Dictators Play for Keeps — Even Those Who Start Out as a “Dictator for a Day”

by | May 7, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Image by Tibor Janosi Mozes from Pixabay

Dictators Play for Keeps — Even Those Who Start Out as a “Dictator for a Day”

by | May 7, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Image by Tibor Janosi Mozes from Pixabay

Billionaires believe that backing the GOP embrace of authoritarianism and oligarchy to replace the democracy will keep them safe. They're wrong.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

The oligarchs are on the move, and they know who they want leading America.

The RNC held an annual fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago this past weekend, attended by Republican senators and members of Congress, along with a few hundred morbidly rich individuals.

Two donors paid $1 million to get up on stage to support Trump’s assertion that Jack Smith is a “fucking asshole,” “deranged,” and an “evil thug.” Trump added that Joe Biden is running a “Gestapo administration” and—in an astonishing bit of projection—is a “Manchurian candidate.”

Trump wrapped up his hour-plus rant with dozens of obscenities that showed his commitment to Christian values: one of the million-dollar donors told the crowd that “Donald J. Trump is the person that God has chosen.”

On the other coast, a secret group of billionaires got together in Hollywood last week to support Trump’s hatred for Joe Biden and Democrats. The crowd included, according to Puck News, immigrants Elon Musk (South Africa), David Sacks (South Africa), Peter Thiel (Germany), and Rupert Murdoch (Australia).

Puck News reporter Theodore Schleifer described them as “members of a burgeoning anti-Biden brain trust, united by a shared sense of grievance.” Elon Musk, according to Schleifer’s reporting, is apparently—and ironically—particularly upset about poor Black and Brown people trying to achieve the American Dream:

“Both in public and in private, Musk has expressed feeling deeply unnerved by America’s migrant crisis—a fear that has driven his rush into Republican politics—and the issue was a key topic of discussion at the dinner.”

As mentioned Saturday, the combined massive tax cuts by Reagan, Bush, and Trump not only racked up a $34 trillion debt for America but also made our country’s oligarchs richer than any pharaoh, king, or emperor in world history. And every time President Biden flirts with raising their taxes (the top 1% now officially pay a lower income tax rate than working class people) they get all twitchy and begin throwing money at Republicans.

Graphic from CommonDreams.org via creative commons license

The billionaires and CEOs funding Trump and the Republicans in Congress believe they’re invincible. They believe the GOP embrace of authoritarianism and oligarchy to replace the democracy that is increasingly rejecting them at the polls will keep them safe.

They’re wrong.

From the time in 1980 when David Koch ran for vice president on a platform of ending Social Security and Medicare along with gutting all federal support for public education, healthcare, and “welfare” programs, “Libertarian” billionaires have worked to end every part of what they call “big government” that may help average working people, the environment, or the poor.

Reagan won the election that year, but Koch’s worldview prevailed, taking over the GOP.

Over the past 42 years, Reaganomics has moved over 60,000 factories and nearly 20 million good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.

Reagan’s policies destroyed the American union movement and stole $51 trillion from working class people, putting almost every penny of it into the money bins of the GOP’s morbidly rich patrons.

Devastating the working class was actually part of the plan: now that the American middle class has gone from almost two-thirds of us down to a mere 43% of us, Republicans are trying to harness the outrage people are feeling and then use it to tear our society apart.

Out of the chaos, they believe they can rebuild our nation on the foundations of hypermasculinity, racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, control of women, and threats of violence. These are the weapons that every fascist leader in history has relied on, and in every case those leaders—from Mussolini to Hitler to Putin and Orbán—were first heavily supported by the obscenely rich who thought they could “control the madman.”

Pro tip: you can’t control the madman.

Fritz Thyssen, the steel baron who was one of Germany’s richest industrialists in the 1930s, wrote a book about how he made the same bet American billionaires and Republican politicians are making today: he thought he could ride a tiger that would make him richer and it would never turn and devour him.

His book I Paid Hitler (my book-collecting father gave me a copy 52 years ago for my 21st birthday)—which lays out how he personally convinced Hindenberg to make Hitler Chancellor and raised the Nazi Party’s first 3 million Reichsmarks so they could win their first national election—reads like a modern-day tragedy.

At first, Thyssen got along with Hitler and even believed he was influencing the man, but when he began to object to some of the Nazi leader’s worse excesses he had to flee the country with his family to avoid being murdered.

Dictators—even those who only start out as a “dictator for a day”—play for keeps.

Just ask the families of the four police officers killed by Trump’s January 6th rioters. Or the mourning parents of over 1,000 children Trump stole at the southern border and then trafficked into a rightwing “Christian” adoption scam and are still missing.

Once they acquire power, fascist dictators never relinquish it, regardless of how many people must die, how many lives are destroyed. When they fail to hold onto power or are simply held accountable for their crimes, as Hitler did when he was arrested in the 1920s and Trump did in 2020 and is now, they fight like hell to seize or regain it. And once they succeed, their commitment to revenge makes them ten times more deadly.

Speaker Mike Johnson—who was at the Saturday fundraiser in Florida—and his House Republicans are making the same bet as the morbidly rich men who own them. They naively believe that fascist leaders like Trump actually care about “unborn children,” budget deficits, and Drag Queen Story Hour.

In fact, all America’s morbidly rich who fund the GOP care about is power and the obscene wealth that is protected by it. Everything else is chum they toss into the water to bring along the lowest-common-denominator voters. Once Trump seizes total power, he’ll turn on them, too.

Nonetheless, America’s rightwing billionaires are still funding and thus growing this fascist movement within the GOP, just like Fritz Thyssen did back in the day.

Pushing conspiracy theories. Casting minorities (gender, race, religion), teachers, and politicians as actual evil. Passing laws that increasingly narrow our democracy and prevent people from voting, until one day there will only be one party governing this country and that party will be wholly beholden to them.

Can they pull it off? Can they create a rightwing movement so powerful it will lock the Democratic Party out of national power forever? Will their stooges on the Supreme Court help them block future Democrats from the White House with more corrupt endorsements of political bribery, gerrymandering, and voter purges?

Or will the beast they’re empowering turn on them, like it did on Fritz Thyssen when he had to flee his homeland to avoid the brutal fate so many of his wealthy peers suffered?

Outlawing actual (as opposed to purely symbolic and impotent) opposition took a few months in Chile when Pinochet took over; it took about two years in Germany; arguably four or five years in Russia. If Trump becomes president in this year’s election, just six months from today, it could happen very quickly. He and the billionaires even have a plan for it, called Project 2025.

It can happen here. And the morbidly rich are not going to save us.

This November’s election will determine the fate and future of what’s left of our democracy, so badly battered by bought-off and corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court and in Congress: this cancer that started with Reagan and was put on steroids by Trump’s racist “birther” claims about Obama in 2008 has now fully metastasized across American society.

The very wealthy can now quietly put their billions into dark-money “donations,” thanks to five corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court. Citizens United lets rightwing billionaires minimize outrage over their practice of nakedly purchasing elections, of carpet-bombing American homes with lie-filled television advertising, and of turning the algorithmic social media screws to fill our nation with hate.

It will take an overwhelming number of us waking up and becoming politically active to stop this authoritarian juggernaut and rescue American democracy.

And we’re going to have to get it done soon, while it’s still legal to write, protest, and vote. Because if Trump is elected, all those rights will quickly vanish.

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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