There are several paths to wealth creation here in the golden land of opportunity. The most surefire way is to be a member of the lucky sperm club — you know, born into a rich family and able to coast through life, a la Donald Trump, or anyone with the surname Rockefeller, Hilton or Carnegie. Or you can be gifted with extreme intelligence and/or creativity, and design an innovative invention that changes or (better yet) improves the world. Think of Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates.
Additionally, you could travel the risky road and become the head of a vast, shadowy drug cartel like the Guzmáns or Sacklers, but that doesn’t always end so well.
The hardest ascent to financial success is to get a decent education or acquire a valuable skill set, work tirelessly, save and scrimp scrupulously, invest wisely and hope that your money is enough to pay off your college debt and that it survives the ups and downs of an unpredictable world.
If these are not viable options for you, do not despair. Alas, there is an easier way. Unique to this particular troubling time in America is striking it rich by doing wrong. Enter our newest rags-to-riches lottery winner, baby-faced screw-up Kyle Rittenhouse, the AR-15-slinging Illinois teenager who killed two men and severely wounded another on a violent night in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25 of last year. The now 18-year-old Rittenhouse was acquitted recently of all counts, but he remains responsible for ending the lives of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, who lost 90 percent of his right bicep after being shot. Quite a resumé.
I cannot imagine having the stain of extinguishing two men and impairing a third on my conscience for the next 60 or more years, but that’s just me. However, for Rittenhouse, this moment of bloody infamy was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think this seemingly average teenager was going to split the atom, cure cancer or solve homelessness any time soon.
In a perversion to John F. Kennedy’s quote, “For of those to whom much is given much is required,” nothing is really required of Rittenhouse, other than he show up in a decent suit and hopefully not gun down any more people.
Another quote is more appropriate: “To the victor go the spoils.” Indeed. The minute the jury decided that the teenager was acting in self-defense, Rittenhouse hit the royal flush of unearned fame. At this very moment, agents are burning up his and his coddling mama’s phone lines. Even as the echoes of the final verdict were heard Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz was offering Rittenhouse a Congressional internship. “We may reach out to him and see if he’d be interested in helping the country in additional ways,” Gaetz said. We all know Gaetz has a keen interest in reaching out to teenagers.
In a bizarre twist of events, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar also claimed he would “arm wrestle” Gaetz for the chance at having Rittenhouse as his intern; and North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn said in an Instagram story that Rittenhouse should feel free to reach out to him for an internship as well. And this is probably just the beginning of Rittenhouse’s right-wing fame.
Million-dollar book deal in the works with Regnery or some other right-wing publisher? You betcha. Ghost writer included because, well, when will this busy bee have enough quiet time required to pen his own tome? I’d say so. Five- and six-figure speaking fees for attaboy appearances at CPAC, NRA get-togethers, Trump rallies and the next Republican national convention? Check. Fawning television hits like Fox, Newsmax and One America News Network? Bank on it — he’s already sat down for a first interview with Tucker Carlson. An endowed professorship at Liberty University? Heck, why not?
Then there are all the branding offers that poor Kyle has to now sort through. Here are some ideas: assault rifles with his personal signature emblazoned on the stock. An entire line of KR camo gear. Hats, beer cozies, knives, boots, bottled water and all-inclusive hunting trips to Wisconsin with special guest shooters Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. More bang and more bucks.
Really, the right-wing world is now one big ATM for Rittenhouse. For counsel on how to work the system, the kid can consult with other conservative money-grubbers and welshers. Sullied conmen like tax cheat Roger Stone, professional liar and wingnut Michael Flynn, and, at the top of the bottom feeder list, Sandy Hook mass shooting denier Alex Jones come to mind. These guys will show young Kyle how to squeeze the big bucks out of conservative billionaire meatballs like Mike Lindell and Sheldon Adelson.
Now, let’s skip ahead several years to a possibly dismal future in which Trump is reelected, or someone with the same deplorable credentials like Florida Governor Ron Desantis or Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. Picture the first state-of-the-union address. Look up toward the presidential box and who do you see sitting next to Melania or whomever? Yup, good ole Kyle, poster boy for the far right, the misinterpreted Second Amendment and Yankee anti-immigrant nationalism. Take a bow! Wave to the cameras! You’re a hero to many! (Sadly, too many.) So, enjoy your 15 minutes, son, but never forget, as we won’t, that you snuffed out the lives of two young men through your senseless actions. All for what?
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism. His newest book is “West of East.”
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