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The contrition of Charles Koch, godfather of the American right

WASHINGTON LETTER

Eighty-five is less an age for projects than for regrets. In the case of Charles Koch, remorse was expressed in a book published on the eve of a presidential election from which he kept his distance (Believe in People, Macmillan Publishers, untranslated). The billionaire from Wichita (Kansas) has long been a pet peeve for the American left, with his brother David, who died in 2019, before being supplanted by Donald Trump. He now wonders if he hasn’t “Messed up” in his role as sponsor and financier of the American right.

“I congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their victory”, he wrote in an email to Wall Street Journal. “I look forward to finding ways to work with them to break down the barriers that hold people back, whether in the economy, criminal justice, immigration, the Covid-19 pandemic, or elsewhere”, he added. A message in unison with that launched by the Democrat on the evening of his election, on November 7.

Tea Party support

A claimed libertarian, this political current specific to the United States, which combines a distrust of the state, fiscal conservatism and societal liberalism, Charles Koch has nevertheless spent decades arming his camp against that opposite. Ideologically, by funding quality think tanks, from the Cato Institute to the American Enterprise Institute, or from a more prosaic point of view, by supporting with a lot of dollars the campaigns of Republican candidates deemed compatible with his vision of the world.

Critics of the billionaire, boss of an unlisted multinational corporation invested in particular in oil and chemicals, have always considered that his commitments were in fact aimed at consolidating an empire born under controversial conditions. The patriarch, Fred, an oil engineer, had indeed made a fortune in the first half of the XXe century from an invention that facilitated the process of refining black gold, exported to both the young Soviet Union and Hitler Germany.

The donor network he set up with his brother, Americans for Prosperity, quickly became the second in firepower, after that of the Republican Party, thanks to the Supreme Court decision in 2010, which opened wide the valves of money in politics. The real or fantasized influence of the tandem masked in 2016 the emergence of Donald Trump, supported by an otherwise more discreet billionaire, Robert Mercer. Previously, the Koch brothers had supported the Tea Party, a quasi-insurrectionary movement, which tracked down Republicans open to compromise with the administration of Barack Obama and challenged in fratricidal primaries.

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