Black Lives Matter and the Libertarian Far-right
Followers of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains might wonder whether racist violence by police and the broadening Black Lives Matter movement are linked to the Koch network and the damage it has done over the decades to progressive initiatives in American society. Or, when it comes to America’s problems with racial justice, are the Kochs off the hook?
After all, no one is claiming that Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer under whose knee George Floyd expired, had been schooled at the Mercatus Center at George Mason U., or trained at the Cato Institute, or subsidized by Koch money. And racial violence has existed long before the days of James Buchanan and the Koch brothers, and it’s possible—even likely—that Chauvin and many others who keep Black folks down have never heard of Charles and David Koch.
But even if today’s turmoil isn’t orchestrated by Koch operatives, it’s also true that the political and economic positions of the radical far-right and the power of the Koch billions to weaponize them contribute substantially to America’s racial pain.
First, whenever the radical right succeeds in “shrinking Big Government” to the benefit of those at the top of the economic ladder, there’s a ballooning of pain at the bottom. To the Kochs, our country went off the tracks with FDR’s New Deal and only got worse with programs like LBJ’s Great Society. Today’s Movement Conservatives, with their ever-expanding political power in state houses and in Washington, are undoing social safety-net programs and blocking anything that smacks of the redistribution of wealth. When conservatives assert that “Big Government” puts tax money to waste, they mean it’s being wasted on the poor. Think public welfare. Think health care. Think subsidized housing. Think education.
It’s not hard to connect the dots from the Koch network to the intransigent political far right—think Mitch McConnell and Republican party victories—and from there to America’s
New Bad Deal and our Great Mean Society.
And who is most negatively affected by these changes? Who feels the pain? The urban poor, especially urban minorities.
There’s a second way that the rise of the libertarian far-right has hurt these same communities—the suppression of voting rights. Koch-led libertarians have long understood that no majority of voters in a fair democracy would ever support their vision of a good society, a society whose untaxed super-rich live in luxurious “liberty” while the multitudes must sink or swim on their own. Why would people at the bottom of the social ladder vote for policies that prevent them from ever rising up?
That said, how has the far-right managed so well? MacLean didn’t title her book Democracy in Chains for nothing. Among the numerous ways that the Koch machine (to coin a phrase) has subverted the system has been to disenfranchise Black voters. When states impose voter ID laws or implement untimely purges of the voting rolls or shut down or relocate polling places—what group is most affected? Naturally, the people with the least clout, the people with the scantest resources.
Could the far-right’s anti-“Big Government” political philosophy (no social spending) and its suppression of the Black vote in order to gain and stay in power combine to stoke resentment and rage within the minority community?
But that’s not the end of it. The far right for decades has won elections by provoking racial division directly. When Nixon in an earlier era of urban riots campaigned as a Law and Order candidate, when Ronald Reagan promised to take down Welfare Queens, when Trump railed against Mexicans, we heard the racist dog whistles stoking hatred to divide the electorate. It’s never been in the interests of the ruling elite for white workers to unite in common cause with Blacks and other minorities. Better to their way of thinking is to promote the image of dangerous Willie Hortons (sinking Dukakis’s 1988 campaign against George Bush). Better to focus not on peaceful demonstrators but on lawless black rioters, with Antifa thrown in (Trump today). Racism isn’t necessarily bad for business if the business is keeping America safe for autocrats.
Where does all this leave the George Floyds of America? The sad fact is that even without the Kochs and the far-right libertarians, there still would be racists and structural racism, sadists and bullies. There would still be forces using blunt power to oppose social justice movements. Undoing the Koch network will not cleanse police departments of every Derek Chauvin. But even so, even so, if there’s a powder keg of rage exploding in our cities’ poor neighborhoods, it was stockpiled in part by policies traceable to the Kochs and the rest of the far-right. And halting the Kochs’ right-wing agenda and undoing the harm it has caused will carry us a long way toward establishing social justice—and saving our democracy.