The Lowdown’s report last month on the Koch Klan’s plutocratic coup against your and my democratic rights prompted a few expressions of incredulity, such as: Surely that can’t be true! Come on, a coup?
Many Americans are reluctant to accept that coup conspiracies are part of our country’s political history. We tend to buy the corporate establishment’s oft-repeated narrative that plots to overthrow the government are totally foreign to our national character. This is America, they bark, not some banana republic! We don’t do coups.
In fact, we do. The country itself was founded on an armed coup to replace the legal ruler, George III, with a gang of revolutionary upstarts.
Or consider this one: the Wall Street Putsch of 1933.
Never heard of it? Few have, for the financial establishment–along with its media and political henchmen–rushed out, clucking like mother hens to bury the story and protect the gentlemen of Wall Street implicated in the plot. But what a story! It was capitalist skullduggery by a few self-entitled Lords of Wealth trying to overthrow the government and enthrone a fascist regime friendly to themselves.
Fortunately, a real patriot was able to expose them, nipping their coup d’etat in the bud. Nonetheless, their attempt reveals the threat of concentrated wealth and the ever-present danger that the imperious rich pose to majority rule. Not only should this real-life drama be highlighted in our history books, but it would also make a blockbuster movie:
The Koch Brothers putsch, c. 2018
It’s tempting to a laugh off 1933’s bumbling fat cats–we can just picture them cloistered in their posh private club, smoking $100 cigars, grumping about Roosevelt, and whispering about hiring an army to overthrow the whole damn democratic process. A “cocktail putsch,” as New York City’s Mayor Fiorello La Guardia dubbed it.
But, while their plot was harebrained, their plutocratic intent is no laughing matter. Their presumption of class privilege–the warped idea that their great wealth entitled them to rule over and even impoverish the many–is not unique. The Wall Street Putsch died in 1934, but it is just one manifestation of a deadly serious social disease that has infected the history of democratic struggles.
And now, that sickness has grown much more virulent, confronting us in the form of a complex, sophisticated web of efforts funded by Koch-led billionaires who share the same set of extreme, kleptocratic beliefs that guided last century’s class-war militants, including (1) making property rights supreme over all of the people’s various political rights; and (2) replacing the principle of majority rule with a new governing order that empowers the owner class (the “Makers,” as they dub themselves) to overrule regulations, taxes, unionization, and other collective actions that the lower classes (the “Takers”) try to impose on the property-rich minority.
The Koch coup is not one they’re planning to spring someday with a brash, illegal military takeover of Washington. Don’t look now, but they’ve already sprung it! It’s a quiet, multifaceted coup that has been underway for some 40 years and has been astonishingly successful … and disturbingly legal. Measure by measure, the Koch brothers and their allied property extremists have used their fortunes to gain a grip on nearly every level of government (including courts and whole states like Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas), corporatized many of our most basic laws and institutions, and largely had their plutocratic wish list adopted as the de facto agenda of the entire leadership of the Republican Party. They’ve been able to come so far because of three factors:
The Kochs’ ideological power grab has taken the long view. They have been willing to experiment, trying a variety of tactics–large and small, national and local–expanding those that work and abandoning those that don’t. And they have used “patient capital”: giving an idea time to prove itself before yanking the funding and jumping to the next trendy idea. (Progressive funders, take note.)The Koch coup crept up on us because it abhorred publicity and couched each move as an independent effort by a separate group. The commonality of the changes was barely perceptible for decades, until 2010, when the Supreme Court grabbed the obscure Citizens United case to decree that corporate campaign cash qualified as free speech. It was only then that progressives woke to the reality that a coordinated corporate assault on democracy itself was being made by a panoply of Koch groups (at least three of which were prime funders and pushers of the court case). Even the word “VAST” doesn’t encompass the immensity of the Kochs’ offensive on democracy. This month’s Lowdown depicts key parts of the network they’ve deployed to steal democratic power from us. This is what we’re battling. Post it. Share it. Spread the word.