Victor Davis Hanson
“Ya. Hehe. I had to be. It’s what reputations are made of, to some extent. I feel bad for those guys who get f—ed by it, by this dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.” —Sam Bankman-Fried
The FTX Bitcoin empire of 30-year-old CEO Sam Bankman-Fried is in shambles. Or more specifically, his “dumb game” cryptocurrency exchange has destroyed thousands of lives. Electronically, he may have robbed perhaps a million investors, and along with them hundreds of large institutional investors.
Mysteriously, only after the conclusion of the midterm elections, did we suddenly learn that this left-wing “philanthropist” and benefactor of Democratic politics, this megadonor to the quid pro quo puff-piece media, this con artist protected from federal securities regulators, had drained off, lost, hidden, or spent billions of dollars of other people’s money.
As a result, the Bahamas-basking, tax-avoiding, polyamorous sybarite, and heartthrob of progressive moralists, now claims he has no wherewithal to honor his financial commitments to his own investors. Preliminary postmortem auditors sigh that they have never encountered a greater financial mess than what Bankman-Fried has left in his wake.
How does the most sophisticated financial system in the history of civilization allow a virtue-signaling nerd to nearly wreck it? Where were the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, the IRS, and all the other alphabet soup agencies that supposedly exist so that someone like Bankman-Fried does not? Where is Merrick Garland and his special prosecutors, the FBI with its televised SWAT swoops and leg irons?
For all the performance-art boasts of simply doing good for others by doing far better for himself, Bankman-Fried may soon be revealed to be one of the great, dissolute con artists in American history. Like the infamous Charles Ponzi, “Bankman” may become our eponymous word in the 21st century for electronically driven, pyramid-scheme theft.
His Stanford-Silicon Valley moral veneer was shiny but otherwise razor thin. Yet Bankman-Fried told at least one truth when he explained to obsequious media what his ilk easily does to fool purported suckers who send him cash, while he avoided federal and media oversight: “This dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.”
Well, not everyone. Instead, he might qualify his “everyone” as the like-minded, cynical, left-wing politicos, the kindred media hacks at the Washington Post and New York Times, and brethren investor toadies who helped him render Bernie Madoff a small-potato sinner in comparison.
Bankman-Fried had showered Joe Biden in 2020 with millions of dollars in campaign donations and did so again with larger sums to congressional candidates in 2022. His public relations arm of FTX exuded the usual virtue speak—including promised impending multibillion-dollar gifting—for utopian, Democratic, and progressive causes. And the media on spec gushed about their pet grunger as he sought to buy protection from Democratic fixers.
“Effective Altruism,” Ponzi-Style
Yet Bankman-Fried is merely one in a long line of Bay Area social-justice hypocrites and frauds. They share in common loud but cynical left-wing politics. They choreograph their personas to win exemption from left-wing government regulators, to guarantee puff pieces from a toady media, and to romance the rich, left-wing elite. Consider how the Washington Post gushed of the scam artist:
Harnessing the enormous wealth created by FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange that Sam Bankman-Fried had founded, they undertook a project to spend potentially billions of dollars on pandemic prevention, a long-neglected priority on Capitol Hill even amid the coronavirus crisis. The plan, drawn from the brothers’ adherence to a philosophy called effective altruism, sought to maximize philanthropic giving in ways that can have the most impact.
Bankman-Fried surely has had “the most impact.” If he had worn a suit, and said the wrong “shibboleths,” he would now be behind bars.
What were the moral seeds of FTX? Bankman-Fried grew up on the progressive, moralistic Stanford campus, the son of two crusading Stanford law professors who often wrote about morality and the dispossessed.
SBF, as he is known, was groomed and prepped at an exclusive nearby Hillsborough private academy before being packed off to MIT. Progressive souls like Bankman-Fried distrust capitalism so much that, in his case, he retreated to the Bahamas to maximize its rewards. There he embraced a hedonistic lifestyle, tax breaks and lack of regulations, all in order to better short taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars in income tax revenue.
Such vulture capitalism is predicated on the presumption that young, loudly left-wing Bay Area hipsters in ratty clothes are the cool “good guys” if they have deep Democratic pockets and talk of “equity” and “fairness.” And so, they use the system to defeat the system—defined in their view as toxic traditional mores and values.
Indeed, Bankman-Fried’s mother, Stanford Professor Elizabeth Fried was a “utilitarian,” perhaps best defined as advocating any means necessary to achieve what she felt were the best ends for everyone. She moonlighted from her supposedly full-time job by running “Mind the Gap,” a central collection agency for Silicon Valley dark money to be funneled secretly to the “right causes.” The means of getting the millions was always excused by the ends of how it was used.
Apparently, some of her fund’s wherewithal was dripped in by some in her son’s stash circle—or rather his investors’ cash. Mind the Gap’s specialty was funding “to get out the vote.” To understand these dark-money operations in 2020, simply reread Molly Ball’s obnoxious Time magazine story of February 2021—a long boast of how stealth left-wing money, a toady progressive media, an army of lawyers, and social media combined to change voting laws, modulate the Black Lives Matter/Antifa street protests, and warp dissemination of news to craft a good utilitarian “conspiracy” that saved us from Donald Trump.
Will the Bankman-Fried family now atone, and try to give back to the robbed and deluded any of the real money that was funneled into Democratic candidates from the massive fraud? Does the water flow uphill?
So how can the progressive embryos of Silicon Valley, Stanford University, Bay Area prep schools, and progressive humanitarian politics birth such an utter fraud who destroyed so many? Rather the question might be reversed, how could all that not?
Performance Art Grifting
In the context of Bankman-Fried, we recall another kindred Bay-Area erstwhile momentary billionaire charlatan. Do we remember the now felonious and prison-bound young prodigy and Hillary-Clinton aficionado Elizabeth Holmes? She, too, was birthed and swam in similar Stanford-Silicon Valley waters.
Her scheme was Theranos. That was the pretentiously named fake-blood testing corporation that duped some of the most powerful investors in the United States to fork over billions of dollars to a twentysomething con artist. Holmes, like Bankman-Fried, was sired in the orbit of Stanford. She eschewed the slob props of Banksman-Fried, and instead preferred copy-catting Steve Jobs’ slicker all-black outfits.
Holmes assembled on her fake corporate board some of the biggest names associated with Stanford University and Silicon Valley, whose brands masked what was likely the greatest corporate medical fraud in American history.
There is a pattern here of the “good” people doing “good” things with their “good” money that turns out very badly for everyone else.
Silicon Valley multibillionaire and fellow leftist Mark Zuckerberg prefers T-shirts, sneakers, and jeans to the Bankman-Fried bum-look or Holmes’ Apple black-draped getup. He is now laying off thousands of Facebook employees as his Meta disaster erodes his stock value and takes his net worth down tens of billions of dollars.
But it was just two years ago that Zuckerberg answered the utilitarian call of fellow leftists to use his mega money and power to stop the prince of darkness, Donald Trump. So Zuck, as he is known, poured $419 million into pro-Biden left-wing activist groups. That unprecedented sum was used to absorb the work of state election officials in key precincts to ensure the right people voted in the right way to ensure the right winner.
Leftists still brag how the good mega-money sandbagged dullard Republicans and helped to give Biden the election.
Zuckerberg recently confessed that his left-wing company had also worked with the FBI to suppress online social media expression. Translated, that meant that the FBI partnered with Facebook to quash news deemed not helpful to the Biden election cause, such as the all-too-true revelations from the incriminating Hunter Biden laptop that was falsely passed off as “Russian disinformation.”
Is that a very liberal, civil libertarian thing to do—to weld the state and the media to punish political enemies and censor the news? Was the FBI-Facebook fusion a sort of “electronic insurrection” designed to warp democracy—absent the buffoonish cow horns and face paint? Might Zuckerberg have passed on channeling his dark money to “nonprofit” leftist organizations, and instead banked it to save a few of his now laid-off employees?
This column could become endless if it referenced all the Silicon Valley and Stanford progressive politico saints with feet of clay. Do we remember Tom Steyer, the Silicon Valley zillionaire, Stanford University board member, and former left-wing green presidential candidate, who spent $191 million without winning a single delegate?
At least candidate Michael Bloomberg got a few delegates at roughly $18 million a pop for the hundreds of millions of virtuous dollars he blew up in 2020. Steyer used his 2020 campaign to lecture us on ending the fossil fuel economy—but only after he had made a fortune in financing dirty coal burning plants in the impoverished Third World.
What is going on?
The 21st-century globalized economy saturated the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose with wealth never before seen or imagined. Its beneficiaries discovered a number of things about the arts of becoming and staying ultra-rich.
One, they never needed to worry about the essentials of life that troubled the other 99 percent of the country—affordable fuel, food, and housing, safe streets, and a fair and legal immigration system.
Or to put it another way, they could pose as progressive utopians—preening their moral superiority to the media, pouring money into the Democratic Party, funding foundations and PACs devoted to woke causes, climate change, and diversity, equity, and inclusion—and all the time never subject to the ramifications of their own exalted agendas.
They could not have cared less about crippling $6 a gallon gas, the exorbitant kilowatt cost of air conditioning, out-of-reach $1,000-a-square foot bungalow housing, the mayhem on San Francisco streets, or the reparatory elite university admissions policies that drastically curtailed working-class male admissions. Their wealth guaranteed them leverage, and leverage ensured exemptions.
But Bay Area morality was not just a pragmatic matter of the exempt elite force-feeding utopia down the throats of others who had no such immunity. Boutique, rich leftism also provided penance for the anointed, a mechanism that alleviated any residual guilt of talking like Eugene Debs while living like Marie Antoinette.
The multimillionaire, social justice warrior House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) assumed, as one of the Bay Area’s liberal icons, that she had a right to break quarantine and sneak off to her private hairdresser, or cluelessly boast of her $13 a pint ice cream, home delivered to her $24,000 twin imported refrigerators—all in the midst of a near depression as the national COVID-19 shutdown ruined millions of small business and devastated the educations of tens of millions of children.
As a member of the classy Bay Area elite, she knew the bankrupt political morality of the Left all too well: acts like tearing up the Trump State of the Union speech on national television veneered her privilege and made her one of the proverbial good people fighting for us from one of her various mansions.
Bay Area ZIP codes have produced the now-familiar rich, liberal politicians whose exempt lives are not damaged by the ideology that damages others. Consider the billionaire Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who for two decades was chauffeured by a Chinese spy while head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, or multimillionaire former Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), now ensconced in Rancho Mirage as a registered foreign agent for a Chinese surveillance firm, or multimillionaire Gavin Newsom, who bragged how the COVID lockdowns might greenlight “progressive capitalism,” as he pushed social distancing and mask-wearing—while he palled around with lobbyists, maskless, at the French Laundry.
Sam Bankman-Fried is the ultimate dangerous and ridiculous expression of the most toxic and creepy culture in America. If he did not exist, someone like him would have to be invented.