Updated: Apr 27, 2020
There is no Deep State in America... but there is a Shadow State.
Neoliberalism and dark money have cast a shadow that's become too large to see.
The Blind Men and the Elephant
There is a well-known parable about six blind men who encountered an elephant. Each touched a specific part of the great beast, and each came away with very different—and limited-- view of what the elephant was like. The man who touched its side asserted that the elephant was like a wall. The man who felt the tusk claimed the elephant was like a giant spear. After feeling its trunk the third man concluded the elephant was like a giant snake. The men who felt the elephant’s tail, ear and leg concluded, respectively, that the elephant was like a rope, a fan and a massive tree trunk.
The story is typically used to illustrate human limitations in defining that which is beyond our comprehension. We think we have a clear understanding, but our limited perspective doesn’t allow us to see the complete picture. The overall truth and reality of the thing is too big to grasp.
A Secret Plan
There were some big challenges to selling the concept of free market fundamentalism to the Republican base. The first was that the tenets of neoliberalism are based on a theoretical concept, one that does not exist in the real world. The second challenge was that free market fundamentalism is designed to eliminate basically all government programs and institutions, and destroy not only the social safety net, but even communal assets such as roads, bridges, parks, beaches and public schools. This is such an extreme ideology that if properly understood its radical views would be unacceptable to Americans-- of any political persuasion. Or at least the 99.9999% of us who would suffer as a result of such draconian policies.
The neoliberals—and more specifically their extremely wealthy backers—knew that such extreme objectives would be non-starters if they were shared publicly in an honest, unvarnished fashion. If they wanted to succeed they knew from the very beginning that it would be necessary to keep their actual discussions and plans secret. They would also need to create a way to disseminate and promote their ideas in the public square through concentrated misinformation campaigns.
EuroTank refinery, built for the Nazis by Winkler-Koch. (U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey)
A Steady Move to the Far-Right
One of the first to grasp this reality, and to express interest in developing a long-term framework for pushing these concepts onto an unsuspecting public, was billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. His father, Fred Koch, had made his fortune building fossil fuel refineries for both Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, but after World War II Fred Koch was a founding member of the John Birch Society, a group of white male business leaders who were convinced that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower had led a secret Communist plot against America. They published a series of radical pamphlets during the 1960’s warning America of the threat of “collectivism”, and formed local chapters in cities across the country.
Like the neoliberals, the John Birchers were considered fringe-dwellers throughout their first decade or two of existence—but Charles Koch saw the possibility of fusing both ideologies into a long-term plan for changing American democracy.
A Dark Money Coup
Charles Koch was a founder of the Cato Institute, the first conservative think-tank established to espouse neoliberal values. And he was instrumental in the expansion of a sleepy Virginia commuter college called George Mason University into a hub of neoliberal economic and political science. Today this strain of conservatism is more commonly referred to as “libertarianism” and is the driving ideology for nearly all of America’s conservative think-tanks and policy organizations. (It can’t really be considered pure libertarianism, however, because although these entities argue for libertarian economics nearly all of them advocate for restrictive social policy.)
Their total dominance of Republican politics wasn't complete until 2010, but Koch and his donor network have spent the last sixty years funding and overseeing a vast network of organizations and entities all built to espouse the basic tenets of free market fundamentalism, anti-regulation (particularly as it relates to limiting pollution by corporations like Koch Industries) and in the slashing of tax rates for corporations and the ultra-wealthy.
The Republican Party still pays lip-service to its founding principles, but the entire conservative infrastructure has been torn down and replaced through the stealth efforts of these dark money groups.
A Policy Combine
Since most dark money flows out of billionaire family foundations, or comes in the form of corporate gifts, the infrastructure is composed primarily of charities and non-profits. Even the ideological spine of the movement-- a national group of highly-coordinated think-tanks called the State Policy Network-- is composed of 501(c)3 charities. This means that they have the same tax status as churches and charitable organizations, and therefore pay no taxes and offer generous tax incentives to wealthy donors. Even though they are highly partisan they must pretend not to be, and so all of them call themselves non-partisan organizations focused strictly on public policy.
The size and scope of this dark money Policy Combine is so vast that it's nearly impossible to grasp. Much like the blind men with the elephant the average American voter might see one gigantic section of it (like think-tanks for instance) and think they ‘get’ the big picture. But one can spend weeks attempting to catalog the entirety of the Policy Combine without seeing it all, or grasping the full extent of its power.
Instead of the legs, trunk, tusks or tail of the elephant, the component parts of the Policy Combine include think-tanks, private foundations, grass-roots organizations, media outlets and myriad professional organizations like the Federalist Society, whose membership includes virtually every judicial pick of the Trump administration.
A New Academic Elite
Even more significant, they’ve been able to legitimize the bogus concepts of free market fundamentalism and supply-side economics by infiltrating the law schools and economics departments of universities all over the country, funding department chairs and granting scholarships to young students who will work to further their objectives.
This includes institutions like George Mason, where Charles Koch’s influence is explicit and unmistakable, but also department chairs and graduate fellowships at prestigious universities like Berkeley, Clemson, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Georgetown, New York University, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Tufts, Wisconsin, UCLA, the University of Chicago and many, many more.
An Atlanta news outlet's investigative report on ALEC. Watch this later.
A Shadow Government
The Policy Combine funds Republican political campaigns and owns their Super PACS. As a result the billionaire donor network has an exceptional degree of control over who runs in elections-- or at least, who wins. They fund and direct the actions of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and host junkets where corporate lawyers sit down with Republican lawmakers to draw up and vote on legislation, which is then marched into the U.S. Capitol, and into State Houses across the country and voted into law along partisan lines.
Combining our two metaphors—the trojan horse and the elephant— gives us our Trojan Elephant, which is the perfect symbol of the immense, secretive and powerful cabal that has taken over the Grand Old Party. Republican politicians call for individual freedom and less government, but the billionaire oligarchs who’ve stuffed the Trojan Elephant with billions of dollars’ in dark money are functioning as an unelected shadow government. Their ideology is inflexible, and their control extends from the halls of Congress all the way to school boards and municipal governments across the country.
It is much, much bigger-- and much, much worse-- than you think.
We are ALL being conned. And we’re about to be fleeced not only of all we own… but of America, itself.
To see the 10 Facets of this War on Democracy click here.
To read Part 1 of The Trojan Elephant, click here.