Rich as Croesus With Skin Like a Rhino: The Creation of the Donald

Why Rupert Murdoch, his network Fox and Sheldon Adelson have all lined up behind the rhino-skinned billionaire, though he hasn’t changed his tune at all.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop, South Bend, Indiana, May 2, 2016.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop, South Bend, Indiana, May 2, 2016.Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP

Let’s start from the end. Our interest in Donald Trump isn’t just because of the vast importance of the United States to the world in general and to its ties with Israel in particular. It’s because the forces that helped him crush the 16 other Republican candidates have and will shape society, the economy and the regime in Israel.

Trump isn’t The Intern, Big Brother or some reality show that will be gone in a few seasons. Trumpism has been simmering for long years and will be around for more long years. There are attempts to simplify the rise of Trump to his unique character or abilities, or to racism, but this is simply a way to avoid looking in the mirror.

Trump is not an isolated phenomenon. His voters are mainstream and he is an important part of the social and economic fabric that America and its offshoots evolved in recent decades. Here are some points for thought:

Rupert MurdochCredit: Bloomberg

Last Tuesday, a few hours after finally giving up, Ted Cruz took off the kid gloves and said some truisms in his spasms of despair. Aside from calling Trump a pathological liar and some other things, Cruz drew attention to the support the billionaire has received from Fox News.

That claim might have jarred some: The network has been locking horns with Trump for some time, peaking in his vulgar attacks on the popular anchor Megyn Kelly early on in the race. But Cruz was right, not only when he said Fox was standing behind Trump, but he named names, too: the network’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, and CEO Roger Ailes, who maintain an iron grip over the channel’s precise, effective programming schedule. Fox and its clever modus operandi, and the clout it’s built up inside the Republican camp, have played a major role in the party’s evolution over the past decade, and markedly in the last six months.

Rich as Croesus with skin like a rhino

When in late 2015, Trump began to gain momentum in his presidential race, Murdoch frowned. Even if Trump’s personal fortune is less than a fraction of that $10 billion he keeps boasting about, clearly he’s an alternative sort of candidate: rich as Croesus with skin like a rhino and 40 years of working with money and real-estate people who bribe politicians perfectly legally – and also, Trump was not only not afraid of the press. He knew how to use it.

Murdoch has almost 50 years’ experience in Britain and Australia, and 20 years in the U.S. in eliminating, or negotiating with, politicians. The eavesdropping scandal five years ago at his U.K. paper News of the World was just one small example of forceful, sometimes illegal, conduct within the News Corp group.

When Rebekah Brooks, News of the World editor, admitted to parliament that her paper had paid cops at Scotland Yard, no particular fuss erupted either in parliament or in the British press. A month later a London editor called it “a conspiracy of silence,” a paralyzing fear that had gripped the institutions of British democracy when facing Murdoch, his papers and mainly, his tabloids, which have a knack for humiliating and destroying politicians. Now he’s become a kingmaker across the ocean too, in the U.S. in general and the Republican party in particular.

Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame described an incident four years ago, in which editors at the Washington Post (then owned by the Graham family) buried a story by Bob Woodward in the inside pages. It was about Murdoch and Fox trying to run General David Petraeus for president, and the story was buried inside for fear of Murdoch in the U.S., Bernstein says.

Trump or bust

A strong, aggressive, rich character like Trump, who doesn’t cringe before the press, wasn’t to Murdoch’s taste, evidently. Anybody reading the Twitter uploads of the man who controls Fox, the Wall Street Journal, the Times, the Sun and the Daily News as well as dozens of other papers and networks couldn’t miss Murdoch’s distaste for Trump and most of the reporters in his group followed his lead, ostensibly for ideological reasons – Trump wasn’t an appropriate candidate, for all the right reasons, not that those were relevant.

We can say that because the more popularity Trump built up and the greater the chances of his victory, the more the criticism from Murdoch and his people ebbed. By March, Murdoch had met with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; by April the Murdoch tabloid New York Post announced its support for Trump in the local primary.

Obviously, Trump was the same Trump – he hadn’t changed his racist or misogynist rhetoric. What changed is that Murdoch realized that this powerful, surprising presidential candidate could become a cruel enemy.

Murdoch is a powerfully influential oligarch by virtue of owning media outlets around the world, but he isn’t the only billionaire kingmaker who suddenly found himself crawling toward Trump. Sheldon Adelson also announced his support for Trump last week.

Adelson said Trump will be good for Israel. But the real reason is that Adelson has no choice: Trump is the boss and Adelson can’t exactly shift gears and support Hillary Clinton. If he wants to be relevant in the political system, he has to line up behind the new boss, even if Trump refuses to kowtow and grovel before the billionaires like most politicians.

Murdoch and Adelson decided to warm up to Trump because they still hope to count, and that he will come to terms with the old power structure and money that controls American politics. Murdoch has vast clout through Fox; Adelson has a checkbook that could help Trump greatly in the next half year.

The reason other billionaires haven’t clambered on board the good ship Trump yet is they figure that if and when he gets to the White House, he’ll be a lot less likely to take their phone calls than any other pol who made it there.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

Much of the conservative elite and donors couldn’t care less about the madness seizing the GOP as long as their political and economic interests are served.

Under the guise of conservative policy, an economic policy was promoted that gradually wiped out the middle class. They spout slogans about religion, abortion, terrorism, small government, freedom and choice and slather the sandwich with dollops of fear of the Middle East, all in order to shore up their political power in Washington – and mainly to distract from the questions of why the median wage hasn’t budged in 30 years, why the U.S. is the only Western country where political bribery is legal, and why the 0.01% has accrued most of the wealth in the last few decades by virtue of the “winner takes all” system.

And who collaborated with the Republican billionaires? The establishment and the Democratic liberal elite, of course. Wiping out the middle class, and selling Congress, the Senate and much of the regulation in the U.S. to the billionaires, moving the power and mainly the prestige to Wall Street is a project led by the Republicans, but the Democrats leaped on board with alacrity.

Hillary and Bill Clinton raised some $3 billion for their charities from oligarchs, billionaires and interest groups that want a friendly face in Washington, and en route, took $153 million from banks for “lectures.” Barack Obama came to the White House with slogans about fighting the lobbyists and interest groups; he leaves behind an America even more concentrated, rotten and with politics more awash in money than before.

The 0.1%, from high-tech liberals to conservative oil tycoons to Wall Street hedge fund managers, partied like never before in the last 20 years. They feel the plight of American families that can’t handle a bad surprise as small as a few hundred dollars is natural and inevitable – somebody has to be poor! Inequality isn’t a problem because it’s all China’s fault. There have always been slaves and today the slaves have iPhones. That is how the world works. When the odd spasm of conscience infringes, they mutter about the price of globalization, the need to “improve education” and to increase philanthropy.

And now they’re about to be punished. They may have blocked Bernie Sanders from achieving pole position in the Democratic party, barely, but now they’ll have to take their dose of Trump.

Even if Trump isn’t elected, he’s lodged fast in their craw, because he not only brought the GOP to its knees, he’s done something far more important and effective: He has exposed the fabric of the party, its structure. At its base, tens of millions of Americans who have been neglected for decades and subjected to incitement and led to nationalism, religion and racism; on the top is a small group, some of it cynical, which has shown very little interest in the party’s writhing, as long as they get their tax breaks and perks.

The Democratic establishment can’t just move on, look ahead and ignore the thing that is Trump, even if Clinton beats him. That is because Trump and Sanders exposed the face of the Democratic establishment. The panic gripping the liberal donors as Sanders arose and didn’t take their money or grovel before them, but relied on his integrity and authenticity, was as great as the horror caused to the Republican donors by Trump.

Trump and Sanders are opposites in many ways, but their phenomenal success against all odds, including the distaste of the press and establishment, are the peak of a process going on for a decade, two, maybe more, in which the American elites betrayed the American people. Some did so cynically; some began to take the corruption of America for granted.

Not only did Trump and Sanders take the American elites by utter surprise; most are still in denial about America – the inequality, the suffering, the poverty, the fear and the insecurity felt by perhaps half the country seems natural to them, and sustainable. Just as discrimination against blacks was perceived 70 years ago; or slavery 150 years ago.

It would be nice to think that Trump will lead to change in America, and indeed, the political and economic discourse has been changing rapidly. Talk of the corruption has begun. And maybe this will be a turning point. Only history will tell – and history has usually been cruel.

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