Discover more from Robert Reich
The connection between neofascism and capitalism (and happy birthday, Joe!)
Why Trump and other Trumpist Republicans are raking in big money — and what Joe Biden and the Democrats must do
As an ever-greater portion of the nation’s total wealth goes to the top, it’s hardly surprising that ever more of that wealth is corrupting American politics.
In the 2020 presidential election cycle, more than $14 billion went to federal candidates, party committees, and Super PACs — double the $7 billion doled out in the 2016 cycle.
Total giving in 2024 is bound to be much higher.
Most of that money is not supporting American democracy. Increasingly, it is supporting Donald Trump and his anti-democracy allies.
There is a certain logic to this.
As more and more wealth accumulates at the top, the moneyed interests fear that democratic majorities will take it away through higher taxes, stricter regulations (on everything from trade to climate change), enforcement of anti-monopoly laws, pro-union initiatives, and price controls.
So they’re sinking ever more of their wealth into anti-democracy candidates.
Donald Trump is going full fascist these days, and gaining the backing of prominent billionaires.
On Veterans Day, Trump pledged to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” whom he accused of doing anything “to destroy America and to destroy the American dream.” (Notably, he read these words from a teleprompter, meaning that they were intentional rather than part of another impromptu Trump rant.)
Days before, Trump claimed that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” The New York Times reports that he’s planning to round up millions of undocumented immigrants and detain them in sprawling camps while they wait to be expelled.
Trump has publicly vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Joe Biden and his family, and has told advisers and friends that he wants the Justice Department to investigate officials who have criticized his time in office.
This is, quite simply, full-throated neofascism.
Who’s bankrolling all this? While Trump’s base is making small contributions, the big money is coming from some of the richest people in America.
During the first half of the year, multiple billionaires donated to the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again Inc. Super PAC.
Phil Ruffin (net worth $3.4 billion), the 88-year-old casino and hotel mogul, has given multiple $1 million donations.
Charles Kushner (family net worth $1.8 billion), the real estate mogul and father of Jared, who received a late-term pardon from Trump in December 2020, contributed $1 million in June.
Robert “Woody” Johnson (net worth $3.7 billion), Trump’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom and co-owner of the New York Jets, donated $1 million to the MAGA PAC in April.
Billionaires Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, are likely to provide financial support as they did in 2016. (They’re sitting on a huge stash of more than $88 million in their nonprofit.)
And so on.
But Trump is not the only extremist pulling in big dollars. Nikki Haley — who appears moderate only relative to Trump’s blatant neofascism — proclaimed in her campaign launch that President Biden is promoting a “socialist” agenda.
During her two years as U.N. ambassador under Trump, Haley was a strong proponent of his so-called “zero tolerance” policy, under which thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents and guardians. She supported Trump’s decision to pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council and to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Though she briefly criticized Trump for inciting the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Haley soon defended Trump and called on Democratic lawmakers to “give the man a break” when they impeached him for a second time.
Haley recently told Kristen Welker of NBC’s “Meet the Press” that while Trump’s floating the idea of executing retired General Mark Milley might be “irresponsible,” it does not disqualify him from running for the White House again.
Haley’s billionaire supporters include Stanley Druckenmiller and Eric Levine. Republican mega-donor Ken Griffin is said to be leaning toward Haley.
Notably, Haley has also gained the support of JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, who’s about as close as anyone in America comes to being a spokesperson for the business establishment. Dimon admires Haley’s recognition of the role that “business and government can play in driving growth by working together.”
The moneyed interests have been placing big bets on other Trumpist Republicans.
Peter Thiel, the multibillionaire tech financier who once wrote that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” contributed more than $35 million to 16 federal-level Republican candidates in the 2022 campaign cycle, making him the 10th largest individual donor to either party.
Twelve of Thiel’s candidates won, including Ohio’s now Senator J.D. Vance, who alleged that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s immigration policy has meant “more Democrat voters pouring into this country.”
Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is creating a new fundraising committee that will be soliciting contributions of up to $586,200 a pop.
Elon Musk is not a major financial contributor to Trump nor other anti-democracy candidates, but his power over one of the most influential megaphones in America gives him inordinate clout — which he is using to further the neofascist cause.
Witness Musk’s solicitude of Trump, his endorsement of antisemitic posts, his embrace of Tucker Carlson and white replacement theory, and his avowed skepticism toward democracy.
Democracy is compatible with capitalism only if democracy is in the driver’s seat, so it can rein in capitalism’s excesses.
But if capitalism and its moneyed interests are in charge, those excesses grow to the point where they are able to extinguish democracy and ride roughshod over the common good.
Hence the reason Trump’s neofascism, and the complicity of today’s Republican Party with it, are attracting the backing of some of the richest people in America.
What’s the alternative? A loud pro-democracy movement that fights against concentrated wealth at the top, enormous CEO pay packages, a politically powerful financial sector, and tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations.
And fights for higher taxes on the top (including a wealth tax) to finance Medicare for all, affordable housing, and accessible child care and elder care.
The willingness to make this a fight — to name the moneyed interests backing neofascism, explain why they’re doing this, and mobilize and energize America against their agenda and in favor of democracy — is critical to winning the 2024 election and preserving and rebuilding American democracy.
Biden and the Democrats must take this on, loudly and clearly. (Incidentally, Biden’s age — Happy 81st, Joe! — would be far less of an issue if he showed the grit and guts to do this.)
What do you think?