Why is a group of billionaires working to re-elect Trump? | Robert Reich

Elon Musk and the entrepreneur and investor David Sacks reportedly held a secret dinner party of billionaires and millionaires in Hollywood last month. Its purpose: to defeat Joe Biden and re-install Donald Trump in the White House.

The guest list included Peter Thiel, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Milken, Travis Kalanick, and Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary.

Meanwhile, Musk is turning up the volume and frequency of his anti-Biden harangues on Twitter/X, the platform he owns.

According to an analysis by the New York Times, Musk has posted about the president at least seven times a month, on average, this year. He has criticized Biden on issues ranging from Biden’s age to his policies on health and immigration, calling Biden “a tragic front for a far left political machine”.

The Times analysis showed that over the same period of time, Musk has posted more than 20 times in favor of Trump, claiming that the criminal cases the former president now faces are the result of media and prosecutorial bias.

This is no small matter. Musk has 184 million followers on X, and because he owns the platform he’s able to manipulate the algorithm to maximize the number of people who see his posts.

No other leader of a social media firm has gone as far as Musk in supporting authoritarian leaders around the world. In addition to Trump, Musk has used his platform in support of India’s Narendra Modi, Argentina’s Javier Milei and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

Some of this aligns with Musk’s business interests. In India, he secured lower import tariffs for Tesla vehicles. In Brazil, he opened a major new market for Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite internet service. In Argentina, he solidified access to lithium, the mineral most crucial to Tesla’s batteries.

But something deeper is going on. Musk, Thiel, Murdoch and their cronies are leading a movement against democracy.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire tech financier, once wrote: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

If freedom is not compatible with democracy, what is it compatible with?

Thiel donated $15m to the successful Republican senatorial campaign of JD Vance, who alleged that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s immigration policy meant “more Democrat voters pouring into this country”. (Vance is now high on the list of Trump vice-presidential possibilities.)

Thiel also donated at least $10m to the Arizona Republican primary race of Blake Masters, who also claimed Trump won the 2020 election and admires Lee Kuan Yew, the authoritarian founder of modern Singapore.

Billionaire money is now gushing into the 2024 election. Just 50 families have already injected more than $600m into the 2024 election cycle, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness. Most of this is going to the Trump Republican party.

In 2021, Stephen A Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, called the January 6 attack on the US Capitol an “insurrection” and “an affront to the democratic values we hold dear”. Now he’s backing Trump because, Schwarzman says, “our economic, immigration and foreign policies are taking the country in the wrong direction.”

Trump recently solicited a group of top oil executives to raise $1bn for his campaign, reportedly promising that if elected he would immediately reverse dozens of environmental rules and green energy policies adopted by Biden. Trump said this would be a “deal” for the oil executives that would avoid taxation and regulation on their industry.

Speaking from the World Economic Forum’s confab last January in Davos, Switzerland, Jamie Dimon – chair and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the largest and most profitable bank in the United States, and one of the most influential CEOs in the world – heaped praise on Trump’s policies while president. “Take a step back, be honest,” Dimon said. Trump “grew the economy quite well. Tax reform worked”.

Rubbish. Under Trump the economy lost 2.9m jobs. Even before the pandemic, job growth under Trump was slower than it’s been under Biden.

Most of the benefits of Trump’s tax cut went to big corporations like JPMorgan Chase and wealthy individuals like Dimon, while the costs blew a giant hole in the budget deficit. If not for those Trump tax cuts, along with the Bush tax cuts and their extensions, the ratio of the federal debt to the national economy would now be declining.

But don’t assume that the increasing flow of billionaire money to Trump and his Republican party is motivated solely by tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks. The goal of these US oligarchs is to roll back democracy.

When asked if he was becoming more political, Musk admitted (in a podcast in November): “If you consider fighting the woke mind virus, which I consider to be a civilizational threat, to be political, then yes … Woke mind virus is communism rebranded.”

Communism rebranded? Hello?

A former generation of wealthy US conservatives backed candidates like Barry Goldwater because they wanted to conserve American institutions. Musk, Thiel, Schwarzman, Murdoch and their fellow billionaires in the anti-democracy movement don’t want to conserve much of anything – at least not anything that occurred after the 1920s, including Social Security, civil rights, and even women’s right to vote.

As Thiel wrote: “The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

If “capitalist democracy” is becoming an oxymoron, it’s not because of public assistance or because women got the right to vote. It’s because billionaire capitalists like Musk and Thiel are intent on killing democracy by supporting Trump and the neo-fascists surrounding him.

Not incidentally, the 1920s marked the last gasp of the Gilded Age, when America’s robber barons ripped off so much of the nation’s wealth that the rest of the US had to go deep into debt both to maintain their standard of living and to maintain overall demand for the goods and services the nation produced.

When that debt bubble burst in 1929, we got the Great Depression. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler then emerged to create the worst threats to freedom and democracy the modern world had ever witnessed.

If America learned anything from the first Gilded Age and the fascism that grew like a cancer in the 1930s, it should have been that gross inequalities of income and wealth fuel gross inequalities of political power – as Musk, Thiel, Schwarzman, Murdoch and other billionaires are now putting on full display – which in turn generate strongmen who destroy both democracy and freedom.

Under fascist strongmen, no one is safe – not even oligarchs.

If we want to guard what’s left of our freedom, we must meet the anti-democracy movement with a bold pro-democracy movement that protects the institutions of self-government from oligarchs like Musk and Thiel and neo-fascists like Trump.

The Guardian