Poor Paul Ryan, caught between a rock and a hard place. His caucus divided between the belligerent and the merely unreasonable, Ryan’s very tenure as speaker of the House is threatened. Even though he promised to step down in January, there are maneuverings among his colleagues to oust him before then.
Ryan’s political career is largely the creation of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who have built the political infrastructure on which most Republicans in Congress now depend when seeking election. However, with the tax bill now passed and the deregulatory regime well under way in the executive branch, Ryan may have served out his usefulness to the Kochs.
Ever concerned about his reputation, Ryan—unlike Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—likes to occasionally serve up the pretense of judging a cause on its merits. So when the far-right Republican Freedom Caucus tanked a vote on the Farm Bill over the demand for a more draconian immigration policy, Ryan found that despite all the things he’s done to please President Donald J. Trump, it wasn’t enough for those far-right guardians of the patriarchy.
There’s just so little appreciation for Ryan’s unfailing support of Representative Devin Nunes’s attempts to undermine the special counsel investigation of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and any contact the Trump campaign may have had with figures connected to Russia’s meddling. Ryan even backed up Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, in Nunes’s recent demand to know more about an FBI informant who was dispatched to talk with several campaign members in the bureau’s attempt to understand possible contacts between campaign figures and Russian agents. Yesterday, this demand led Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to agree to disclose such information to Nunes and other House Republicans, despite Nunes’s proven bias against the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The kind of information demanded by Nunes is customarily withheld from members of Congress outside of a specially appointed body known as the “gang of eight,” according to Adam Schiff the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. But Nunes has threatened to impeach Rosenstein if he didn’t get what he wanted.
Not to be outdone, the Freedom Caucus drew up a draft of articles of impeachment against Rosenstein. However far Ryan goes down Trump’s authoritarian road, it’s never quite enough for that crowd. And so, Ryan may be dumped in favor of Trump pal Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader from California.
For Trump, the presidency is not only about power and “toughness” and respect (for him, of course). It’s also part of his brand, sold to foreign diplomats and domestic suck-ups alike at the Trump International Hotel, to would-be investors in properties belonging to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Chinese consumers of his daughter’s fashion brands, the eponymous Ivanka Trump lines. And don’t forget members of and visitors to his golf clubs. There’s hush money and hacked emails and oligarch pals and all manner of stuff emitting noxious odors. The preceding list likely barely scratches the surface. But without the Koch brothers, who virtually own the majority in the House, Trump could not remain in power. Despite their confession of the libertarian faith, the Kochs have thrown in with a tainted authoritarian because it’s working for them.
It’s won them a tax bill that starves government and issues a windfall to the wealthy. It’s won them the administration’s policy of removing two regulations for every new one that’s implemented. (The brothers’ conglomerate, Koch Industries, is a famous polluter.) It’s won them a promise to open up more, even sacred, public lands for mineral and fossil fuel extraction.
We’ll probably never know the scope of the sprawl of the Koch network of interlocking nonprofit organizations, thanks to the unleashing of dark money in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision—you know, the “money is speech” case that allows nonprofit groups to conceal the names of their donors. That dark money is pretty much paying for the perpetuation of Donald Trump’s corruption of the presidency and the U.S. Constitution. Because if the Kochs wanted Trump gone, they could put a bug in a few congressional ears about articles of impeachment. Yet they don’t. They may even feed their youthful ward, Paul Ryan, to the Trumpian beast that Congress has become.
During the presidential campaign, the Koch brothers made a big show of turning up their noses at the coarse, pussy-grabbing quisling from Queens, with David Koch even sitting out the 2016 Republican National Convention. (In 2012, he served as a Romney delegate.) But on election night 2016, Koch turned up at the victory party in Trump Tower.
In the end, it seems, there is no real division between the authoritarian and the neo-libertarians. Stronger than those differences is their mutual commitment to one unifying principle: greed.
It is unlikely that the United States can find its way back from the corruption epitomized by the Trump administration without addressing the corrosive effect of the dark money unleashed by the Supreme Court.
In the midterm congressional elections, Democrats would be wise to shine a light on the corruption represented by Trump and his congressional supporters. Should they win, it’s time to revive legislation that would turn off the dark-money spigot.
The very life of the Constitution may depend on it.