The election is months away but figuratively, at least, the billionaires are voting early and often.
Paul Singer and Art Pope, and, of course, the brothers Charles and David Koch are busy punching ballots for the Republicans; George Soros and Tom Steyer, meanwhile, are arranging votes for the Democrats, or at least most of them, since Steyer, an environmental advocate, is focusing of climate change. Their minions are not, however, literally buying votes — the way Gilded Age operatives for George Hearst or Leland Stanford used to do.
That kind of exercise, though arguably more efficient in the “marketplace of ideas,” remains illegal. At least for now. Instead, money is transmuted into “speech.” As long as there is no specified quid pro quo from those elected with their money — and perhaps only electable because of their money — no one has broken the law.
This is modern plutocracy, or at least an attempt at plutocracy. Very rich people are trying to advance their own ideological agendas, control elections, and, through the elections, the republic itself. There is a cynical tendency to think that this is just the same as it ever was. But it is not.
The American polity has been cursed with people wealthy beyond all reason for more than a century and half. What we see now, however, is exceptional in both the amount of money spent and the ideological ambitions of the very rich. This is our polar vortex of excessive wealth, dysfunctional politics, ideological simpletons, and a Supreme Court nearly laughable in its logic and readings of American history. We may have been in bad shape before, but never bad in this particular way.