Donald Trump wasn’t joking back in 2000 when he first seriously considered running for president and told us, “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”
While president, he raked in an estimated $1.6 billion, much of it (particularly during the pandemic) money from pushing government contracts and the like to his own properties and companies.
During that time he was also doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin in the hopes of one day setting up a Trump Tower in Moscow: in his service to Putin he outed an Israeli spy to the Russian ambassador in his first week in office; trashed our intelligence agencies – shutting down our two main cybersecurity agencies, letting the Russians set up shop in the computer systems of the Departments of Treasury and Commerce; denied weapons systems to Ukraine; did his best to cripple NATO; and welcomed Russian money funneled through the NRA and other front groups.
In his post-presidency, Trump has taken in an estimated half-billion dollars in contributions from gullible mostly elderly Republicans through an unending stream of daily fundraising pitches in email and on social media that continue to this day.
Treason, in other words, has probably become the most profitable business in which Trump ever engaged.
Of course, Trump was not the first to this game. It was the entire premise of the Reagan Revolution’s embrace of neoliberalism, as I lay out in detail in The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America.
Putting financial interests (money) over national interests (patriotism) has become the main focus of an entire industry of think tanks and “bill mills” like ALEC that crank out “model legislation” for bought-off members of Congress, both state and federal, to enact into law.
Much of this goes back to the Reagan Revolution, but it’s been put on steroids by a series of Supreme Court decisions — culminating with Citizens United — that give billionaires and corporations the power to use unlimited dark money as a weapon against politicians who stand in their way, and as a reward for those who do their bidding.
The Federalist Society and its allies famously bought today’s Supreme Court, using dark money legalized by Lewis Powell’s Bellotti decision (among others); individual industries buy the key politicians they need to stop legislation that might reduce their profits (Sinema and drug pricing comes to mind); and even foreign governments and their allies can now legally influence American elections (AIPAC has become a major player) because of the Court’s Citizens United decision.
Before the Reagan Revolution most members of the House of Representatives were average folks and most senators, while typically well off, were — like Barry Goldwater whose family owned a retail store in Arizona — small business people.
Today there are very few members of the House who are not multimillionaires and we have several senators worth hundreds of millions. As the Supreme Court tilted the political field toward the white, male, and rich, the party that most embraced the “money first” ethos — the GOP — has come to reflect that in its makeup and priorities.
Big money is the cancer that has been eating away at the foundations and structures of American politics ever since the Supreme Court blew up hundreds of good government laws designed to protect our democracy from rich predators.
And they are rich. While average Americans are carrying the full tax load necessary to support America, most billionaires in this country are paying around 3 percent in income taxes. Most large corporations not only pay nothing; they’ve figured out ways to get government to give them money every year.
If our body politic is to survive as a democratic republic, we must remove that cancer. And that means overturning Citizens United and its malignant spawn.
It will not be easy, fun, or fast. But it has to be the polestar around which pro-American politics are organized. Anything else is just treating symptoms while the underlying disease continues to relentlessly destroy our nation.
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