Is the US entering the secular equivalent of End Time, even having its Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Certainly, there is greater potential than any time since the turmoil of the Civil Rights, Vietnam, and Watergate years. Among our principal afflictions are accelerated global warming and environmental destruction; the erosion of faith in, and allegiance to, democratic institutions; deeper political polarization; growing economic inequality; major media outlets deliberately disseminating fake news; and, Donald Trump is President.
Though Trump’s presidency is still in its infancy, there are parallels with the character and ascent of Adolf Hitler. He too was underestimated; narcissism, demagoguery and total disregard for truth characterized his nature and strategy for achieving power. Shortly after installation as Chancellor, Hitler used the pretext of a lone-wolf arson attack on the German parliament building, the Reichstag, to rapidly destroy civil liberties and democratic institutions, culminating in totalitarian rule. Those who thought they could use him for their ends, and facilitated his rise, were swiftly sidelined or destroyed.
Trump hasn’t had his Reichstag opportunity yet but has already laid the groundwork for autocracy by denigrating the media, political parties and the court system. Trump, however, is not Hitler. He is a common bigot, but not an ideologue influenced by Social Darwinism. Moreover, Hitler believed German prosperity required the colonization of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He explicitly likened this to the white Americans’ western expansion and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans to create its “internal” colony. Trump seeks no territorial conquest. Nor did he found an organized political movement. He is the beneficiary of wealth-based right-wing political activism.
Who are the other Horsemen of the possible Trumpocalypse? Most notable are David and Charles Koch and Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah. Each member of their respective family’s political duo is an ideological clone of the other so that I will consider them as one person. “Koch” is a mega-billionaire libertarian who believes in no role for government in regulating the economy to offset the damaging consequences of unfettered capitalism. Enormous sums have been spent supporting climate change denial activity and the “astroturf” Tea Party movement, which effectively dominates the Republican Party. There has also been a massive and fruitful investment in state legislative races. Of particularly interest is having a new Constitutional Convention, an entirely plausible goal requiring flipping perhaps no more than a few more state legislatures to GOP control. Judicial “Originalists,” like Clarence Thomas, may soon be deciphering Koch’s “intentions,” not James Madison’s.
Koch, it should be noted, is also a libertarian regarding gay marriage and abortion rights, and opposes bigotry in all its forms. But, despite abhorring Trump’s hate-mongering, once Mike Pence became the nominee for Vice-President, Koch became a supporter. Pence fully embraces the libertarian economic philosophy. That matters more than his religious-based sexism and opposition to abortion and gay rights. The Koch network of think tanks, pressure groups, and voter turnout organizations provided the Trump campaign, transition, and now his presidency with an army of ideologically-vetted operatives and officials.
Robert Mercer is Koch-dark, a hedge-fund billionaire, and devotee of Ayn Rand’s economic and political philosophy. He shares Koch’s total opposition to “government” but differs regarding bigotry. Mercer is a part-owner of Breitbart News, which traffics in white supremacy, misogyny, racism and xenophobia, partly as a vehicle to get political support from the have-nots to the have-it-alls. But he is alleged to maintain that blacks were better off before the Civil Rights movement, so Breitbart might also reflect Mercer’s sentiments. Moreover, like Trump, he appears to believe the Clinton conspiracy theories. His PAC provided the most money for the Trump campaign and his pollster, Patrick Caddell, convinced Trump that he could win over white workers with attacks on the “Establishment” and mainstream media. He and Rebekah were instrumental in bringing Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway into the heart of the Trump campaign and the White House. Rebekah Mercer became a key member of the transition team, recommending Michael Flynn and Jeffrey Sessions for critical posts.
Steve Bannon, once executive chairman of Breitbart, is the Mercer hand-picked Man in the White House. Trump’s most influential policy advisor and chief strategist, Bannon endorses “enlightened capitalism,” free enterprise tempered by Judeo-Christian ethics―-a meaningless abstraction. Perhaps his role model was John D. Rockefeller, the ruthless and pious tycoon who routinely distributed dimes to the less fortunate. However, Bannon’s close ties to Mercer and Trump suggest this aspect of his philosophy is less than skin deep since he has not made any known attempts to convince them to temper their avarice. Moreover, he wishes to destroy the “administrative state,” as do Koch and Mercer, though it provides many benefits to average citizens. Bannon also used Breitbart as a platform for white supremacy and Islamophobia (denying any distinction between ISIS and Muslims in general, though the latter overwhelmingly reject jihadist terrorism). Finally, he wants to keep non-white immigrants out of the US.
Of the Four Horsemen, Trump, being President, is the most powerful but also the wild-card―-the least predictable. He has embraced many, though not all, of the Koch, Mercer, and Bannon policy preferences. But above all, Trump’s craving for adulation and “winning” transcends fidelity to any of them. When combined with a history of changing his views on many issues and people (e.g., abortion, healthcare, the war in Iraq, the Clintons), the pursuit of approbation and victory makes him susceptible to reversing policies dear to his right-wing allies. In the wake of the embarrassing defeat of his health-care “reform,” Trump even spoke about co-operating with Democrats―-to the horror of Paul Ryan and, no doubt, Koch, and Mercer. Interestingly, Bannon, the self-styled champion of workers, did not disagree with Trump, at least openly. Despite being close to Mercer, Bannon knows being Trump’s Rasputin is the greatest role he can achieve and how swiftly, given Trump’s mercurial nature, it can be lost on a whim or a pivot. His removal from the NSC might be a sign his influence is diminishing, at least in foreign policy, but perhaps in general. Trump’s approval ratings continue to tank. Up until now, he has blamed outsiders, but maybe in desperation he is going to do some housecleaning.
The Four Horsemen may yet go their separate ways, and the Trumpocalypse not occur―-especially if the paths Donald Trump chooses further reduce his already diminished popularity. Or perhaps an even wilder card, proof of collusion with Russia during his presidential campaign, will culminate in his personal End Time.