Casino Capitalism and Election 2016

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

What is it with casinos and the presidency these days? I'm thinking, of course, about the version of casino capitalism being played out in American politics at the moment by two men who made fortunes in the casino business. One is running for president on the Republican ticket as the Billionaire Populist, while the other, a fervent supporter of Israel, in a typical twenty-first-century move of the ultra-wealthy recently added his hometown newspaper to his holdings. He's evidently planning to support his fellow billionaire's presidential campaign with an investment -- and such things always are investments -- that may exceed $100 million. I hardly need mention that their names are Donald Trump and Sheldon Adelson.

And mind you, that may be the least bizarre thing about billionaires and this election. How about, for instance, the Koch brothers, those dark money champs, whom every Republican candidate -- except the one who took the nomination -- seemed to pay homage to in person last year? Now, they find themselves on the sidelines in frustration, their presidential investments having come up as empty as a hole in a doughnut. (What if you could return to the Supreme Court of 2010 and argue before the justices that their future Citizens United decision would not only send a tidal wave of 1% money into American politics but, within half a decade, help loose the strangest, least filtered billionaire on Earth into the ring?)

I'm still only scratching the loony surface of big-money politics in this country. I mean, here we are in our second gilded age, an era so ripe for the 1% (or maybe the .001%) that even the billionaires underestimated their potential power and appeal. Until The Donald came along, they assumed that, like so many puppeteers, they would have to manage things from backstage. Now, we know that, in our unique historical moment, a billionaire can be both puppeteer and puppet, that he no longer needs to take a backseat to anyone. Of course, it took a particular shape-shifting billionaire, whose fortune -- $10 billion? $4.5 billion? $3.72 billion? None of the above? -- has a spectral quality to it, and who for years had turned Americans into abused apprentices, to make that point. Add in this irony, if such a word even applies: the man who made out like a bandit in this era is now leading a movement of white guys who think they lost out to the billionaires, the rest of the 1%, and the political system in those same years (as indeed they did).

When thinking about the future, keep in mind that the 2016 election would be even more of a billionaires' derby had Michael Bloomberg run for president, possibly on a third-party ticket, as at one point he threatened to do. On the other hand, consider what TomDispatch regular Ann Jones has to say in "The Tyranny of Trump" about why the only billionaire in the running may not, in fact, make it to the White House. It's something so basic that the media have ignored it, so essential that even Sheldon Adelson's fortune is unlikely to make a dent in it. Some people out there already know just who Donald Trump is and what kind of a deal he's offering Americans, and they're likely to enter the voting booths in surprising numbers in November with payback on their minds.