Yes, Donald Trump’s cabinet will end up being the richest in modern history—worth around $4.5 billion at conservative estimates but many multi-billions more if you include the family wealth of his appointments and of course Trump himself. Any way you count it, the wealth, corporate influence, and potential conflicts of interest concentrated in this cabinet transcends that of any administration in recent memory.
Wealth in and of itself is only part of a larger problem. It is the connection of wealth to power that can transform a democracy into a totalitarian state. The rich and well-connected corporate elites have long played a dominant role in the executive branch and virtually every other political institution since their inceptions. Before Trump came along, three of the public’s most well-known presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt, were also the nation’s top three wealthiest presidents with a combined wealth at their peak of $862 million adjusted for inflation.
Trump’s faux-populist campaign message to "drain the swamp" failed to mention his plan to replace it with a cesspool of corporatists facilitating the corporate takeover of governmental institutions. His cabinet is among the most corporate in U.S. history with one-third of appointments going to executives with no government or military experience. Only President McKinley, who took office during the Gilded Age in 1897, appointed proportionally more corporatists.
The Gilded Age marked the highpoint of inequality, both economically and socially, in the U.S. It took the struggles of the abolitionists, suffragists, populist agrarians, and workers combined to force equality into the law and eventually move Franklin Roosevelt into the New Deal and the basis for Johnson’s Great Society. Over the years, policy changes and laws to unravel the New Deal, and everything flowing from it, were sought and eventually won, in bits and pieces, by and until the descendants and disciples of the Robber Barons and so-called "heirs apparent" to our nation’s wealth won Ayn Rand’s vision of a neo-fascist society. And, then Donald Trump was elected.
Journalist Naomi Klein’s assertion that Trump’s election is a "corporate coup d’état" is frightening, mostly because history suggests she's right. Klein’s explanation of events reads like a political thriller where the most powerful corporations, which have undoubtedly always had outsized influence in American politics, have now effectively succeeded in killing off the middlemen they once had to bribe to influence or curry favors, and inserted themselves into the top positions in government itself. Klein is unfortunately describing the logical end stages of capitalism, not a fictional plot.
Is Trump’s cabinet a closet full of fascists? FDR’s second term Vice President Henry Wallace spoke to the rise of fascism in the U.S. in an editorial published by the New York Times at the height of WWII. It is hard to accept that fascists have been in seats of power in the U.S. for a very long time, planting seeds, incubating division, and harvesting wealth from the People’s labor. How does this revelation help us understand today’s modern fascism and its roots in the technological age?
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For insights on these questions and others, join a conversation on Monday, February 20, with Move to Amend leadership, as we host a conference call discussion, Emergent Fascism In The U.S.: Historical And Current Implications For Social Justice Organizing.
In the words of Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, Move to Amend's National Director:
Fascism is corporate economic power merged with the political power of the State. The United States has been creeping in this direction for decades, but now it would appear that our government is unabashedly there, and in the shadows about it no longer. It is critical we figure out how to adjust our movement strategies to address the current situation and push full force to make real the promise of genuine democracy and rule by The People that we have yet to attain as a country.
Will the end result of the experiment in American democracy turn out to be a totalitarian, authoritarian state—modern fascism? Or will We the People act on the sacred words in the Declaration of Independence and perfect an authentic, participatory form of American democracy, where the human rights of all human beings—and only human beings—are protected in a government of, by, and for the people?
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Join the Campaign to Legalize Democracy; please register for the conference call here.