Jeff Bezos, considered to be the richest man on earth in terms of measurable wealth, and Donald Trump, arguably the most powerful man on earth as President of the United States, are figuratively at each other’s throats. US media is abuzz with talk of genital photographs, blackmail allegations, sexual misconduct, and media bias. However, those who look deeper may see bigger differences and hidden rivalries at stake. Two hostile camps have emerged within the circles of American power.
Widespread Notions of a Shadowy Elite
The notion that wars, political unrest, and clashes within society are the result of disagreements among a shadowy elite is a theme that repeatedly surfaces in art, culture, and fringe political discourse in western countries.
Aleister Crowley, the early 20th-century occultist, was known for putting forward his concept of the “hidden church” that ruled the world. He presented his followers with the belief that shadowy societies and secret orders among the elite were behind the scenes, manipulating world events in order to serve their own ends. One of Crowley’s novels, Moonchild, published in 1929, presented the First World War as resulting from a clash between different factions of witches and wizards who controlled various governments.
Crowley’s Occultists ramblings, most not presented as fiction, are easy to laugh at. To modern readers, they almost sound like a bizarre meeting between Alex Jones’ broadcasts and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. However, Crowley’s world view is pretty well echoed today in the various conspiracy theories that fill the internet.
In the early years of the 20th Century, many Anti-Communist Roman Catholics began asserting that the Bavarian Illuminati, which was discovered and suppressed by the church in the late 1700s, was still active. Adherents of this theory argued that the wealthiest and most powerful people were part of the anti-Christian secret society, and as part of it, were manipulating world events and fomenting chaos.
The former British athlete and sports commentator David Icke has gained a significant following preaching that a secret race of “reptilians” controls the world. The anti-Semitic conspiracy text “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” is still widely circulated in many parts of the world.
Materialist Analysis of Bourgeois Rivalries
The notion that some shadowy group of hidden rulers is manipulating world events, and that the conflicts and clashes in politics and geopolitics represent something deeper and more cryptic, is certainly a prevalent belief with many different narratives written to explain it.
In addition to all the various “conspiracy” narratives, there are some who have attempted to utilize political economy and historical materialism, rather than mystical legends, to develop a similar narrative. Karl Marx pamphlet “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” describes a fight among the rich and powerful in France in the midst of an economic crisis. Marx describes Louis Napoleon’s “Party of Order” that seized power in 1851 as representing the finance capitalists and farmers of France, and suppressing the industrial capitalists while enacting swift economic reforms, in the hopes of restoring order and holding off a revolution.
In 1935, Georgi Dimitrov oriented the Communist International to make strategic alliances with “democratic” capitalists against a global fascist conspiracy, which he described as “most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” The “popular front” strategy of the global Communist movement was based on a division among the capitalists of the world between “democratic bourgeois” and “fascist bourgeois.”
Carl Oglesby the 1960s radical penned a similar narrative during the 1970s, hoping to explain divisions among the American ruling elite. His text, widely circulated in leftist and progressive circles was called “The Yankee and Cowboy War,” and attempted to explain the Vietnam War, the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Watergate Scandal in a context of clashing economic interests.
When one examines Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump’s disagreement, and the forces that line up behind one or the other of the powerful men, one can see three primary divides among the circles of power in the United States. The first is a divide between the allies of Saudi Arabia and the allies of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Division #1: Saudi Wahabbis vs. The Muslim Brotherhood
Jeff Bezos has spoken up and said Saudi Arabia is possibly involved in efforts to embarrass him. He points out that the Washington Post, which he owns, has been harshly critical of Saudi Arabia for killing Jamal Khashoggi. He also has emphasized the ties of Donald Trump and the Saudi Monarchy to The National Enquirer.
It is true that in recent years, the Washington Post, long an outpost of apologism for US-backed autocracies, suddenly became more critical of the Saudi monarchy. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who bashed Saudi Arabia on the campaign trail, has become a sharp defender of the Saudi monarchy.
And while Trump has doubled down on supporting the Saudi Kingdom, US relations with Erdogan’s government in Turkey have also declined. Meanwhile, Trump has echoed Saudi Arabia’s allegations against the monarchy of Qatar.
It is no secret to anyone that Saudi Arabia is a fountainhead of “Wahabbism,” an interpretation of the Islamic faith that mandates an autocratic government and a strict interpretation of the Koran. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia intentionally funds and promotes religious figures and institutions described as Wahabbis or Salafis, sometimes called Deobandis in India and Pakistan, that promote this version of Islam.
The Wahabbi networks of the Saudis have long been a source of revenue for Pentagon military contractors, and vehicle for waging proxy wars. Zbigniew Brzezinski arranged for the USA to support a young Saudi named Osama Bin Laden, who was the wealthy heir of a construction firm. Bin Laden purchased huge amounts of from the United States, and with CIA assistance, to built a Wahabbi army in Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union and topple the People’s Democratic Republic.
More recently, in Syria and Libya, the Saudi have purchased US-made weapons and mobilized their Wahabbi networks to work against the independent socialist governments. In both Syria and Libya, Wahabbi factions control a large amount of territory. It should be noted that the ISIL terrorists emerged from within the larger, Saudi-backed Wahabbi milieu.
Another Islamic faction that has worked with US intelligence in the Middle East, is clearly at odds with Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 as a group of small business owners who saw western ideas, Marxism, and nationalism as the greatest dangers to the religious traditions of the Arab World. When Gamal Abdul Nasser took power and began moving Egypt toward Arab Socialism, the US government began covertly funding and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood to work against him. With the funding and assistance of US intelligence, the Muslim Brotherhood spread across the Middle East. It fed rural and poor Arabs and used them as foot soldiers against Baathism and Marxism.
The Muslim Brotherhood is illegal in Saudi Arabia and considered to be a terrorist organization. The Muslim Brotherhood opposes Wahabbism, rejects the notion of an absolute monarchy, and favors free markets and elected governments.
The monarchy of Qatar is the primary funder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its media, Al-Jazeera, promotes an editorial perspective that is in line with the Qatari monarchy and the Muslim Brotherhood’s perspective. Erdogan, the Turkish President, is seen as a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, and his government also echoes a similar worldview. During Obama’s presidency, Qatari media, Saudi funded Wahabi preachers, the Muslim Brotherhood, and US foreign policy all marched in lockstep. They targeted Syria and Libya despite their disagreements with each other.
But now, it seems that the Wahabbis and the Muslim Brotherhood are clashing. Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post, and the Democratic Party seem to be sympathetic to Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. Trump seems to be favoring the Saudi monarchy and Wahabbism.
Division #2: The Pentagon vs. Intel Agencies
Why do some factions of the US business and state elite favor the Saudis while others favor the Brotherhood? This can be explained in the context of an ongoing feud between the intelligence agencies and the US military.
The US military apparatus and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on it are a huge subsidy to the economy. Arms exports by weapons manufacturers are also a huge money maker. The term “military Keynesianism” has been used to describe the astronomical military spending, which functions as a government stimulus which the US economy could not do without. The many corporations involved in weapons manufacturing and export see a global arms race, the escalation of conflicts around the world, and the image of the USA as a mighty, war-like power, armed to the teeth, as in their financial interest. Trump has been very friendly to such forces, describing himself as being eager to sell weapons, and using the slogan “Peace Through Strength” on the campaign trail.
However, the intel agencies of the United States tend to favor a different foreign policy strategy. Intel agencies, staffed with graduates of Harvard and Yale, have carefully studied the art of “soft power.” They seek to present the United States as a benevolent and friendly world power that rarely meddles in other nations affairs. The CIA also works to present the United States as overcoming racism, embracing Islam and other cultures, and becoming a more benevolent country, disproving the propaganda of its detractors. The Intel agencies have mastered the art of manipulating global conflicts from behind the scenes, utilizing proxy forces, and crafting public opinion to fit US foreign policy narratives.
But now, as Trump insults the Muslims of the world, and openly dismisses concerns about Saudi atrocities, the Muslim Brotherhood sees itself increasingly at odds with the White House. Not surprisingly, Qatar and Turkey are clashing with Saudi Arabia.
Trump speaks of the importance of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, pandering to the Pentagon and its suppliers. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos ties to US intelligence agencies are not secret at all. Amazon has designed software and cloud services for intelligence agencies.
But beyond Bezo’s direct connections, the various Silicon Valley monopolies owe their very existence to funding and assistance from American intelligence agencies. It was a strategic move to counter the Soviet Union during the late cold war that clearly paid off for the United States.
The weapon manufacturers, who make loads and loads of money selling military hardware to Saudi Arabia, favor a very different strategy around the world than the Central Intelligence Agency, that has spent years cultivating the Muslim Brotherhood as a useful proxy force. The two sections of the American state apparatus seem to be tied to opposite sides of the Trump Bezos disagreement.
Division #3: The Rich vs. The Ultra-Rich
However, another longstanding clash among the elite is also at play. This is the fight between the rich and the ultra-rich.
Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, according to some calculations. Bezos fits in with a crowd of people in the United States that could accurately be called “the Ultra-rich.” Family names like Morgan, Carnegie, Dupont, Mellon, Rothschild, and Rockefeller make up a special class of untouchable entrenched power that goes back generations.
The United States has over one million millionaires and many billionaires, but most of them are not in this select group. The Rockefeller family of Standard Oil, Chase Bank, the Council on Foreign Relations, and a score of powerful think tanks and lobbies have far more influence than a typical millionaire or billionaire could even dream of.
The Rockefeller family have been the primary financial backers of Planned Parenthood, abortion, birth control, experimental art, and the legalization of pornography. The Rockefellers funded and promoted the “Kinsey Report” during the 1950s, widely circulated social research that results in a more tolerant attitude toward homosexuality and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The Rockefellers are tied in closely with the US Intelligence Agencies. The Council on Foreign Relations is primarily funded by Exxon-Mobil, the direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Art projects sponsored by the CIA’s “Congress for Cultural Freedom” program of the 1950s and 60s often also received grants and promotion from Rockefeller foundations.
Representing this stratum of ruling families, Warren Buffet famously said “tax me more” after the financial crisis, arguing that Keynesian welfare state solutions should be explored. Why do the richest of the rich favor more leftwing economic policies? Because they can afford it. Higher taxes will barely dent their astronomical piles of wealth, and they can easily skate the tax collectors with their elaborate networks of foundations and trusts to conceal their vast, often incalculable wealth. It should be no surprise that Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Rockefellers tauted the “Social Democratic Future” of the USA in 2014.
But, among the wider circles of wealth and power in the United States, there is huge resentment against the ultra-rich. The “fracking cowboys” of the oil and gas market resent the near-monopoly status of the big four supermajor oil companies, tied to Wall Street banks. The owners of retail giants resent Jeff Bezos pushing them off the market with online shopping. Trump has openly complained about alleged special treatment for Amazon from the US postal service.
These lower levels of the rich, these “cockroach capitalists” favor a more libertarian economic approach. They tend to truly believe the economic theories that say capitalism can create a market utopia, and they tend to be less convinced of the need for social welfare programs and regulation to hold off the threat of unrest.
Betsy Devos, the Education Secretary of the Trump administration is a wealthy woman. But what is the source of her wealth? She is the air to the fortune created by Amway, the multi-level marketing corporation widely decried as a pyramid scheme. The fact that a fundamentalist Christian associated with the selling of Tupperware is allowed to run US Department of Education, not some carefully trained and cultivated Harvard graduate with the blessing of the Rockefellers and Duponts, has got to be a point of contention between Trump’s coalition of “new money” and the old establishment of ultra-rich families.
In 2004, the liberal radio commentator Garrison Keillor accurately articulated the sentiments among the ultra-rich, describing the Republican Party as: “the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians…”
Trump represents the fracking companies, the hotel and restaurant chains, Sheldon Adelson’s Nevada based empire, sports team owners, and other wealthy people who have been locked out of “the club” that traditionally runs the US government. The fact that Donald Trump enacted such dramatic reforms in the Federal Prison System should not be deeply shocking either, as it seems that so many of the wealthy people who have gone to Federal Prison for financial crimes are among his backers. Trump represents the lower levels of American capital. Trump stands with the Wall Street execs who cannot buy their way out when charged for insider trading or tax fraud.
Donald Trump is himself, a real-estate mogul, was able to rise in prestige among the wealthy by manipulating the media and “fighting dirty” in struggles for valuable New York City property. His presidency, almost universally opposed in mainstream media during the campaign, represents an upsurge among the rich against ultra-rich figures like Jeff Bezos.
“Friends After Six” No More
Ronald Reagan is known for constantly reminding other American politicians “We are all friends after six o’clock.” And in his time, this was mostly true. Disagreements on policy and strategy were secondary. The enemy was Soviet Communism, the goal was US hegemony, and the sources of financial backing for major political figures were often identical. The stakes in American politics were not very high, and the significant political debates were often overcompensating in complexity for what they were lacking in substance.
However, in recent years, it seems pretty clear that America’s political leaders are not “friends after six” anymore. Astute scholars of American history will recall incidents like the caning of Charles Sumner when southern racist Congressman Preston Brooks violently attacked an anti-slavery colleague on the floor of the US House of Representatives in 1856.
Disagreements among the ruling elite and Bonapartist maneuvers by different factions to suppress the other seem to be a defining aspect of America in 2019.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.