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In Backing Trump, America’s Billionaires Are Digging Their Own Graves

The right-wing uberrich think they’re stopping “communism.” What they’re abetting is an extremism that will one day come for them.

Donald and Melania Trump at the Palm Beach home of billionaire investor John Paulson
Alon Skuy/Getty Images
Melania and Donald Trump at the Palm Beach home of billionaire investor John Paulson, on April 6

I just finished watching the extraordinary Showtime series A Gentleman in Moscow, which takes place in the years and decades immediately after the Russian Revolution of 1917. A wealthy aristocrat is basically imprisoned in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow and has a front-row seat to observe how the well-intentioned revolt against the excesses of the Romanov dynasty turned into a brutal dictatorship, ultimately headed by a sociopathic Joseph Stalin. The banality of evil.

The fear on the right in those days was that Soviet-style Communists were plotting to take over America, confiscate all the wealth from the morbidly rich, and then line them up against a wall and shoot them, as Lenin and his followers had done in Russia. While today there may still be a few actual advocates of Soviet-style communism in the United States, that reality hasn’t stopped as many as a hundred of America’s roughly 800 billionaires from claiming—and probably sincerely believing—that calls for social and economic justice really mean that one day liberals will rise up, come out about their secretly harbored communism, and do to the American rich what Lenin did to the wealthy in Russia in the second decade of the twentieth century.

Their knee-jerk reaction to progressive policies like high income taxes on the rich and strong social safety net policies for poor and working-class people has been to label those efforts as, essentially, early-stage or camel’s-nose-under-the-tent communism. Out of that fear, they fund reactionary right-wing politicians like Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson who promise to end the social safety net and keep their taxes below those of average working people.

Tragically, the result of the policies pushed by these reactionary, radical Republicans has been the opposite of what they say is their goal of stabilizing American society to ensure their own safety. Republican tax cuts have thrown the nation into over $34 trillion of debt, gutted the middle class, and produced a reactionary embrace of classical fascism as a solution to the crises of debt, offshoring jobs, and a lack of social and economic mobility.

Donald Trump is now promising to turn America into a “unified Reich.”

As Les Leopold brilliantly points out, the main result of the 1980s Republican (and, to some extent, Democratic) embrace of neoliberal policies—driven in large part by the billionaire Davos set—has been to destabilize the American working class and drive them into the arms of the racist and neofascist movement that rose up and took over the GOP with the Trump presidency.

In that regard, the billionaires funding the Trump movement, Project 2025, etc., are now working against their own best interest. While Republican tax cuts and deregulation have produced an explosion of wealth at the top, they’ve also produced wealth inequality that’s led to an armed insurrectionist movement that threatens the kind of social and political instability that actually could lead to a civil war and a resulting Lenin-style backlash against the rich.

Robert Reich points out: “813 US billionaires control a record $5.7 trillion in wealth. The bottom 50% of Americans control $3.7 trillion in wealth. When ~800 people control more wealth than half a country’s population, we have a very serious problem.”

In fact, the period from the end of World War II to the 1980s Reagan revolution was one of the most stable—and successful—for American capitalism in our nation’s history. A top income tax bracket ranging from 91 percent to 74 percent that kicked in after a few million a year in today’s dollars, and clear laws against stock and wealth manipulation schemes like stock buybacks and private equity, caused a general and widely shared prosperity.

This year, America saw the highest level of corporate profit in the history of this country, and perhaps in the history of capitalism in developed countries worldwide.

The simple reality is that markets, like traffic, work best when they’re appropriately well-regulated. The idea of a “free market” is as absurd as the idea of “free traffic,” where everybody is welcome to ignore red lights, traffic lanes, and stop signs. It’s a rhetorical device designed to make average Americans accept changes in the rules regulating capitalism that will benefit the profits of the top 1 percent and nobody else.

And it’s killing us.

The European, Asian, and Canadian experience of the past 80 years or so has shown that strong union movements, a healthy social safety net (Medicare for All, free or inexpensive college, support for the deeply poor), and legislatures that answer to voters instead of donors (with strict regulation of money in politics) almost always produce general prosperity and social stability.

It’s why the “socialist” nations of Scandinavia—with the strongest union movements, highest income taxes on the rich, and most all-inclusive social safety nets—consistently rate among the happiest nations in the world. None are considering flipping into the Soviet model that fills the nightmares of so many of America’s right-wing billionaires.

While the rise of authoritarianism in postrevolutionary Russia is usually posited as a warning against communism’s forcible redistribution of wealth, in fact it’s a warning against any sort of authoritarianism. It proves that both the extreme left and the extreme right—Communists and fascists—must embrace violence and terror to impose their will on a nation’s people.

In that regard, America’s billionaires—along with the rest of us—should be every bit as frightened of the avatars of fascism like Trump, Steve Bannon, and Viktor Orbán as they are of the ghosts of the long-dead USSR.