Trump Tulsa Rally

David Brooks is Wrong

Jonathan Taplin


Brooks has a column this morning that is the classic conservative “whataboutism”. The column is called “The Coronavirus and America’s Humiliation” and after laying out how we screwed up, Brooks notes, “Sure, this was a Republican failure, but it was also a collective failure, and it follows a few decades of collective failures.” Brooks continues,

What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”

Where Brooks is deeply wrong is that this is essentially a Republican failure, not a collective failure. When Dan Patrick, the Republican Lieutenant Governor of Texas rails against wearing masks and says he’s not listening to Dr. Fauci, it is a Republican failure.

The Republican party once was the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, deeply embracing the principle of democracy. But the Republican party of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell doesn’t believe in democracy. It believes in oligarchy. Amidst all the liberal schadenfreude over Trump’s disastrous Tulsa rally we must remember that Trump is just a symptom of the virus that has infected the Republican Party. That virus is called libertarianism and it has been growing inside the Republican organism since Ronald Reagan’s election. Trump represents this bitter end of an ideology that desperately needs to be reformed, but he and his financial and media (Thiel, Mercer, Murdoch) supporters are hoping to keep the low tax , no regulation game going for a few more years of winner takes all capitalism. that looks like this.

The philosophical basis of the libertarian evolution of the Republican Party can be traced to the works of Ayn Rand. Once regarded in the 1950’s as a political crackpot, the selfish philosophy of Rand has recently been revived by by billions spent by the Koch and Mercer families. I know a bit about this subject because I wrote a book (published in early 2017) called Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, which features the modern heirs to Rand:Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg.

Ultimately Rand had an almost Nietzschean will-to-power philosophy that she handed down to followers like Trump. It plays out perfectly in these line from The Fountainhead, where Rand’s architect hero Howard Roark, railing against the stupidity of “the crowd”, says he will ignore them.

“Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”
“My dear fellow, who will let you?”

“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

The foundational operating principle of the Republican Party since 2008 is “Who will stop me?” That philosophy informed Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider Merrit Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. It informs Trump’s willingness to fire anyone who opposes his autocratic rule. Trump has taught his children Rand’s core principle, “Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life.” Ivanka said many years ago that her favorite book was Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and she had modeled herself on its capitalist heroine, Dagny Taggart. Trump himself has said that Rand’s hero Howard Roark was a role model.

At the core of the “who’s going to stop me” philosophy is the profound distaste for democracy on the part of the plutocrats. In a speech to the Koch Brothers Cato Institute, Peter Thiel said two things of real note.

I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.

Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

William Kristol recently tweeted the reality of the coming election

You look at the polls and think “he can’t win.” But Trump’s path to victory doesn’t depend on persuading Americans. It depends on voter suppression, mass disinformation, foreign interference, and unabashed use of executive branch power to shape events, and perceptions, this fall.

If you don’t believe in democracy then you need allies to supress the vote and distribute mass disinformation. On the voter suppression side, Republicans are working in every state to stop mail in balloting and reduce the number of polling places in Democratic districts so voter need to wait in line for up to 12 hours to cast their ballot. On the mass disinformation side, Trump is working with Thiel and Zuckerberg to make Facebook the instument of his propaganda campaign.

The New York Times’ Ben Smith describes a secret dinner between Trump, Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg last November, in which an “accommodation” was reached between Trump and Facebook.

Mr. Zuckerberg needs, and appears to be getting, a pass both on angry tweets from the president and the serious threats of lawsuits and regulation that face other big tech companies. Mr. Trump needs access to Facebook’s advertising platform and its viral power. Both men are getting what they want, and it’s fair to wonder whether this is a mere alignment of interests or something more.

Trump and Thiel

The reason Trump is firing all the Inspector Generals is that he sees the Pandemic stimulus program as one big grift. All the Republican K Street con artists, schooled by Rand acolyte Paul Ryan, feeding at the once in a century trough, asking “who is going to stop me.” And by bullying the Federal Reserve into pushing up stock prices, Trump keeps the game going for the plutocrats. Just remember who actually benefits from the stock market. The wealthiest 10% of Americans own 84% of stocks. Half of American families don’t have a cent invested in the stock market, and that includes 401Ks and other retirement savings.

And of course the ultimate irony as James Carville recently pointed out, Donald Trump may be the ultimate “mark” for the grifters.

Look what his campaign is doing. They’re a pack of grifters. His campaign manager’s got two condos, a Ferrari, a yacht, a Range Rover and they’re all just fleecing the campaign. This is all about making money and they’re going in there and giving him fake polls.

This is why the Tulsa rally was so embarrassing. Here they are paying Parscale millions of dollars and he can’t even get an arena more than 1/3 filled in the center of Trump country.

For years the Chicago School economists to whom the Koch brothers and other libertarians looked for inspiration, had pondered the dilemma that the majority had rejected their libertarian ideas. University of Chicago economist George Stigler suggested that what was needed was “the restriction of the franchise to property owners, educated classes and employed persons.” In other words, a return to the 19th century. Let’s be clear. Trump and the Republicans are not interested in Democracy. They just want the spoils of power.



Jonathan Taplin

Director Emeritus, USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. Producer/Author, “Mean Streets”, “Move Fast & Break Things”. New book, “The Magic Years”, out 3/21.