I have grown quite weary of playing whack-a-mole with Donald Trump’s game of “Controversy of the Day”, haven’t you? In an effort to understand just what the h*ll is going on from day to day, I realized that what I need to do is to look beyond the information we receive from Trump’s tweets, his lackey crew, or the timid television news media and try to figure out the “why’s” for some of-or all of-the bizarre actions & appointments of this administration so early in the term. After weeks of trying to avoid the headline of the day and look for the “big picture” of what these folks are up to, I figured I’d start by taking a look at the inner circle filling and surrounding the Oval Office and why they’ve been appointed to their positions.
First, of course, the nepotism in the Trump cabinet is very clearly on display. Somehow they have managed to circumvent the law that says government officials may not hire family members to work in the same place by claiming that at least one of those family members, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, will forgo receiving a salary in order to occupy the office next to the Oval one. Even though she is, then, not an official member of the President’s cabinet, she has been called upon to receive and interpret sensitive, classified information, act as an official host to dignitaries of other countries, and develop policy regarding women and the issues we face in 2017. Then, of course, the “Russian Connection” is quite curious; the players in both countries are caricatures of characters from every James Bond or Tom Cruise/Matt Damon movie ever made. I get a massive headache trying to follow media coverage of all those individuals and then attempting to connect the dots. It’s obviously suspicious that there is such a shady connection between our president’s cabinet appointees and the “unofficial officials” in the Russian government they are said to have been talking to. Isn’t this is the same party that anointed Saint Ronald Reagan for his perfect example of “conservative Republican” politics, and who, as President, deemed the Soviet Union “The Evil Empire” and the enemy of Democracy? Yes, this is presumably the “party of Reagan”. So what happened to change the US-Soviet relationship from “enemies” into a “bromance”? Something about it stinks. So what do we have to do in order to open the curtain on the multiple layers of dark money and secret meetings and the reasons for them? We ask questions, and we keep asking until we get the real answers.
Of course, the first clue the hero acts on in any sort of Hollywood blockbuster is to “follow the money”, right? Never has the axiom “Money is the root of all evil” been so perfectly revealed! Given Trump’s obvious lust for money and power, and his grandiose displays of both, it seems only logical to start there.
What we think we know about Donald Trump is only the information he has spoon fed us. He says he’s worth billions, but that is not a provable statement in the absence of his filed tax returns. And if he is worth billions of dollars, how is it that he has acquired so much wealth? He is said to have real estate holdings in countries around the world, but even a cursory examination of the real estate transactions we know about don’t add up to such a hefty payout. Again, no independent acknowledgement of those transactions, who he dealt with, or what kind of financial resources are provided.
Let’s face it, the first 100 days of this Trump presidency have been an embarrassing disaster for the citizens of the US. And most of it, probably, has to do with the hubris that Trump himself causes. But he does not operate in a vacuum, and his favorability rating is lower than any president in our history. The citizens of our country are disgusted, but that does not seem to have any meaning for Donald Trump. But what does seem to be important to him is that powerful people see him as powerful. His reputation is one he has created in other countries; here in the US, that reputation is a bit more tarnished. Simply by virtue of his flamboyant presence in the headlines or in the entertainment industry, we have some inkling that maybe this man isn’t quite as brilliant as he claims; and he has enemies. Even among the members of his own Party, there are opposing forces operating to try to manipulate him for his ignorance of the law, protocol, and statesmanship. But what force in this country has enough presence to think that they could sway his actions or speech? His allegiance, despite his many promises to the contrary, is to his fellow millionaires and billionaires; but many of them are not convinced that he is capable of leading the most powerful nation on earth, and are making his presidency into the exact opposite of the presidency he thought he would have. But what could create such frustration for him in such a short time? Is there someone or something in this country that could make him bow or relinquish some of the power he thought he would be entitled to? Who could dare to go toe-to-toe with his supportive Russian billionaire oligarchs? Who would have the money, the stamina, the influence to be able to take on wealthy Russians who are not satisfied by the felonious fortunes they have acquired or the lucrative but hidden roles they play in their own governments? The answer was simple, really. All I had to do was go back to the largest source of Republican money, influence, and policy in the US: the Koch brothers.
Who are the Koch Brothers? Charles and David Koch are prolific conservative donors who helm the nation’s second-largest privately held corporation, Koch Industries. It is an energy and industrial conglomerate with $115 billion in annual revenues that has “fingers” in many aspects of our country’s foundational operations, including lobbying legislators on political issues and donating large sums of money into the campaigns of politicians willing to sell their votes (and souls) to further the brothers’ goals.
For citizens who may not know much about the Koch brothers, or those who want to deny the Koch influence, their presence is as influential as any of the Russian oligarchs that seem to have aligned themselves with Donald Trump. That alliance with the Russians, however legal or illegal, is fairly obviously a real one, and has contributed to a real rift between the Russian-backed Trump group in the White House and the Koch-backed Mike Pence and Congress. While there are some Republicans who have allied themselves with Trump, more of them recognized where the real money is and voted the way the Kochs “suggested”, most recently and most obviously on the “repeal and replace Obamacare” bill.
As Theodore Schleifer of CNN reported on Thursday, March 23, 2017:
“A powerful network of conservative donors said Wednesday it would create a new fund for Republican 2018 reelection races — but they’ll only open it up to GOPers who vote against the bill. The advocacy groups helmed by Charles and David Koch have unveiled a new pool of money for advertisements, field programs and mailings that would exclude those who vote for the health care bill they oppose on Thursday. The effort, which they described as worth millions of dollars, is an explicit warning to on-the-fence Republicans from one of the most influential players in electoral politics not to cross them.
The Koch-aligned networks oppose the bill because they think it does not do enough to scale back former President Barack Obama’s health care policies….The Kochs typically support Republican congressional candidates in competitive races, though they have withheld their volunteers and advertising in the past when they felt snubbed by a particular candidate, such as Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire senator who lost her reelection battle in 2016 and did not receive Koch funding for much of the race.” (Emphasis mine)
Striking how obvious the passive aggressive maneuver to control our legislators is! If we want to know about the relationship between the Koch brothers and the latest appointment trying to pass in the House, Schleifer adds:
[The Koch Brothers] have spent some of their sums to boost Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and have applauded his attempts to scale back federal regulations.
The group of high-powered donors plans to spend between $300 million and $400 million on political projects over the 2018 cycle. (Emphasis added)
So how does that work? In years before the Citizen United ruling in 2010, large donations to political candidates running for office was illegal. Of course, wealthy (men) have always provided funds backing political candidates in exchange for favorable rulings that would influence the providers and further line their pockets. But then, the repercussions for trying to buy that kind of influence was usually a jail sentence or ruined career. There was, (officially anyway,) no tolerance for graft and bribery in our political processes. Then came the Citizens United ruling that granted “personhood” to corporations, and then decreed that corporate contributions were, in fact, a form of “free speech”
My very strong belief that the repeal of the Citizens United ruling is the first and IMO, the most important action that must be taken to prevent the “Wall Street” politicians and other power/money hungry characters from destroying no less than our very Democracy. And as wealthy as Donald Trump claims to be, he is no match for the influence the Koch money can buy. When Trump gets mad at someone, his childish response has been to reprimand the offender with at least one nasty “tweet” containing foolish threats of non-support from the administration. The consequences for any politician who goes against the Koch brothers or any of their numerous PACs, such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) can be harsh and swift. The current strong arm of the US Congress, The Freedom Partners, is a committee of all Koch-backed politicians.
In the March 21 edition of USA Today, the AFP spokesperson is quoted as saying:
“We have spent tens and tens of millions to fully repeal Obamacare, and we’ll commit whatever resources” are needed, said Levi Russell, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity. “We plan on seeing it through.”
“This is nothing new for Americans for Prosperity,” the group’s policy director, Akash Chougule, told NPR’s Audie Cornish on Thursday. “[T]his is what Americans for Prosperity exists to do.”
So what is it that they do, and who are the beneficiaries? The scope of their influence is hard to gauge, because the Citizens United allows for large donors to give anonymously. But there are a few known undertakings:
- David H. Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980. He advocated for the abolition of Social Security, the FBI, the CIA, and public schools.
- In 2010 they supported California Proposition 23, which would have suspended the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The Kochs have also funded efforts to stop the growth of solar power.
- In 2011, Koch Industries’ political action committee had donated more than $2.6 million to primarily Republican candidates.
- In the 2012 election season, the Kochs pledged to defeat President Barack Obama. (According to the Center for Responsive Politics, of $274 million in anonymous contributions, at least $86 million is “attributed to donor groups in the Koch network”.)
- Support and financial assistance has gone to:
- Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas;
- Governors Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour;
- commentators John Stossel, Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh;
- Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn; and
- Representatives Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and Tom Price.
- Through Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers influenced more than 400 members of Congress to sign a pledge to vote against climate change legislation that does not include equivalent tax cuts.
- In 2010, Koch Industries supported efforts to roll back emission regulations in California.
And just in case you missed it, the failure to pass the Trumpcare health care policy was NOT the devastating victory for the Left that you might have thought. Actually, it was a significant victory for the Koch brothers, who felt that the new plan DID NOT GO FAR ENOUGH IN GUTTING THE ACA/OBAMACARE. The fight to control health care access is not over–they will be back.
As we are entertained by Trump’s ridiculous tweets, his oversized ego, thin skin, governmental ignorance, we have to remember that Donald Trump is not the one actually running things. He is merely the public face of Vladimir Putin’s goal to embarrass the US, and the representation of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s smug connivances to get the rulings and personnel they want in the White House without having to get their own hands dirty. That Donald Trump is so caught up in his own narcissism he cannot–or will not–see that while he feels like he is “the best/most/greatest” savior of US pride and glory, the strings that pull him so easily from one thing to another are being manipulated by forces better/more/greater than even Donald Trump.