Supreme Court: A superstore for the super-rich?

This is America, after all, where rich white men can buy whatever they want, including members of Congress and Supreme Court justices.

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Image Credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

I think this will end up in the Supreme Court…

                    ~Donald Trump, Sept. 23, 2020 

Charles Koch has activated his political network to support Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, and to tip the scales on her nomination battle in the U.S. Senate.

        ~Christopher Leonard, New York Times, Oct. 12, 2020

Donald Trump is on record saying the Supreme Court will decide who wins the election. That is clearly the reason why he and Mitch McConnell are so desperate to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court before November 3rd. But what explains why a Kansas multibillionaire is pulling out all the stops in an effort to “tip the scales” in Trump’s favor?

The mass media narrative is all about Amy Coney Barrett’s personal beliefs rooted in a devout Roman Catholic moral code. In fact, the real drama being played out behind the scenes in Washington is about something else, something much larger than Roe v. Wade or LGBTQ rights.

It’s really about the swamp Washington has become. The corruption. The mixing of money and politics in a country where a very few superrich citizens—the top 1%—enjoy more wealth than the bottom 50% combined. Where the rich get richer as the wealth gap widens, the middle-class get mired in debt, and the poor get evicted.

To be clear, it’s not about draining the swamp—just the opposite. It’s about having a Congress that can be bought-and-paid-for in perpetuity. Which, in turn, means nailing down a Supreme Court that will never overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

Trump-loving Republicans are taking risks and spending a lot of political capital to get Amy Coney Barrett confirmed at warp speed. Twenty-first century robber barons like Charles Koch are backing this election-defeating effort with financial capital. 

They have to get it done fast, you see. Before the voters have a chance to play the spoiler.   

Like The Trump Organization, Koch Industries, Inc., based in Wichita, Kansas, is a family owned business. With 130,000 employees and a total annual revenue of $110 billion in 2018, it’s the second largest private company in America, according to Forbes magazine. (Look for the Trump name on the Forbes list of the 228 largest private U.S. companies, okay? Good luck finding it.)

Charles Koch, the president of the Koch business empire, is a modern-day mogul with a real time net worth of $44.9 billion in 2020. “The diversified company [he controls] has some $110 billion in revenues from businesses including pipelines, chemicals Dixie cups, and Stainmaster carpet.” Forbes ranks him in the top 20 richest billionaires in the world (Charles is #18 on the list, tied with his deceased brother’s wife, Julia, for a combined net worth of $89.8 billion.)

Amy Coney Barrett is a social conservative, a devout, “pro-life” Roman Catholic. If confirmed, she will replace the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“RBG”) on the U.S. Supreme Court. That explains why the pro-life lobby, the National Christian Chartable Foundation, Fidelity Charitable, National Right to Life Committee, and various other anti-abortion groups have pumped millions of dollars into the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade for years.

But what explains why Charles Koch decided to jump on the right-to-life bandwagon with bags of money only a few weeks before a presidential election? Why would a Kansas billionaire suddenly shift into full political mobilization mode at this fraught moment in time?

The key, I believe, can be found in the current meaning of the word conservative, which on hot-button policy issues like tax reform and deregulation is virtually indistinguishable from libertarianism. “Conservative” in America has become a code word for two things: (1) the kind of tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy (who don’t need help from the government) and (2) opposition to “socialism” (help for those who do).

This is America, after all, where rich white men can buy whatever they want, including members of Congress and Supreme Court justices.

Like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, Charles Koch is obsessed with replacing RBG before the November 3 election. 

For anyone who has read Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas that might not be surprising. Many Kansans are strenuously opposed to abortion. Drive across western Kansas in I-70 and big anti-abortion billboards attest to this fact.

But what about Charles Koch? Is he motivated by moral or religious convictions? Or is there a mercenary motive?

The tax code and regulatory agencies have always been major targets of Koch lobbying efforts. The Koch brothers* have been in the vanguard of multibillionaires using great wealth to skew policy and screw the public for past four or five decades. It is no exaggeration to say that the name “Koch” is synonymous with special-interest politics in America. 

Fred Koch, the father, was a founding member of the extreme right-wing John Birch Society in 1958. As young adults, the two brothers, Charles and David, both drank the Kool-Aid but Charles broke with the Birchers over the Vietnam War. Charles  did not, however, change his views on the evils of government intervention in the private sector or the “welfare state” or   “compulsory taxation”. David, the younger of the two, was content to follow big brother’s lead. 

The Koch brothers saw fit to reinvent themselves as born-again libertarians dedicated to a free market philosophy, all the while spending vast sums to propagate right-wing ideas and buy the kind of political influence that would benefit them financially.

Ripping a page out of Machiavelli’s playbook, they would use libertarianism to mask the motive behind the money, namely to enrich themselves at the expense of society, the greater good, and those without a voice—or, if Trumpers prevail, a vote. 

Why is Charles Koch so obsessed? How will getting Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court benefit him? What exactly does he want?

According to Christopher Leonard, author of Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, “Since the early 1970s, Mr. Koch has sought to dismantle most federal regulatory institutions, and the federal courts have been central to that battle.” Here in Charles Koch’s own words is a list of the kinds of state interference he abhors: 

confiscatory taxation, wage and price controls, commodity allocations programs, trade barriers, restrictions on foreign investments, so-called equal opportunity requirements, safety and health regulations, land use controls, licensing laws, outright government ownership of businesses and industries.

Nor was this list exhaustive. Basically, the Koch brothers do not want the government to engage in any activity that regulates business or redistribute wealth. Freedom is everything; equality in nothing. 

In short, the free market, like gravity, is not just a good idea—it’s the law. And then came FDR and the New Deal. The beginning of the end of a glorious time in America. 

The Gilded Age. Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller. In the magic Kingdom of Koch, the “robber barons” were heroes, not villains. They made America great. That’s when the business of America was business. And rich white men ruled the land. 

The good old days. Then FDR, the New Deal, and the Democrats ruined everything. 

Don’t believe it? Just ask a Koch. In a 2016 interview with Megyn Kelly, Charles disingenuously claimed, “I’ve never been that fond of politics and only got dragged into it recently kicking and screaming.”

In point of fact, Charles Koch “began planning his ambitious remaking of American politics 40 years ago, transitioning from libertarian ideologue to conservative power broker.” His success as a behind-the-scenes power broker is well-recognized inside the beltway, but not so much in the mainstream media. Consequently, the American people are unaware of how a single super rich family has worked to stop or stunt progressive pubic policies for half a century.

A devout Roman Catholic, there is no question that Amy Coney Barrett is anti-abortion (aka, “pro-life”) on religious grounds. She also favors traditional marriage roles and views  gay rights unsympathetically.  

Judge Barrett has been shaped by an especially insular religious community, the People of Praise, which has about 1,650 adult members, including her parents, and draws on the ecstatic traditions of charismatic Christianity, like speaking in tongues.

Where she stands—or how she would rule—on many other  controversial issues from gun control to immigration is open to question. She would likely vote with the conservative majority to strike down to the Affordable Care Act, for example. And as federal appeals court judge she has shown little enthusiasm for environmental or consumer protections, workers’ rights, or regulations aimed at the business practices of multinational corporations and financial institutions. 

The reason Charles Koch wants another conservative on the Supreme Court has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade. That is not why replacing the liberal RBG—Ruth Bader Ginsburg—with a justice who clerked for Antonin Scalia is this multibillionaire’s dream-come-true.

To repeat: It’s not about abortion. It’s not because Amy Coney Barrett once signed an ad calling the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion “infamous”. (Libertarians are, at best, conflicted over the issue of abortion.)

 It’s not about social policy, full stop. So what is it? 

It’s about legalizing corporate greed. About creating a government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires. About a Supreme Court that will treat Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as a “super-precedent”—and never strike down a campaign-finance law that turns elections into billion-dollar bidding wars, and the U.S. Congress into a supermarket for the superrich.

*David Koch died 2019 in Southampton, New York, at the age of 79.

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