It May Actually Be Worse Than You Think: Assessing the Integrated and Funded Machine We Are Up Against

by Cynthia Kaufman, Common Dreams, September 06, 2017

… learning about the vast right wing conspiracy and how it functions. I read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean. And now I am more deeply afraid for our future than I have ever been in the past.

Neither book overstates its claims or veers into speculative conspiracy theory. The two books are very well researched, incredibly clear, and factual. Dark Money focuses on the network of organizations that have been funded by Koch and Scaife money.  Democracy in Chains is a deep dive into the influence of James Buchannan, a Nobel Prize winning economist, who was one of the leading thinkers behind the Koch enterprise. The punch line of books is that we are up against an unprecedented level of organization and funding by a right wing that is more extreme than anything seen in the modern period.

We are not up against the old, pro-capitalist business elite, which uses the constitution to ground its actions in the rule of law, and which seeks more than anything, a stable environment in which business can operate. The goals of this new extreme right wing are an end to taxation, which they see as an infringement of liberty; and end to the social welfare state; and a shrinking of any aspect of government that has to do with taking care of the environment and social needs. The Kochs are oil people and maintaining reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to their plan.

Charles Koch, the brains, and main funder, behind the operation, is an incredibly successful and ruthless businessman. And he has brought those skills to the political arena. The network he dominates is horizontally and vertically integrated, deeply strategic in is approach, extremist in its goals, and almost infinitely well-funded. And we ignore it at our peril…. Everything good we have in the country has come as a result of the hard work of social movements

I think of US politics as generally working that way: popular forces mobilize and sometime they win concessions from a largely pro-capitalist political system…It relies for its electoral successes on giving the people civil rights, environmental protection, and a social safety net. The Republican Party, on the other hand has been even more beholden to pro-capitalist forces, and, ever since Nixon, has used coded racism to build popular support for policies which were in the interest of the wealthy.

What is new, in the present period is that the pro-capitalist, but stability seeking, Republican Party has now been taken over by a well-integrated machine. That machine has no interest in democracy, the constitution, or stable condition in which business can operate, or even stability of the climate upon which all life depends. And it doesn’t play by the old rules.

The Koch machine helped put Pinochet into power in Chile, and rewrite its constitution… They have invested millions of dollars in paying for positions at universities for professions would support their views. They have set up powerful and well-funded think tanks to propagate their views, even founding the  discipline of “law and economics” and establishing it as many law schools, to develop scholarship that looks at law through the lens of libertarian economics…

They gave a start to James Buchannan who got a Nobel Prize in economics for taking the view of human beings as fundamentally self -interested that dominates the discipline of economics, and applying it to an understanding of how government bureaucracies operate. This has helped propagate the view, now widespread, that government programs are a problem in people’s lives as opposed to a means for solving problems. They funded the work of Charles Murray, who made the case that welfare makes its recipients psychologically dependent, and funded its propagation.

And they are the forces behind the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent propagating climate change denial. Again, academic and think tanks they support have flooded the intellectual sphere enough to have a tremendous impact.

Between 2010 and 2012 their non-profit legislative arm, ALEC, had sponsored over 180 bills in forty-one states to restrict who could vote. The Koch’s have funded “think and do” tanks in all fifty states which are networked through the State Policy Network. The Michigan affiliate, the Mackinac Center, proposed the policies that led to the disaster of the poisoning of the water of Flint Michigan.

This network is in it for the long game…until the election of Obama, they had tried and failed at achieving general popular support for their views. The move that changed that was the Tea Party. Their think tanks developed the propaganda and talking points used by that movement. And they paid huge sums of money to right wing media outlets and personalities, such as Bill O’Reilly, to whip up enthusiasm for their anti-government point of view.

Their next move is to come after public employee unions, as union political power is one of the strongest counterforces to the money of the “kochtopus.” …The politics of right wing populism prey on the resentments that can be mobilized to divide working class people from each other.

This network did not at first support Donald Trump. They saw him as too liberal and unreliable. And yet,  his form of fact-free pseudo populism is exactly what the Koch people and their allies unleashed with their Tea Party movement. Trump is not who we should be focusing on. He is likely to be a passing symptom of a much larger and deeper disease.

If you have the stomach for more of this I suggest you watch the recent film, Get Me Roger Stone, and read The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton as well as Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, written by David Daly. Get Me Roger Stone focuses on one ruthless Republican operative who is the king of fake news, as the brains behind the birther lie, and the one responsible for the relentless hammering into the minds of the public of the idea of Hilary Clinton as criminal. The Anatomy of Fascism explains in detail how the Nazis were able to consolidate state power. Finally Ratf**ked, is a detailed examination of the gerrymandering the congressional seats in the recent past, which has led to it being very difficult for democrats to win a majority in the house of representative.

Of course the deep pessimism I feel today could all be washed away in the 2018 midterm elections. It may be that the Republicans have gone too far. There seems to be about one third of the electorate that is addicted to the drug of self-flattery, who are willing to let any lie go by as long as it makes them feel like they are righteous people who are being milked by the government in the interest of underserving others, may never sway from support of people like Trump.  

But even with gerrymandering, support from that one third can only get you so far if, enough other people vote. But of course that is the crux of what happened with the 2016 presidential election. It was not the case that more reactionary white people voted than in previous elections. What lost Clinton the election was that fewer low-frequency voters came out to vote for her.

And so the question for our electoral system is what would it take for the large number of progressive minded people who don’t vote to engage with the electoral system? But at this point it also looks as if the Democratic Party is not willing to give disenfranchised people enough of a reason to vote to get them engaged. And that scares me more than Trump does.