July 8, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Donny Deutsch’s gothic contempt for work

The very obscenely rich stand in the way of equality and freedom.

Donny Deutsch's gothic contempt for work

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I don’t know why Donny Deutsch is a frequent guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Maybe it’s because he’s very obscenely rich. The press corps tends to hold such men in high regard. I don’t care about Deutsch, though. I care about something he said. It illustrates a theme I’m developing here at the Editorial Board, which is this: The very obscenely rich have the highest contempt for normal people working for a living.

There’s something changed in the American psyche and what our culture calls the “work ethic,” and it’s not just the $300 check. I think, post-pandemic, people got used to staying at home. CNBC had a thing today called “The Great Resignation” that said something like 92 percent of Americans are considering either to change jobs or leave their job. I think that we’ve gotten a little soft in the pandemic. …

I’m not one of these believers in this new soft attitude, “Oh work from home, flexibility, whatnot.” There’s something about people going back to work that has to happen. If I were still running a company, I’d say, “You know what, you’re going back to work.” … So there are two problems. There are people who don’t want to work. There are people who don’t want to go back physically to work.

We’ve softened in the pandemic. That’s a concern to me.1

You could say, as some business-minded conservatives would say, that the man cutting the paychecks should get his way.2 This attitude is certainly commonplace. It has grown over the course of decades. It is now so thoroughly accepted by a vast majority of normal people working for a living that a multimillionaire can go on a popular morning news show to insult them without hesitation. It’s as if he believes he has the moral high ground. He doesn’t, though. What he has is a gothic contempt for work.

Americans used to be more savvy. Americans used to worry about replicating Europe’s aristocratic social order. We pretty much have that now. Very few of us seem worried, though.

You could also say Deutsch is a hypocrite. When it comes to “soft,” he would know. He’s never had a boss. He joined his dad’s advertising firm straight out of college. He took over the firm six years later. In 2000, he sold it for hundreds of millions of dollars. Since then, he’s turned himself into a “media personality,” selling his image to CNBC and Bloomberg, among others. If anyone knows what “soft” is, it’s Donny Deutsch.

“Soft” appears to be a moral scolding in Deutsch’s view. But he gives away the game when he puts the word in the context of that CNBC report. It found that workers are empowered enough to make demands they rarely made before the start of the covid pandemic. To make demands isn’t soft. It’s strong. That’s the real problem for people like Deutsch. The problem isn’t that people “don’t want to go back physically to work.” It’s that people are not blindly following the boss’s orders as they did for decades.

So it’s not hypocrisy. It’s ordinary contempt. People born successful have no reason to respect normal people working toward success. (“Success” is variable, but from the view of the very obscenely rich, if you’re not very obscenely rich, you’re failing.) Indeed, they have incentive to be contemptuous. Think about it. If everyone were truly equal, as it says right there in the Declaration of Independence, there wouldn’t be anything special about being born successful. If there’s one thing that the very obscenely rich will never tolerate, it’s political challenges to the cherished fictions about themselves.

It took decades of effort by the Republican Party and uncritical acceptance of corporate propaganda over the same period to get a vast majority of normal people who work for a living to see “softness” as their moral failing rather than what it is: an expensive and concerted campaign of gothic contempt intended to undermine the very concept of political equality. Americans used to be more savvy. They used to worry about replicating Europe’s aristocratic political order. We pretty much have that now. Very few of us seem worried, though. The aristocratic political order has arrived.

Some might say the solution is attacking the American work ethic. A writer for Wonkette put it this way: “‘Work ethic,’ by the way, is a BS Puritan term that describes poor people performing backbreaking physical labor on behalf of rich assholes.” There’s something to that, but only something. It omits the context in which the American work ethic emerged. It was in opposition to a perceived threat of an aristocratic political order in which social elites and the government were one and the same. Democracy is rule by the people, though. To work in America was to be free. To earn a living, in a way that suits you, was to liberate yourself from the powers that be.

We don’t have kings and queens here, but we do have a government bent on protecting the interests of the very obscenely rich at the expense of normal people working for a living. And we have assholes a-plenty like Donny Deutsch who were born successful and can’t know what it takes to work hard toward success. The very obscenely rich are the new powers that be. And they are standing in the way of equality and freedom.

—John Stoehr

1

My emphasis.

2

That Deutsch is a Democrat does not undermine my characterization of him.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

19 Comments

  1. cokeynes on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    Regarding the second footnote, there’s a lesson here for a particular contrarian pundit who recently equated being a registered Democrat to being progressive.

    • John Stoehr on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

      Which one? Do tell!

      • cokeynes on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

        yglesias

    • David Mikulec on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

      I slowly slid into the Democratic Party as my old GOP kept lurching hard Right. I’m still moderate in some beliefs. But you can’t tell THEM that. According to them, I’m a “libtard” “Marxist” Socialist”…. ugh.

      • EllTeacher on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

        Don’t forget that Alabama favorite: DemonCrat!

        • David Mikulec on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

          Oh yeah, a former co-worker from TN used to call us Demon-rats.

  2. Jim Prevatt on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    Well said,John Stoehr. And why should people be surprised at classism in the USA. It’s been here from the beginning. White Europeans considered themselves better than the native peoples who had lived here for thousands of years. And they considered themselves better than Africans they kidnapped and brought here to serve white masters. White people from Europe who were considered by upper class Europeans to be of lower classes continued in those lower classes when they arrived here often as indentured servants. And one thing that came to mind as I reflected on your excellent piece is that song: “Deutchland, Deutchland, uber alles”.

  3. David Mikulec on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    “The very obscenely rich have the highest contempt for normal people working for a living.”

    That’s NOT a lie!

  4. EllTeacher on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    There is no greater illustration of Calvinism than the power to control our government wielded by the obscenely rich. In America, as in the very beginning, there will always be The Elect and The Damned. The only difference in the modern way of Calvinistic thinking is that a person can become obscenely rich and not born into it. Then, these obscenely rich morph into The Elect and view the common working men and women are just pawns.

    I think much of the white resentment and anger spring from this dynamic, but the scaffolding of these powerful feelings is discontent with the status of NOT being obscenely rich. Wanting to identify with the OR means they will listen to the likes of Donny Deutsch. Or all the personalities at Fox News.

    The aspiration of being obscenely rich overrides the identity of working class. How many of those charged with the January Issurection were obscenely rich? They were the pawns then and many are still being manipulated like pawns.

    Being ordered back to work was to be expected. That doesn’t mean it’s right, healthy, or showing foresight.

  5. abbyinsm on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling for years about Deutsch in particular and many white male pundits in general. I have ongoing arguments with loved ones about this guy, and now I have your essay as ammunition. I usually say I am more interested in the opinion of the grocery checker at my local Ralphs than I am in the opinion of Donnie Deutsch. He has absolutely nothing to recommend him except his exceptional white male privilege.

    • John Stoehr on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

      I love giving you ammo!

  6. Dave S on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    Totally agree and much the same when I saw Donny Deutsch’s comments on a Twitter post. Compare the benefits European workers gets compared to our American workers – including unionized workers. Add to that American workers are tethered to a job with family health insurance whereas European workers need not worry about that if they change jobs or start their own business. American workers are fucking heroes and the elite – Republican or Democrat – had better understand that.

  7. CW on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    Among other things I find difficult in even taking Deutsch seriously is (as you described in your piece) he received as an inheritance most of what he is supposedly famous for having created. “Branding Guru”
    In addition, he evinces contempt for working people as such—not as co-harborers of white grievances, or as fellow travelers among male chauvinists—but as workers. Workers appreciate the flexibility, where possible, of being empowered to do their best work which sometimes occurs with greater regularity, from home. For people with many kinds of disabilities, their disabilities can be better managed at home than in the standard workplace. For many people of color, being able to focus on their tasks without feeling the need to prove their social and cultural acceptability on a daily basis frees them to be their most productive. This newly acquired awareness by workers not only of their value, but their ability to do more and thus to demand more from any employer is indeed a sign of strength, not weakness as he suggested.

  8. Ron H on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    As the corporate class eliminated defined pensions and invented the 401k, did they ever consider they were untethering their workforce? Probably not, but nothing would have stopped them. They thought they were being clever (cheap).

    • David Mikulec on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

      Union wages and a pension allowed my grandfather to retire before he reached 60. I’ll be lucky if I can retire @ 70. We got screwed when they allowed employers to walk away from pensions (while stuffing that money into their own pockets). We really got shafted.

  9. Leslie M., Eastern KS on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    Loved the piece today! And this thread. Thanks for venting, John!!

  10. Thornton Prayer on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    It’s really rich (no pun intended) that a guy who’s led a soft life not having to struggle working at a crappy job for garbage wages would lecture others for wanting to minimize dealing with that kind of mess. If he’s a Democrat, that class-based arrogance does no favors of attracting voters anywhere on the political spectrum because he totally radiates insufferable elitism that Democrats are accused of.

  11. Chris Woods on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    As you say, the real problem is the acceptance of such ahole spew as fairly normal and, of course, putting on air. I assume there was no push back from his interviewer, just nodding in agreement.

  12. Colleen Doherty on July 31, 2021 at 12:04 am

    Hmm. The Very Obscenely Rich, the VOR. Yeah, because then the VOR-techs are a sub-category. 🙂

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