On November 9, 2016, we woke up in an America we no longer knew. An alien nation, where someone like Donald Trump could win a presidential election.
That was no accident. It was the result of a sustained attack by two billionaires, Charles and David Koch, who set out in the 1970s to replace America’s social contract with their own values.
The many benefits they enjoyed as citizens – thanks to our tax dollars and our dedication to the common good – weren’t enough. The Koch brothers wanted no power in America to be greater than their own, giving them unlimited freedom to pursue their own interests.
Why? Partly greed. But it was also the acting-out of Charles Koch’s lifelong need to defy authority and achieve perfect control. The Kochs owned the second-largest company in the nation, providing pipelines, refineries, coal, and chemicals; and our pesky federal government wouldn’t let them pollute the environment and violate social justice laws as they wished.
So they set out to break Washington – to tear government “at the root.” Not through the ballot box and fair elections. Not by buying politicians, whom Charles Koch saw as actors reading scripts. He wanted to write the scripts himself, dictating which values and ideas were legitimate.
The Kochs spent a billion dollars to accomplish that goal. They built a multi-armed, national political machine – a “Kochtopus” – that wields unelected, unaccountable power and hides behind the appearance of good causes.
It relies on secrecy and demands for “balance” in textbooks and news coverage. It undermines every national institution: the courts, the government, the arts, the media, intellectuals, and academia.
Each arm reinforces the core message: the government can’t be trusted, taxes and industry oversight should be minimal, there should be very few social services, and only the free market should shape America’s destiny.
One arm of the Kochtopus is its think tanks, which provide fake research and “experts” who testify before Congress and write op-eds. Another arm works at prestigious universities, where its “Law and Economics” program provides free, luxury seminars that promote the Kochs’ belief that legal cases should not be decided by what’s best for the people involved, but by how the case impacts the economy. (Forty percent of U.S. judges have attended that program.)
The Kochtopus also funds TV shows, publishing houses, campus newspapers, and video games. It hires lobbyists to push Congress in a libertarian direction. It has organizers who create grassroots groups – including the Tea Party. It has a propaganda arm that masquerades as independent journalism, and an oversight arm that coordinates and disciplines the other arms.
David Koch died recently, but Charles Koch continues his efforts to create an American oligarchy. He wants a handful of powerful people to be able to bend our government to their will and persuade the rest of us to advance their interests – even when their interests hurt us.
It’s time we told Charles Koch that his time is up. We don’t have to allow his Kochtopus to destroy trust in our institutions, divide us bitterly, and put people like Trump in power. We can hold him and his cronies to our social contract, in which the rising tide lifts all boats – not just one.
- Poison Tea: How Big Oil and Big Tobacco Invented the Tea Party and Captured the GOP – Jeff Nesbit
- Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – Jane Mayer
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