As an ever-greater portion of the nation’s total wealth goes to the top, it is hardly surprising that ever more of that wealth is corrupting U.S. politics.

In the 2020 presidential election cycle, more than $14bn went to federal candidates, party committees, and Super Pacs – double the $7bn doled out in the 2016 cycle. Total giving in 2024 is bound to be much higher.

That money is not supporting U.S. democracy. If anything, that money is contributing to rising Trumpism and neofascism. There is a certain logic to this.

As more and more wealth concentrates at the top, the moneyed interests rationally fear that democratic majorities will take it away through higher taxes, stricter regulations – on everything from trade to climate change, enforcement of anti-monopoly laws, pro-union initiatives and price controls.

So they are sinking ever more of their wealth into anti-democracy candidates. Donald Trump is going full fascist these days and gaining the backing of prominent billionaires.

On Veterans Day 2023, Trump pledged to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country”, whom he accused of doing anything “to destroy America and to destroy the American dream.”

Notably, he read these words from a teleprompter, meaning that they were intentional rather than part of another impromptu Trump rant.

Days before, Trump claimed that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country”. The New York Times reported that he was planning to round up millions of undocumented immigrants and detain them in sprawling camps while they wait to be expelled.

Trump has publicly vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” Joe Biden and his family, and has told advisers and friends that he wants the justice department to investigate officials who have criticized his time in office.

This is, quite simply, full-throated neofascism. Who is bankrolling all this? While Trump’s base is making small contributions, the big money is coming from some of the richest people in the US.

During the first half of the year, multiple billionaires donated to the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again, Inc Super Pac.

Phil Ruffin, net worth of $3.4bn, the 88-year-old casino and hotel mogul, has given multiple $1m donations.

Charles Kushner, family net worth of $1.8bn, the real estate mogul and father of Jared, who received a late-term pardon from Trump in December 2020, contributed $1m in June.

Robert “Woody” Johnson, net worth of $3.7bn, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom and co-owner of the New York Jets, donated $1m to the Maga Pac in April.

And so on. But Trump is not the only extremist pulling in big dollars.

Nikki Haley – who appears moderate only relative to Trump’s blatant neofascism – claimed in her campaign launch that Biden was promoting a “socialist” agenda.

During her two years as UN ambassador under Trump, Haley was a strong proponent of his so-called “zero tolerance” policy under which thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents and guardians.

She supported Trump’s decision to pull out of the UN human rights council and to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

Though she briefly criticized Trump for inciting the mob that attacked the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, Haley soon defended Trump and called on Democratic lawmakers to “give the man a break” when they impeached him for a second time.

Haley recently told Kristen Welker of NBC’s Meet the Press that while Trump’s floating the idea of executing retired General Mark Milley might be “irresponsible,” it is not enough to disqualify Trump from running for the White House again.

Haley’s billionaire supporters include Stanley Druckenmiller and Eric LeVine. The Republican mega-donor Ken Griffin has said he is “actively contemplating” supporting Haley.

Notably, Haley has also gained the support of JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, who’s about as close as anyone in the US comes to being a spokesperson for the business establishment. Dimon admires Haley’s recognition of the role that “business and government can play in driving growth by working together”.

The moneyed interests have been placing big bets on other Trumpist Republicans.

Peter Thiel, the multibillionaire tech financier who once wrote that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” contributed more than $35m to 16 federal-level Republican candidates in the 2022 campaign cycle, making him the 10th largest individual donor to either party.

Twelve of Thiel’s candidates won, including Ohio’s now-senator JD Vance, who alleged that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s immigration policy has meant “more Democrat voters pouring into this country”.

The Republican House majority leader, Steve Scalise, is creating a new fundraising committee which will be soliciting contributions of up to $586,200 a pop.

Elon Musk is not a major financial contributor to Trump nor other anti-democracy candidates, but his power over one of the most influential megaphones in the US gives him inordinate clout – which he is using to further the neofascist cause.

Witness Musk’s solicitude of Trump, his seeming endorsement of antisemitic posts, his embrace of Tucker Carlson and “great replacement” theory, and his avowed skepticism towards democracy.

Democracy is compatible with capitalism only if democracy is in the driver’s seat, so it can rein in capitalism’s excesses.

But if capitalism and its moneyed interests are in charge, those excesses inevitably grow to the point where they are able to extinguish democracy and ride roughshod over the common good.

That is why Trump’s neofascism – and the complicity of today’s Republican party with it – are attracting the backing of some of the richest people in the United States.

What is the alternative? A loud pro-democracy movement that fights against concentrated wealth at the top, humongous CEO pay packages, a politically powerful financial sector, and tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations.

And fights for higher taxes on the top (including a wealth tax) to finance Medicare for all, affordable housing, and accessible childcare and eldercare.

The willingness to make this a fight – to name the moneyed interests backing neofascism, explain why they’re doing this, and mobilize and energize the US against their agenda and in favor of democracy – is critical to winning the 2024 election and preserving and rebuilding U.S. democracy.

Biden and the Democrats must take this on, loudly and clearly.

Robert Reich

Seth Wenig (AP) and Charlie Neibergall (AP)

Originally published on

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