticing.
So here’s the deal: if those of us with a nest egg don’t even know how much it’s up or down most days, why don’t we just peel off, say, one percent of the value of that nest egg right now and do something REALLY IMPORTANT with the money.
Like, save America.
I mean, like invest in democracy between now and November 5, 2024, to be sure a wannabe dictator named Trump doesn’t actually take over the reins of power and wreak havoc on America. Sure, sure—it’s hard to think in those terms, but that’s only because our imaginations are blunted by a lifetime of assumptions to the contrary. But Trump has already demonstrated that respecting laws and the Constitution is entirely optional for a Presidential scofflaw.
Am I sounding alarmist? You bet. We struggle to envision an America really, truly in the armored fist of a dictator. So did all the other countries that actually wound up with one. They refused to take seriously what was obviously possible. Denial does that to people. People like us. Despite the fact that we have already seen this truly dangerous psychopath at work (Trust Putin more than the CIA? Drink Clorox to cure your Covid? Turn DOJ into a vengeance army?). Do we not believe our own prior experience with him?
PSST! Yesterday, Trump’s lawyers (with Trump sitting beside them) actually argued before three judges in a court of law that a President Trump should be permitted to assassinate political rivals without facing criminal prosecution unless first impeached.
Can you feel right now, reading that, how hard it is to take it seriously? It is so natural for us to be quite certain that this could never, ever, possibly come to pass. Or at least, it's pretty improbable, isn't it? Yeah, well, we all pay insurance premiums to protect us against the pretty improbable. And when the worst fails to occur, we don't lament having invested in the coverage.
I don’t want to wake up on November 6 and discover that Trump has actually won. I especially don’t want to wake up on November 6 and wonder why I did so little to keep that from happening. I don’t want to explain to my children and grandchildren that, hey, be happy, because I held onto a few more bucks to put into your inheritance instead of spending them to preserve democracy back in 2024. Enjoy. And good luck in whatever’s ahead for Trump’s America.
Like you, we’ve always shelled out a few dollars for political candidates and worthy causes. Felt like it was meaningful, but it wasn’t earthshaking. And so until now, we’ve never pried open the family treasury to scoop out handfuls of dough. Certainly we never regarded a political campaign as an emergency. Our donations always seemed somehow proportionate to the situation. But now “proportionate” has taken on new meaning. This really is an emergency.
And so it is time for us all to break out of our passive greed and invade our nest egg, invade our kids’ and grandkids’ inheritances, invade our fortress of excess security and plow that money into saving America right now. Pick a big number--one percent from the nest egg, or some other big number that makes you shiver for a second--and realize you'll never even remember it a year from now. But to have been AWOL in the effort to prevent a Trumpian dictatorship will feel truly sickening for a lifetime.
Exactly where each of us invests exponentially increased donations in this fight is less important than making the decision to do it. In our family, some is going to the phenomenal work of organizations like The Brennan Center for Justice that deploys crack teams of lawyers to track down and defeat voter-suppression by state legislatures and officers hell-bent on corrupting fair elections. Some goes to advocates getting hot-button issues on ballots that will bring out younger voters and others unlikely to vote for a dictator. Some goes to candidates in selected races that may have outsized effect on the outcome in November. And, of course, plenty may go to the Biden campaign itself.
This is not rocket science. It can actually be a kind of macabre fun. By now, you have had experience figuring out sensible investments. Look at this moment as the culmination of that process—cleverly identifying those places to put money that you think will have the biggest payoff in ensuring that Trump never gets anywhere near the levers of power again. Create a plan that feels good to you, then scoop up that one percent of your net worth, or at least some serious multiple of your previous donations, whatever, and put it out there.
If not now, when? If not now, why not?
When I was a high school English teacher in the 1960s, I taught George Eliot’s classic novel Silas Marner in which a well-born but desperate young man named Dunsey steals two heavy bags of gold coins from Silas’ cottage. He flees in the dark, only to stumble into a pond, sink, and drown. Decades later, the pond is drained, revealing Dunsey’s skeleton and the gold beside him. My favorite moment in class discussions always came when some kid suddenly blurted out, “Hey, wait! I get it! I bet Dunsey knew how to swim…but he drowned because of the gold! He wanted that money so much, he wouldn’t let go of those heavy bags and they pulled him down! He died hanging onto the gold, right, Mr. Daley?”
If you have some thoughts about particularly effective places to deploy donations right now, please do us all the favor of entering those ideas in the “Comments” section below. Thank you.