Peter Secchia, the Grand Rapids Power Structure and the practice of buying silence
“Those who own the country ought to govern it.” John Jay 1777
Electoral politics are often brutal, deceptive and often result in strange bedfellows. This has always been the case in the United States, since the founding fathers constructed a nation that would institutionalize inequality.
The spectacle of electoral politics makes for great headlines, with a cast of characters that seem right out of a Marvel comic book. Yet, those who run the country are happy to keep us entertained and distracted with the electoral spectacle.
Take for example the most recent visit to Grand Rapids by the Donald Trump campaign. The MLive coverage of the Trump rally on Monday, was just the most recent example of how electoral politics is nothing more than spectacle, with pictures politicians and loyal GOP voters.
However, there are always hidden gems in such coverage. Former Ambassador to Italy, local businessman and member of the Grand Rapids power structure, Peter Secchia, had some very instructive things to say about contemporary electoral politics. During the Trump rally at the Delta Plex, Secchia is quoted as saying, “I have a message for the Bushes and Mitt Romney, If you don’t want to support Donald Trump: Shut up! If you don’t know where you are today, you’re a loser.”
Such smash mouth rhetoric seems like what you might hear at a WWE event, but this is the norm for contemporary electoral politics in the US. It shouldn’t surprise us, especially when we consider the source.
Peter Secchia has made millions off of other people’s labor and as a member of the Grand Rapids power structure he has waged war on the masses, what Henry Giroux has referred to as, “the expendable class.” Giroux is referring to working class people, the poor, communities of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, those on the margins. The very same people that Donald Trump derides and the very same people that Peter Secchia has contempt for.
Secchia may not use the same language that Trump uses to belittle people, but the policy goals of Peter Secchia have the same results. Secchia has engaged in this policy work most recently through the West Michigan Policy Forum, which is made up of the West Michigan power structure. What this group has been calling for since its inception in 2008 has been for the elimination of the state business tax, passing a Right to Work law in Michigan, pushing for greater austerity measures by local & state government, the privatization of public services and most recently, the elimination of public sector employee pensions.
Once we come to terms with what Secchia and the rest of the capitalist class is really about in West Michigan, we realize that what he had to say at the Trump rally was not all that surprising.
Just last week, during the Mayor’s Tree Planting event, one saw Peter Secchia being photographed with Grand Rapids Mayor, Rosalyn Bliss. In the photo here, you can see Secchia with the mayor, but what is more interesting is that they are holding Thank You cards expressing gratitude for Rich and Helen DeVos. Why did the city find it necessary to say thank you to the local oligarch’s? According to the City of Grand Rapids:
“The DeVos Tribute Grove features a plaque honoring Richard and Helen DeVos for all they have done to beautify and grow our city into what it is today. The plaque also expresses the community’s deep gratitude and love for the couple.”
Secchia did participate in the tree planting event, but more importantly he was engaging if the politics of access. During the last campaign for mayor in Grand Rapids, Secchia, along with several other members of the local power structure (JC Huizenga, Kate Wolters, Scott Brew, Bill Bowling, Robert Woodhouse, Sam Cummings, Doug DeVos, Steve Van Andel, Scott Bowen, Dan Bowen, Sharon Bowen, Mark Breon, Friends of West Michigan Business, Ray Kisor, Mark Murray, Scott Wierda, Thomas Cronkright, Josh May, Lawrence Duthler, Arnold Mikon, Mark Sellers, Realtors Political Action Committee, GR Firefighters Union, GR Police Officers Labor Council all contributed between $500 and $5000 to Bliss’s campaign, according to Campaign Finance records through Kent County.
Campaign money buys access, but it also buys silence and compromise. In this case, it means that the policies that Peter Secchia (through the West Michigan Policy Forum) promotes and the things he said at the Trump rally will not be challenged by local elected officials, particularly the Mayor. The war on working class people will not be challenged, nor will the misogynist, white supremacist language and policies of the local power structure be challenged. In a sense, Secchia telling GOP people who don’t support Trump to Shut Up, is exactly what he is saying to local politicians who believe they have to “be strategic” and not alienate those who not only own the city, but govern it.