What connects Trump’s likely arrest with the bank bailouts?

Let's start with multi-billionaire Peter Thiel, and follow the money.

Image Credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images


What connects the two biggest stories now dominating the news — Donald Trump’s likely arrest and the Fed’s bailouts of shaky banks?

Start with multi-billionaire Peter Thiel, and follow the money.

You may recall that in 2016, Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention to make the case for why Trump should be the next president of the United States.

In the midterm elections of 2022, Thiel donated $15 million to the Republican Ohio senatorial primary campaign of JD Vance, who alleged that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s immigration policy meant “more Democrat voters pouring into this country.”

Thiel also donated at least $10 million to the Arizona Republican Senate primary race of Blake Masters, who also claimed Trump won the 2020 election and who  admires Lee Kuan Yew, the authoritarian founder of modern Singapore.

Masters lost. But thanks to Thiel’s munificence, Vance is now in the U.S. Senate.

Thiel and other wealthy self-described “libertarians” want Trump to be re-elected president in 2024. I’ll get to the reason in a moment.

What connects Thiel to the bank bailouts?

Days before Silicon Valley Bank failed, Thiel’s venture firm, Founders Fund, advised clients to pull their deposits out. This contributed to the run on the bank.  

Some $50 million of Thiel’s own money was still stuck in the bank. Then, guess what? Thiel and other rich depositors got bailed out by the Fed.

Charges of hypocrisy have been leveled at Thiel and other wealthy depositors who claim to be libertarians but were rescued by the government.

There was nothing hypocritical about it. Thiel and others like him aren’t really opposed to government, per se. They’re opposed to democracy. They prefer an oligarchy — a government controlled by super-wealthy people like themselves.

Thiel is part of the anti-democracy movement, of which Trump is the informal leader.

Their antipathy to democracy comes from the same fear that the extremely wealthy have always harbored about democracy — that a majority could vote to take away their money. That fear has been heightened by the fact that more and more of the nation’s wealth is going to the top, combined with demographic trends showing the majority of voters becoming less economically secure, more non-white, and politically left.

Thiel and his ilk see in Trump an authoritarian strongman who won’t allow a majority to take away their wealth. In December 2017, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress engineered a giant tax cut for the super-rich and the companies in which they invest. Many believe that a second Trump administration, backed by a Republican Congress, will cut their taxes even further.

They also support the Fed. Like most of the world’s central banks, the Fed is removed from democratic accountability, out of fear that financial markets otherwise won’t trust them to do unpopular things like bailing out banks or controlling inflation by slowing economies and causing millions to lose their jobs. The Fed is run largely by bankers. You might say it’s part of America’s oligarchy.

A few years ago, Thiel wrote that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Presumably he was referring to the freedom of oligarchs like himself to be unconstrained by taxes and regulations. In this narrow sense, he’s correct: Oligarchy is incompatible with democracy. Nor is oligarchy compatible with the freedom of the rest of us.

Thiel and others like him want to return to an era when American oligarchs had freer reign. In that same essay, Thiel wrote:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. 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.

But if “capitalist democracy” has become an oxymoron, it’s not due to excessive public assistance or because women got the right to vote. It’s because billionaire capitalists like Thiel are undermining democracy with giant campaign donations to authoritarian candidates.

I’m old enough to remember a former generation of wealthy Republicans who backed candidates like Barry Goldwater. They called themselves “conservatives” because they wanted to conserve American institutions. But Thiel and his fellow billionaires in the anti-democracy movement don’t want to conserve anything — at least anything that came after the 1920s, including Social Security, civil rights, and even women’s right to vote (except for the Federal Reserve’s bailouts for the rich and its ability to draft average workers into fighting inflation).

The 1920s marked the last gasp of the Gilded Age, when the richest Americans siphoned off so much of the nation’s wealth that the rest of America had to go deep into debt to maintain their standard of living and sustain overall demand for the goods and services the nation produced. When that debt bubble burst in 1929, we got the Great Depression.

It was also the decade when Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler emerged to create the worst threats to freedom and democracy the modern world had ever witnessed.

Read it on Robert Reich’s blog.


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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.