August 23, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
David Koch Is Dead. Good
Evil men don’t deserve silence.
I’m going to say something that sounds terrible, really terrible, just awful, but sometimes the whole truth of a moment, the deep immorality of an era, overcomes social mores and taboos. I’d rather not say this, and I apologize in advance. But:
I’m glad David Koch is dead.
I’m glad he’s dead, because few have done more to pave the way for Donald Trump and the revival of fascist politics in America. I’m glad he’s dead, because few have done more to sabotage liberal democracy and self-government. I’m glad he’s dead, because few have done more to burn the world, leaving our children a devastated planet.
Most of all, I’m glad David Koch is dead because few men have done more to normalize, solemnize, and institutionalize the destructive moral program of greed is good. David Koch and brother Charles Koch have spent billions and billions to shape this country in the belief that life is a zero-sum game in which you win or lose, and any value placed in community, the common good, and in the American public is a sucker’s bet.
I know that I shouldn’t be speaking ill of the dead. It would nicer to keep quiet.
Thanks to David Koch, the Republican Party went from “we’re broke” to “build a wall.” It went from glorifying freedom and individualism to fetishizing blood and soil. The Republican Party, thanks to billionaires like David Koch, went from public policies cloaked in covert racism that covertly sought to kill human beings it did not like, to policies that are overtly racist and overtly seek to kill human beings it does not like.
I know that I shouldn’t be speaking ill of the dead. It would nicer to keep quiet. But that would mean giving David Koch the benefit of the doubt in the aftermath of his timely death. Evil men don’t deserve memorials. They don’t deserve silence either.
As I’ve noted before, the Tea Party movement, as it was called often, was in retrospect a nascent fascist political movement that exploited the rights, privileges, laws and norms of liberal democracy to sabotage our country from the inside, and that set a course for an administration that’s currently jailing children indefinitely while also inspiring Nazi-style “magahats” to murder people deemed unwelcome in America.
The Tea Party was not in fact motivated by the rule of law, limited government and fiscal responsibility. It was motivated by the election of the country’s first African-American president and the social change his rise to power represented to white so-called “conservatives” who refused to recognize the legitimacy of racial minorities.
As Theda Skocpol and her Harvard colleagues wrote in the months after 2010, opposition to Obamacare wasn’t so much opposition to “government-run health care” as much as it was opposition to “‘handouts’ to ‘undeserving’ groups, the definition of which seems heavily influenced by racial and ethnic stereotypes,” they wrote.
Race, or rather white supremacy and later white nationalism, motivated the Tea Party. Whatever libertarian gloss that the Koch Brothers’ billions added to the mix in effect made a nascent fascist political movement more palatable to regular Republicans and the press corps. To the extent that they did not fuel the movement, they certainly enabled it, first with money, tons of money, and second by rationalizing its goals.
But the Koch Brothers did fuel the movement, not just with money, but ideologically. As I said, David and Charles Koch advanced over four decades the idea that life is a zero-sum game in which the strong prey on the weak. This is the dark side of libertarianism. Their investments in Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council, two groups that shaped and reshaped politics during the Obama administration, were the institutional expressions of that eat-or-be-eaten worldview. Donald Trump shares the precise same worldview. Morality, to this president, is a con. Morality is what the weak do to prevent being eaten by the strong.
In Donald Trump, and in the nascent fascist political movement before him, the Koch Brothers’ libertarian focus on the individual, which was already hostile to democracy and defense of the common good, melded with a fascist focus on the in-group. Now, instead of individuals eating or being eaten, as Ayn Rand preferred, whole groups of Americans sought other groups to stomp into oblivion before celebrating in triumph.
To be sure, David Koch denied involvement with a nascent fascist political movement. “I’ve never been to a Tea Party event,” he told New York Magazine in 2010. “No one representing the Tea Party has ever even approached me.” But that’s merely plausible deniability. There is an unbroken ideological chain connecting the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, and the current resurgence of anti-democratic and anti-republican politics.
David Koch’s death won’t change anything. Whatever gladness I feel has limits. But presuming we have a future, his death gives me reason to hope for a better one.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.