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Never turn a cheap trick

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Stephen Ross, a multi-billionaire who owns among many other things the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, is holding a $250,000 per plate fundraiser for Donald Trump later this week in West Egg. (Besides dinner, $250K gets you a “private roundtable” meeting with the president of the United States).

Ross, a nephew of Max Fisher, turned into a moderate fortune into a massive one via real estate development, and he wants everybody to know that just because he’s trying to get Trump re-elected, he’s still red-lining Trump’s racism, which he most definitely does not support so how dare you insinuate that he does:

Although Ross supports Trump’s re-election efforts and the two have been personal friends for decades, a source close to the Dolphins owner and wealthy New York real estate developer says Ross does not support Trump’s views regarding race.


“They agree on some things and disagree on others, specifically on the rhetoric around race,” the source told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “With regards to race, Stephen’s record on fighting racism speaks for itself. It is possible to support someone on the basis of some things, and not agree with everything about them.”

If my contribution to fighting racism included doing everything I could to get Donald Trump re-elected, I’d keep that whole “fighting racism” section off my resume altogether, but Ross is just another plutocrat who is willing to put up with a little some a lot of white supremacy in exchange for those sweet sweet tax cuts (Let’s face it, $7.7 billion just doesn’t go as far as it once did. Do you realize that Ross’s personal fortune is fifteen times smaller than Jeff Bezos’s, even after the latter’s recent tragic loss of $35 billion to his now-ex-wife? Can a man who has fifteen times less money than one of his peers even be called truly rich?).

Anyway, the business school and the athletic department at the University of Michigan were both named after Ross, after he gave each of them $150 million apiece. I have three degrees from Michigan, and the willingness of my alma mater to prostitute itself to men like Ross is something of a sore spot.

When I got my undergraduate degree in 1982, the university’s entire endowment was $115.3 million ($304 million in 2019 dollars). Today it’s somewhere north of $11 billion, mainly because a lot of extremely rich people have given an extremely lot of money to the school, in exchange for having their names stamped all over the joint, plus those sweet sweet 501(c)(3) deductions, courtesy of the average American taxpayer.

In other words, one of the nation’s great public institutions of higher education has transformed itself into a “public ivy,” by prostrating itself before the plutocracy on a daily basis.

A generation ago, large endowments didn’t exist at public universities, with the exception of Texas — oil money was funneled to the Texas schools by the legislature — and were found at only about a dozen hyper-elite private schools. Now, because of a never-ending financial arms race, more than 100 schools have endowments of over one billion dollars, including some tiny liberal arts colleges of the Williams/Amherst/Swarthmore variety.

The problems with this should be obvious, but so purblind has our worship of The Market become that the purchase of the intellectual patrimony of the nation by a bunch of obscenely rich narcissists is treated as an unambiguously blessed event, as opposed to the kind of transaction you can witness every night on the tracks of American cities big and small, if you’re inclined to actually look at what’s going on.

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