The excellent reporting routinely published in the New Yorker has the simultaneously invigorating and depressing impact of adding to my pantheon of political villains. Latest addition: Robert Mercer, co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, among the most profitable hedge funds in the country, and his daughter Rebekah. Apparently, we have these people and their wealth to thank for putting the current president and two of his key advisors — Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway — in the positions of power they currently occupy.
Jane Mayer, one of the New Yorker’s best veteran reporters, last year published Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. She continues her mission of exposing the hidden influence of wealthy right-wing political ideologues with “Trump’s Money Man,” her long article on Mercer, whom I — and I suspect you — have never heard of. With a doggedness similar to that with which Rachel Maddow is exposing the Trump administration’s financial ties to Putin and his Russian cronies, Mayer connects the dots between Patrick Caddell, the former Democratic pollster, Citizens United, Breitbart News, the Council for National Policy, the Koch Brothers, the Club for Growth, Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute, and Mercer (without whom, one source opines, “Trump wouldn’t be President”).
It’s a long wonky read that most people won’t finish, so I’ll cull several passages that induced mounting horror in me as I made my way through the piece.
That tweet calling the news media “the enemy of the American people”? Mayer writes: “The President is known for tweeting impulsively, but in this case his words weren’t spontaneous: they clearly echoed the thinking of Caddell, Bannon, and Mercer. In 2012, Caddell gave a speech at a conference sponsored by Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog group, in which he called the media ‘the enemy of the American people.’ That declaration was promoted by Breitbart News, a platform for the pro-Trump alt-right, of which Bannon was the executive chairman, before joining the Trump Administration. One of the main stakeholders in Breitbart News is Mercer.”
Mayer relies heavily on two sources currently or formerly employed by Renaissance Technologies, Nick Patterson and David Magerman. Patterson, who recruited Mercer from IBM,
doesn’t share Mercer’s libertarian views, or what he regards as his susceptibility to conspiracy theories about Bill and Hillary Clinton. During Bill Clinton’s Presidency, Patterson recalled, Mercer insisted at a staff luncheon that Clinton had participated in a secret drug-running scheme with the C.I.A. The plot supposedly operated out of an airport in Mena, Arkansas. “Bob told me he believed that the Clintons were involved in murders connected to it,” Patterson said. Two other sources told me that, in recent years, they had heard Mercer claim that the Clintons have had opponents murdered.
Mercer strongly supported Jeff Sessions as Trump’s candidate for Attorney General and has argued that the Civil Rights Act was a major mistake. He subsidizes the research of climate-change skeptic Arthur Robinson’s Oregon Institute of Science and medicine. He is a gun enthusiast with his own private pistol range, and he’s part owner of a company that claims to have the largest private cache of machine guns in the US.
In the 2016 campaign, Mercer gave $22.5 million in disclosed donations to Republican candidates and to political-cation committees, Mayer reports.
Adopting the strategy of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians, Mercer enlarged his impact exponentially by combining short-term campaign spending with long-term ideological investments. He poured millions of dollars into Breitbart News, and—in what David Magerman has called “an extreme example of modern entrepreneurial philanthropy”—made donations to dozens of politically tinged organizations.
Mayer describes Breitbart News, in which Mercer has invested $10 million, thusly: “The Web site freely mixes right-wing political commentary with juvenile rants and racist innuendo; under Bannon’s direction, the editors introduced a rubric called Black Crime.” Under the supervision of Rebekah Mercer, the family’s private foundation gave millions of dollars to interconnected nonprofit groups, several of which played crucial roles in propagating attacks on Hillary Clinton, $24.5 million in 2015 alone.
Last summer when Paul Manfort was forced to resign as Trump’s campaign manager, writes Mayer,
Rebekah Mercer successfully pushed for a staff shakeup that led to the promotions of three people funded by the family: Bannon became the campaign’s C.E.O., Conway its manager, and [David] Bossie [leader of Citizens United] its deputy manager. William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and an adamant Trump opponent, warned, “It’s the merger of the Trump campaign with the kooky right.”
Are you depressed/infuriated yet? Mayer ends the piece quoting an essay David Magerman wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying Mercer “has surrounded our President with his people, and his people have an outsized influence over the running of our country, simply because Robert Mercer paid for their seats.” He writes, “Everyone has a right to express their views.” But, he adds, “when the government becomes more like a corporation, with the richest 0.001% buying shares and demanding board seats, then we cease to be a representative democracy.” Instead, he warns, “we become an oligarchy.”