Billionaires are funding the GOP, and many Americans wonder why. Do we really believe, for example, that a fossil fuel billionaire gives a rat’s ass about whether a high school in Florida teaches students about gay people or that African Americans were once enslaved in Tennessee?
Why would they care?
American billionaires, after all, live in a very different world from you and me.
They don’t fear crime: they live in gated mansions with private security. They don’t need to interact with us when they travel: they’re driven wherever they go in bulletproof limousines or helicopters and fly on private jets so they don’t ever have to go through airport security or even show ID.
I had lunch with a near-billionaire a few years ago: he rented a restaurant for an entire day just so four of us could have a quiet meal while his driver and security detail patrolled the parking lot and nearby streets.
Dinner at one of the half-dozen billionaire-friendly restaurants in New York City can start at $800 per person — and that doesn’t include drinks, tips, or taxes — a price designed more to keep the riffraff out than to reflect the cost of the food, service, and rent. Some have literally unlisted phone numbers and no signs on the door. One is hidden behind a giant painting on a wall in a high-end office building.
Their kids don’t attend public schools or colleges; their servants, masseuses, nannies, mistresses, and chefs often live on the grounds of their estates; when they vacation, they fly private jets to their private yachts that have enough staterooms to accommodate their closest 100 or so friends. Just ask Clarence and Ginny Thomas.
So, why do people like this give a damn about whether a trans girl wants to compete in public high school sports?
Or whether a 10-year-old in Ohio, raped by her uncle, can get an abortion?
Why do they fund politicians making loud noises about the horrors of white children learning their ancestors held Black people in slavery? Or care about the “right” of those kids’ parents to own a semi-automatic assault weapon?
Why, in other words, would any morbidly rich person in America give a damn about any of these so-called Republican “social issues”?
Similarly, why would American industry favor politicians dedicated to Texas’ proposed law requiring “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass” be posted in every classroom? Do they really want second-graders taught about infidelity, rape (both gay and straight), and bestiality?
Or, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me”: do they really want schoolchildren taught about the thousands of people in the Bible who are slaughtered by God or at God’s direction?
Why do wealthy businessman who rarely even go to church fund politicians who demand these Commandments be posted in every public school classroom?
It turns out there is a very rational, albeit cynical, answer.
American billionaires and the corporations that made them rich share a couple of big concerns that are well-served by the GOP’s ongoing culture wars and their embrace of fascist behavior and ideology.
In fact, there’s an entire field of academic scholarship examining this dynamic: it’s called “Diversionary Warfare.”
Examples litter history, both ancient and modern.
When Henry V took the British throne in 1415, many of that country’s noblemen didn’t recognize him as a legitimate king because his father, Henry IV, had usurped the throne from its “rightful” holder, Richard II. So, Henry quickly declared war on France and within months the nation had rallied around him following his rapid success at the Battle of Agincourt.
In April of 1982, Margaret Thatcher was facing a crisis of confidence in the UK after gutting large parts of that nation’s social safety net at the same time unemployment reached record highs: the Falklands War with Argentina put her back in the public’s good graces, even though 255 British troops died (as did 3 Argentinians).
On October 23, 1983, terrorists blew up a Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 241 Americans and making President Reagan — whose response was to “cut and run,” almost instantly pulling most of the rest of our soldiers, airmen, and marines out of the region — look cowardly and impotent.
Taking a cue from Thatcher, two days later Reagan bombed and invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, declaring he’d “saved” 800 American students at the medical school there from the “threat of communism.” Reagan’s popularity — which was below that of potential 1984 Democratic challengers Walter Mondale and John Glenn after the bombing — soared after the invasion of Grenada and largely stayed that way through his re-election 12 months later.
More recently, in 2001 many Americans questioned George W. Bush’s legitimacy as president after he lost the election to Al Gore by a half-million votes and only “won” Florida by 537 votes, after his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, had purged 80,000 African Americans from the voting rolls in the previous six months.
Even that, it turned out, wasn’t enough: he had to have five of his father’s friends on the Supreme Court block a recount in Florida that would’ve shown Al Gore won the election.
The criminal attack on 9/11 provided Bush the perfect excuse to declare war against Afghanistan and Iraq — both countries that had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 (the attack was planned in Germany and Florida and carried out in Boston and New York) — and he predictably watched his approval numbers push above 80 percent once the wars started, handing him victory in the 2004 election.
Viewing the massive funding of the GOP by fossil fuel and other billionaires through this lens of diversionary warfare brings a lot of seemingly disparate actions by these wealthy individuals and their corporations into clearer focus.
By funding the culture wars to keep their wholly-owned politicians in power, they’re running out an ancient playbook.
Americans fight with each other over homosexuality and religion while the morbidly rich continue to rob the middle class by foisting the burden of income taxes on us (as they pay an average 3% income tax rate) and persist in polluting the planet with CO2 and cancer-causing chemicals.
Fossil-fuel industry support for Republicans’ campaigns, for example, have gone up around 800 percent since 1990 but stayed relatively flat for Democrats.
Because Republicans have been doing their job of keeping the American public distracted from the issues billionaires care about: not paying their taxes while continuing to poison our children and the planet.
Donald Trump’s slide into office in 2016, for example — even though he lost the election by about 3 million votes — was greased in part by massive contributions from multiple fossil fuel billionaires.
And while Trump did everything he could to increase the industry’s profits, the real benefit to them was that fights over the rights of asylum seekers, trans people, mask mandates, and “Critical Race Theory” in schools entirely eclipsed the very real crisis of climate change and their ongoing $1 trillion a year tax fraud scam.
Even today, as global warming-fueled tornadoes wipe out huge swaths of Red-state America, those stories about billionaire and corporate abuse of Americans rarely last more than a day before being eclipsed by news about the latest new anti-abortion, anti-education, book banning, or anti-voting law.
Fascist regimes have always been attractive to the morbidly rich and the industries they control. I’ve written before about how Fritz Thyssen (the David Koch of his day) and German media mogul Alfred Hugenberg (the Rupert Murdoch of his day) funded the rise of Hitler on promises of tax cuts and government contracts for the rich and Big Industry.
But even without America turning fully fascist — a goal that’s already been partly achieved in multiple Red states, but is still out of reach for all of America without another Republican presidency — big business and the morbidly rich benefit tremendously when Americans are at each other’s throats.
And ever since 5 corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court legalized the outright purchase of politicians by these same groups with Citizens United, each election comes to most closely resemble an auction rather than an exercise of the genuine will of the people.
America today stands on a precipice.
— Will we allow global warming to continue to kill our citizens and cost us taxpayers hundreds of billions in cleanup and repairs every year?
— Will we continue to let our teachers and government workers be intimidated by a small minority of bigots, nazis, and haters?
— Will we perpetuate the slaughter of our children in the face of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in the world?
— Will we keep young people chained to the debt they incurred just trying to get an education just so they, too, can partake in the American Dream?
— Will we let corporations block even more workers from the right to form and join unions?
— Will we force all American women, both Red- and Blue-state, into second-class status under the thumbs of male judges, legislators, bounty-hunting neighbors, and family members?
— Will we maintain policing systems that routinely murder people of color and protestors with only rare consequences?
— Will we look the other way while Republicans (and a handful of bought-off Democrats) work to gut Social Security, further privatize Medicare, and put onerous work and byzantine paperwork requirements on Medicaid?
— Will we go along with the construction of more for-profit prisons, for-profit schools, and the expansion of child labor?
Or will we work together to create a nation — and a world — that works for all?
Thanks to Republicans on the Supreme Court, billionaires and giant corporations can buy politicians and judges as often as they like. They can pour billions into campaigns and ballot initiatives. They can wine and dine Supreme Court justices on their mega-yachts while funding campaigns to replace public schools with vouchers for all-white Christian “academies.”
But they can’t yet buy your vote.
It’s still possible to push back against this fascistic takeover of America and reclaim the values that animated the creation of this nation: that all people are created with equal opportunity and equal status before the law.
Double-check your voter registration (particularly if you live in a Red state, since five Republicans on the Supreme Court in 2018 legalized states purging you from the voting rolls right up to 90 days before an election) and make it a personal mission to help another ten people get registered and transported to the polls between now and the 2024 election.
The billionaires and their corporate dogs have tremendous power, but we still have the ability to stop them and remake this country in the image of its most idealistic visionaries.
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