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Thoughts on the reactions to the DeVos Family Power article

February 8, 2016

Last Thursday, I posted an article headlined, “it is impossible to have justice and equity as long as the DeVos family has power.” 

The article got about 3,000 hits over the past 4 days on the GRIID site, plus an additional 60 shares on Facebook. There were a variety of reactions, which are worth discussing here, since they reveal some interesting aspects of our current political climate.

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As I have come to expect with any posting that exposes or challenges our understanding of power, especially in West Michigan, there were responses where people made threats or wrote rants that were often difficult to follow. Often these sorts of responses use derogatory name calling as part of the rant and sometimes suggest that if I don’t like it here I should move to North Korea. This is a curious response, since I never said that I didn’t like it here and I fail to see how they equate my critique with a desire to go to North Korea. Regardless of the lack of logic, what the hate-driven responses usually want, is to draw you into an endless argument that leads no where, sort of like the MLive comment section, which should be avoided at all cost.

Strategic Annoyance

A second kind of response takes the form of trying to deceive you by creating what appear to be bogus blogs that hyperlink to the GRIID site. I have received dozens of such notifications where a GRIID article is hyperlinked on another blog and all of these hyperlinks have to do with something specific to one of the members of the DeVos family, particularly the information we have about the various DeVos family foundations. What is curious about these blogs is that they all celebrate the benevolence of the DeVos family, which is interesting, since the hyper links from the GRIID site have a very critical analysis of those family foundations. I find it hard to believe that there are dozens of blogs out there with writers waxing eloquently about the wonders of the DeVos family. Instead, it seems like this is a tactic that is used by media & PR people who work with or support the DeVos family to annoy anyone who questions their politics. Thankfully, one can avoid approving the hyperlinks by having their wordpress settings reflect pre-approval.

Internalizing the dominant narrative

A third reaction is somewhat disturbing, but not surprising, considering the role that commercial news media and other institutions play in determining the dominant narrative about powerful families like the DeVos’s. As we have been documenting for over the past 20 years, West Michigan news media presents the DeVos family as being pillars of the community, generous philanthropists and even the main reason for reviving the downtown of Grand Rapids.

One common retort is, “where would Grand Rapids be without their generosity?” Such a response is understandable, since this is how commercial media presents the DeVos family, but such a reaction is based on a faulty and simplistic narrative. There is rarely any mention of how much public money the DeVos family is able to utilize for their many endeavors – ArtPrize, the Downtown Market, the Arena, etc.; no critique of the function of the funds they use for social engineering through their tax havens, known as foundations; and there is even less coverage of the political funding they engage in that does concrete harm to working class families, the LGBTQ community, public education and secular society in general

However, what is more disturbing than the mimicking of this dominant narrative by a broad range of people is when working class people, even people who are struggling, internalize the dominant narrative. What is equally important is that many of these working class people who defend the DeVos family also identify as liberals. I’m not suggesting that liberals can’t or shouldn’t internalize the dominant narrative about people with power, instead I merely want to point out that liberals often embrace the dominant narrative as zealously as those who identify as conservative, despite the fact that such support negatively impacts their own well being.

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Liberals with Power & Wealth?

A fourth, and final response, also comes from progressives who really like it when we post articles that are critical of the DeVos family. Often, the commentary that follows the liking or sharing of such postings make it clear that their distain for the DeVos family is based on their own partisan bias. This is instructive for two reasons. First, when we post critiques directed at the DeVos family we make it clear that the issue is not the conservative nature of their politics or their devotion to the GOP, the critique is directed at the nature of power their wield.

The second reason such responses are instructive is that it reveals the fact that these progressives have no real problem with individuals, families or institutions wielding the kind of power that the DeVos family does, as long as it fits their worldview. So rarely have I come across people who roundly condemn the DeVos family political influence and then apply the same condemnations to people like George Soros or any number of the liberal billionaires like Bill Gates or more recently Mark Zuckerberg. This kind of thinking is dangerous because it means progressives don’t question how “rich liberals” acquired their wealth and more importantly, it means that they ultimately don’t question systems of power and oppression like capitalism, white supremacy and Imperialism, which equally important to rich liberals and rich conservatives alike.

Such contradictions can clearly be seen currently in the push by liberals and progressives to encourage and often shame others into voting for candidates like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Advocating for Democrats at the federal level often results in having millions of people spend lots of time and donating hundreds of millions of dollars to support a corrupt and undemocratic political process that will not fundamentally challenge the kind of power exemplified by the DeVos family. In fact, all this energy and money often results in fortifying the very systems of power and privilege that Rich, Dick, Betsy and the rest of the DeVos clan are constantly fighting to maintain.

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