Panicked Over the Trump Phenomenon

America’s conservative establishment is in panic mode as renegade billionaire Donald Trump continues to dominate the Republican presidential race and thumb his nose at the GOP donor class, which is alarmed that all its money might not dictate the outcome this time, as Bill Moyers and Michael Winship write.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

David Brooks is a worried man. Like many establishment Republicans, the conservative columnist for The New York Times sees the barbarians pouring through the gates and fears for both his party and the republic. Hail, Trump! Hail, Cruz! It’s enough to send a sober centrist dashing through the Forum in search of a cudgel.

There was Brooks on a recent edition of the PBS NewsHour, his angst spilling out across the airwaves like fog from a nightmare: “I wish we had gray men in suits,” he told Judy Woodruff, conjuring in some nostalgia-minded the courtly cabal of well-heeled businessmen who drafted war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president as a Republican.

Billionaire and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Billionaire and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“We don’t have that,” Brooks continued. “But the donor class could do something.”

Ah, yes. The donor class! Those deep pockets flung open even wider by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision just six years ago, permitting the richest of the rich to pour even more of their fortunes into control of our electoral process. Brooks was saying openly what many of them are thinking privately: Only we can save the party from the megalomania of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and protect our precious status quo.

How best to do this? Brooks suggested that panicked “state legislators who are Republicans, congressmen, senators, local committeemen” should join with the donors “so they don’t send the party into suicide.”

Makes sense, many of those very same folks already are deep in hock to the donors, their contributions often laundered via entities with high-falutin’ names ALEC, for one, the American Legislative Exchange Council that lends a helping corporate hand to legislators eager to write favorable laws, provide tax breaks, dismember public employee unions and privatize government services.

As Brooks’ vision of a coup unfolded, the donors and their allies would handpick their candidate, “winnowing the field.” He reiterated his NewsHour lamentations with a New York Times column headlined “Time for a Republican Conspiracy!

So let’s get this straight: One of the most prominent of Republican elites in the country, who has even been touted as President Obama’s “favorite pundit” (we’re not making this up!), is calling on the donor class to rescue the party from the rabble. Game’s over, voters: The oligarchs will decide this election.

For that’s what they are: a small, unbelievably wealthy group of the powerful and privileged who already have a tighter grip on our nation, its government, politics and economy than the rapacious robber barons of our first Gilded Age. Brooks and like-minded elites believe they must be trusted to do the right thing. Let them be the Deciderers.

Count billionaire Charles Koch among them. He recently told Stephen Foley of the Financial Times that he was “disappointed” by the current crop of Republican presidential candidates and especially critical of Trump and Cruz. “It is hard for me to get a high level of enthusiasm,” he said, “because the things I’m passionate about and I think this country urgently needs aren’t being addressed.”

Koch said that he and his well-oiled machine had given each of the candidates a list of issues it wants addressed but “it doesn’t seem to faze them much. You’d think we could have more influence.” In other words, if you’re going to spend $900 million on this election, as Koch and his cronies plan to do, shouldn’t you get what you paid for?

Yes, we know: money can’t always buy an election. If it could, Mitt Romney would just be finishing his first term as president. Or Jeb! Bush, whose super PAC runneth over with $100 million in cash, would be leading the pack. So far he’s not even been able to get his silver foot on the first rung of the ladder.

But to the oligarchs, bankrolling an election campaign isn’t all that it’s about. They contribute now for the day when the electioneering is over and the governing resumes. That’s when their investment really begins to pay off.

In the words of the veteran Washington insider Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economic advisor to Joe Biden, “There’s this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it’s that they can buy policy.”

Environmental policy, for example, when it comes to energy moguls like the Kochs. And tax policy. Especially tax policy.

Bernstein was quoted in one of the most important stories of 2015 an investigation by The New York Times into how tax policy gets written. Unfortunately, this complex but essential report appeared between Christmas and New Year’s and failed to get the attention it deserves. Here’s the heart of it:

“With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the ‘income defense industry,’ consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

“Operating largely out of public view, in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service, the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.”

That “private tax system” couldn’t have happened without compliant politicians elected to office by generous support from the donor class. As the right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife put it: “Isn’t it grand how tax law gets written?”

Sam Pizzigati knows how it happens. He’s been watching the process for years from his perch as editor of the monthly newsletter Too Much! Reminding us in a recent report that “America’s 20 richest people, a group that could fit nicely in a Gulfstream luxury private jet, now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people,” Pizzigati concludes that one reason these and other of America’s rich have amassed such large fortunes is that “the federal tax rate on income in the top tax bracket has sunk sharply over recent decades.”

So here’s the real value of all that campaign cash and lobbying largesse: underwriting a willingness among legislators and government officials to bend the rules, slip in the necessary loopholes and look the other way when it comes time for the rich to hide their fortunes.

This is the status quo to which the donors cling so tightly and clutch their pearls at the prospect of losing. But now, with Trump seemingly ascendant, some of those who might have been relied on to support a donor revolt are betraying Brooks’s call for a coup, weakening in their resolve and beginning to think that maybe the short-fingered vulgarian isn’t such a bad idea. Despite his populist brayings, they hope, he might well be brought into their alliance.

Which brings to mind a line from the movie version of the musical Cabaret. In pre-Third Reich Germany, the decadent Baron Maximilian von Heune is talking with the British writer Brian Roberts, explaining why the elite have allowed this Hitler fellow to get a jackboot in the door.

“The Nazis are just a gang of stupid hooligans, but they do serve a purpose,” he says. “Let them get rid of the Communists. Later we’ll be able to control them.”

We all know how well that turned out.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story originally appeared at]

10 comments for “Panicked Over the Trump Phenomenon

  1. January 24, 2016 at 19:46

    If Trump runs as a populist, watch out. I don’t know if he’s that smart. But if he is, he could wipe the floor with HRC and preempt Sanders.

    The very powers behind the throne will find a way to sink Trump if he gets the nomination and to ruin Sanders if it looks like he will win. The question is, will the public fall for another of these self-serving dramas conducted by the elite in which their power is preserved through a stirring narrative that makes the public amnestic.

  2. dahoit
    January 24, 2016 at 17:53

    Brooks is a Zionist boob.Another Friedman or Kristof,
    They fear a nationalist American president like vampires hate silver bullets,mirrors and stakes in their hollow Zionist hearts.

    • dahoit
      January 26, 2016 at 19:23

      I didn’t see the part where obomba thinks brooks his favorite pundit;Wow,he is stupid,our POTUS.Brooks is a certifiable moron,only given space because the Zionists think he’s useful.

  3. Hillary
    January 24, 2016 at 17:26

    ” Not since WW II, has the global refugee crisis reached such heartbreaking and epic proportions than under the pernicious and fraudulent neocon wars of aggression.(” over 59 “million” refugees from war torn areas” – UN Refugee Agency, june 2015)

    Yes good points & if eugenics & profit “perhaps” were all part of the agenda & are included together with the number of deaths from WWII ( 35 Million Chinese ,23 Million Russians but only 800,000 dead US ,UK, French & other Allies) , suggest that huge profits were made from WWII & ALL the subsequent wars with the US replacing the UK as the world’s imperial power to continue “ its campaign of democracy” throughout the world with continuous wars and invasions supported by our corrupt legal institutions & with propaganda so pervasive at so many levels, including, sadly, our own educational system that there has been a “dumbing down of our population.

    • alexander
      January 25, 2016 at 06:34

      Hi Hillary,

      Nothing pulls the curtain back more clearly on the utter fraud of the Neocon campaign of spreading “democracy” throughout the middle east, than the Iraq war and its aftermath.
      The “nation building” post-war reconstruction effort in Iraq proved to be , in reality, a giant siphon of US taxpayer money into the hands of the Neocons and their greedy donor class.

      Nearly 90 cents of every taxpayer dollar , intended to heroically “rebuild” Iraq into a vibrant democracy, was pocketed by that well connected coterie of neocon advisers and their Ilk, leaving them “obscenely wealthy”, Iraq a “failed state”, and the United States one more step down the road to “insolvency”.

      The Neocon “pretense” of a noble “Marshal Plan”-like reconstruction effort was a big joke. And the joke turned out to be on the american people, who footed the bill for “spittle”, and got “poked in the eye while robbed from the purse ” of hundreds of billions of dollars.

      It is no wonder that Americans have woken up to the fact, that the Neocons who have brayed “loudest” about spreading global “democracy” are the ones who,in fact, care “least” about it, both abroad and at home.

      The “utter wreck ” Iraq is today, is clear testimony to that fact.

      Americans are lining up, in droves, behind “the Donald” in the hopes if he’s elected, that he will deliver unto the Neocons that which they so richly deserve.

      ” a big fat punch in the nose !”

  4. geo
    January 24, 2016 at 09:15

    much agreed!! however when will the ‘thoughtful’ pundits stop using the label neocons and refer to them as U.S. fascists,and there is nothing ‘neo’ about them. they have been operating in the ‘finest’ families the nation has produced, and the tradition continues well ensconced prior to world war 2.

  5. alexander
    January 24, 2016 at 07:04

    Dear Mr. Moyers,

    Mr. Brooks seems panicky that the jig might be up for the neocons, with the election of “the Donald “. It sure would be nice if the jig was up for the neocons , whoever gets elected.

    There is an assumption on your part, Mr Moyers, that were the Donald to be elected, it might issue in a new era of Nazism, within the United States, as though somehow that era, has not already come to pass, with 9-11, and the rise of the “neocons”.
    The truth is, it has.

    No group embodies more, all the “above the law”characteristics, of a militant totalitarian nazi-like supremacism hell bent on world domination than the “neocons”and their donor class.

    No group has more forcefully and successfully advocated for the jettisoning of habeas corpus , our constitution and its bill of rights then the neocons and their donor class.

    No group has more successfully argued for wars of aggression, torture, illegal detention,illegal search and seizure, and extrajudicial assassination, than the neocons and their donor class.

    No group has made greater inroads towards a unitary executive, and transformed the illegality of aggressive war into a permanent, never ending reality than the neocons and their donor class.

    No group has ever, in our nations history, defrauded the american people out of more money than the neocons and their donor class.

    Our unconscionable 19 “trillion” dollar debt is a tribute to the neocons insatiable desire for war profiteering, war fraud , banking fraud, and the unrestrained use of force against tens of millions of innocent people both in the middle east and around the world.

    Not since WW II, has the global refugee crisis reached such heartbreaking and epic proportions than under the pernicious and fraudulent neocon wars of aggression.(” over 59 “million” refugees from war torn areas” – UN Refugee Agency, june 2015)

    Never, in our nations history, has more wealth moved from the hands of the middle class into those of the neocons and their “one percent” donor class.

    And never, Mr Moyers, has the N.Y.Times, employed a journalist, more capable of “soft shoe-ing” these horrendous crimes against our citizenry and humanity, than the affable Mr Brooks.

    When Mr Brooks seems worried, it should be a welcome sign to all who despise the rampant gouging , defrauding ,and mass murdering that has come to define the neocon era and its “above the law”donor class.

    Nazism, has absolutely nothing on them.

  6. robcrawford
    January 24, 2016 at 04:06

    In other words, Brooks admits that we are living under an oligarchy and all they need to do is assert their rights?

  7. incontinent reader
    January 23, 2016 at 16:22

    While this reader agrees with this article, he might question its final two sentences, since, if eugenics and profit making were all part of the agenda, maybe it did work out for the elites- i.e., with millions killed (mostly Soviets and Chinese), huge profits made from WWII (and the subsequent cold war), and America replacing Britain as the imperial power in the world.

    And now with our legal institutions corrupted and with propaganda pervasive at so many levels, including, sadly, our own educational system, our population has become so dumbed down that it is more willing to accept their governance by the elites, and less ready, able and willing today to organize and fight for its rights than it was in the past.

    Frankly, without an epiphany and fundamental renewal of our own society, the only real hope this lay person has is in the Russian and Chinese paradigm of global economic development (Silk Road, BRICS, what have you) under a UN based system of international law. It is a shame, because we are also on the cusp of a third Industrial Revolution.

    • Ethan Allen
      January 23, 2016 at 19:33

      As incontinent reader partially alludes to in saying,

      And now with our legal institutions corrupted and with propaganda pervasive at so many levels, including, sadly, our own educational system, our population has become so dumbed down that it is more willing to accept their governance by the elites, and less ready, able and willing today to organize and fight for its rights than it was in the past.

      the control of the socio-economic infrastructure of our world has been co opted and centralized by an international power elite; a cabal that, through their methodical acquiring of virtually unlimited global economic and political power, has not only gained control of the planet’s natural resources and socio-political infrastructure, but the unwitting acquiescence of all but very few of it’s inhabitants. It is my contention that if these hegemonic monopolists are to be thwarted in their quest for unlimited control and power, those ‘few’ around the world who have chosen to not be “dumbed down” need to join their efforts to fight the pervasive greed and corruption that is not only destroying our physical environment, but any reasonable access to equitable economic and social justice for every global citizen.
      While I do applaud the efforts of Messrs. Moyers, Winship, ConsortiumNews and significant others, I suspect the times we are living in require a more strident and consolidated effort to publically expose the puppeteers to public scrutiny, and not merely satisfy themselves with taking down the occasional sacrificial puppet in the name of fomenting meaningful change.
      “Work is love made visible.” KG
      As Usual,

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