This presidential election may have been driven by populist fever in both parties, but at the end, the campaign has left the nation’s oligarchs in better position than ever. As Bernie Sanders now marches to his own inevitable defeat, leaving the real winners those oligarchs—notably in tech, media, urban real estate and on Wall Street—who are among Hillary Clinton’s most reliable supporters.
With either Ted Cruz, or, more likely, Donald Trump, as the GOP nominee, the emerging post-industrial ruling class will have little to no reason to even consider breaking with the Democrats. It’s already clear that companies such as Facebook consider it their duty to stop Trump, and there is a growing tendency among social media firms, including Twitter, to censor unpopular right-wing views.
Clinton, by outlasting Sanders, has done the oligarchs’ dirty work for them. As Greg Ferenstein, who has been surveying Internet billionaires in the Bay Area, notes, the tech elite—much like media and Wall Street—have no sympathy for Sanders’s social democracy. After all, it’s much harder to become a mega-billionaire if tax rates for the wealthy soar; much better to show your commitment to things like gender equality, gay rights, climate change from the comfort of San Francisco or Manhattan luxury apartments or soaking in the hot tub in Malibu, Boulder, the Hamptons, or Los Altos hills.
Clinton occasionally apes Sanders’s revolutionary rhetoric in decrying Wall Street and inequality, but this is hard to take too seriously. She and her husband, notes The Guardian, take advantage of the same Delaware tax shelters favored by the ultra rich, including Donald Trump.
Clinton angrily denounced the use of tax shelters revealed in the Panama Papers as “outrageous.” Yet the papers revealed that many key supporters of the Clinton Foundation—including Canadian mining magnate Frank Giusta and financier Sandy Weill—have all indulged in the much-dissed practice of hiding money overseas.
For decades, the Clintons have built their family political enterprise on contributions from the global ultra-rich; between their campaigns and the foundations, the couple has raised, according to The Washington Post, a cool $3 billion, at least a small portion of it coming from Donald Trump. The outrageous foundation fundraising, not to mention her famous Wall Street 20-minute-for-$250,000 speeches, should dissuade anyone from believing Clinton stands as a traditional populist.
A look at Clinton’s finances should tell us all we need to know. When Sanders attacked her for her Wall Street backers, she made a point of saying she had gotten more support from the teachers’ unions (who are arguably less heinous). Her campaign has now received more money (barely) from individuals in the securities and investment industry than in unionized teachers; the finance sector has forked over $21 million to the former Secretary the State, making it the largest source of her donations.
And this gap will likely grow as financiers reject Cruz, whose right-wing gold standard views can’t be popular on Wall Street, and Trump, who is totally unpredictable, something big-money people generally do not like. With Jeb Bush out of the race, Clinton has emerged as the clear favorite of the financial moguls, with the exception of outliers like Carl Icahn, who have lined up behind Trump.
Clinton’s biggest individual backers also include a lot of entertainment and media figures. NBC Universal, News Corporation, Turner Broadcasting, and Thomson Reuters are among more than a dozen media organizations that have made charitable contributions to the Clinton Foundation in recent years, the foundation’s records show.
Overall, four of her top 10 supporters in terms of contributions come from entertainment: Haim Saban, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams—while seven of the top 20 come from the world of hedge funds and investment banks. In April she raised a cool $15 million at two parties, one in San Francisco, the other in Los Angeles, hosted by George and Amal Clooney.
Clinton’s support base parallels the very changes in wealth accumulation that I spelled out recently in the Beast. Over the last three decades, an increasing share of billionaires have come from finance, tech and media. Oil, agribusiness and manufacturing may be backing the GOP, but these are all losing their market share of the nation’s billionaires.
Of course many younger people in entertainment have preferred Sanders by a huge margin, but some of their pop heroines—Lena Dunham, Demi Lovato, Katy Petty—have dutifully performed for Clinton, reflecting her stranglehold over the Hollywood establishment.
But the most important players in Clinton’s new gentry come from the tech world. Bill Clinton opened this spigot up in 1992, impressing such longtime Republicans as Hewlett Packard’s John Young and then-Apple President John Sculley enough to get their endorsements.
President Obama has deepened these ties, raising $2.4 million for his 2008 campaign and nearly $3.5 million in his 2012 campaign. Tech companies, notably Google, have enjoyed extraordinary influence under Obama, particularly on crucial regulatory issues on telecommunication.
As in entertainment, many rank and file tech workers prefer Sanders, but Clinton has almost universal support among their bosses. Virtually all the leading tech titans—Google’s Eric Schmidt, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, venture capitalist John Doerr, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, Box CEO Aaron Levie, and Tesla founder Elon Musk and Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff—have embraced Clinton.
What does all this money mean? Rather than act an avatar of change, like Sanders or even the unpredictable Trump, Clinton will likely govern as the emissary of our new economic elite. She seems certain to side, more than even President Obama, with patrons such as Google and Apple. For all her hawkish image, Clinton has not sided with the FBI or many senators in both parties in trying to rein in the tech firms’ reluctance to help in the investigation of the San Bernardino Islamist shooters.
The new oligarchy also does not have to worry much about too much financial scrutiny under a Hillary regime. After all, Bill Clinton pushed financial deregulation as much as any free-market Republican, and it was under him that Wall Street began to get chummier with the progressives. The late-in-the-day reforms on executive pay recently advanced by the Obama administration will likely be subject to some delay or obfuscation. Capital gains rates—arguably among the biggest drivers of inequality and particularly tech fortunes—and tax shelters will likely remain untouched.
Clinton’s progressivism will be strongest on issues around gender, race and sexual orientation—that conveniently don’t threaten the financial interests of oligarchy. Green politics also works fine with many moguls, both in Silicon Valley and Wall Street, as subsidies and incentives for renewable fuels have provided pathways to even greater wealth.
Progressive reforms on immigration—likely imposed by executive order—will further help the tech oligarchs, who increasingly depend on H-1B visa holders, while filling the tap with a reliable supply of cheap service workers. As long as cheap technocoolies are included in reforms, Hillary, who has studiously avoided the H-1B issue, will seek to please both the oligarchs and the minority advocacy groups.
Less well served, one can assume, will be the very middle- and working-class voters who have tended toward both Trump and Sanders. Indeed they will find themselves with little protections against the “gig” economy, notably Uber, which has already gained close ties to the party by hiring top Obama aides, including former campaign manager David Plouffe. Cab drivers and hotel workers who may see their jobs threatened by the “gig” tech firms should not expect as much help from a Clinton administration as they might have gotten from Sanders.
Even worse off will be those who work in energy development. Clinton has already crowed about wiping out coal jobs, perhaps sensing that places like West Virginia, Wyoming, and Montana appear permanently lost to the Democrats.
The confluence of power that underpins Clinton’s campaign should worry Americans of all political persuasions. The merging of the White House with the fund-raising mania of Clintons threatens the integrity of all our institutions. Marrying media and money power should be particularly troubling. As the progressive site Common Dreams asks : “You May Hate Donald Trump. But Do You Want Facebook to Rig the Election Against Him?”
Of course, it is conceivable that Trump or Cruz could still pull an upset, but given their horrific negatives, even worse than Hillary’s, this seems unlikely. Instead next January will likely see a melding of influence, money and power not seen in the past century, as Clinton consolidates both near unanimous support of our emergent ruling class, and the media that they largely control. Rather than a right- or left-wing upheaval, this election will end up less a celebration of populism than the ultimate triumph of oligarchy.
Joel Kotkin is Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of The Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His new book is The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us (Agate:2016).