Dick Brass: No coup for you – how a bunch of billionaires helped save US democracy


Two big things happened in America yesterday and they are not unrelated: the Trump coup collapsed and the Dow Jones average soared past 30,000 for the first time in history.

Less visible but equally important, it looks like our good billionaires have defeated the bad billionaires. So democracy here gets a reprieve and maybe even a rebirth.

You know the visible events: After weeks of refusing to concede his election loss or even allow a customary transition, US President Donald Trump threw in the towel this week and finally authorised the transition to begin. Which is as close to a concession speech as anyone should expect. The stock market surge must be particularly galling because Trump predicted last month that if Biden was elected “the stock market is going to crash”. Perhaps he meant “cash”.

The conventional wisdom blames Trump’s plight on the dismal outcome of his court challenges to Joe Biden’s clear victory. His lawyers had bizarrely charged that a massive interstate voter fraud had been organised with “communist money” from dead Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Not surprisingly, the cases were laughed out of court after court. State election officials refused to follow Trump’s unprecedented suggestions to simply override the vote in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In desperation, Trump brought Michigan state legislature leaders to the White House last weekend and reportedly begged them to overturn that state’s vote, which Biden won by 154,000. But in a moment reminiscent of the famous Soup Nazi scene in Seinfeld, the legislators basically said: “No coup for you!”

But there was more to all this than met the eye. Behind the scenes, Americas billionaires and business elite had made it clear they wanted no part of a coup either.

On November 6, the day the media here called the race for Biden, more than two dozen CEOs and billionaires met on a secret conference call. It was organised by Yale business professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. Timothy Snyder, Yale’s famous author and historian of fascism, Zoom-tutored the group on the danger Trump represented. They became alarmed when Snyder discussed the history of democracies dying when legislators did things like overriding votes. They agreed that Trump had the right to legal appeals, but not to overturn the election by fiat. They agreed to wait and see what happened next. Last Friday, another similar conference call took place. The business leaders had become increasingly alarmed by Trump’s actions and discussed withholding funds from Republican candidates and issuing a strong letter of condemnation. News of these meetings leaked, pretty clearly intentionally.

On Monday, the letter arrived. It demanded the transition process be delayed no longer and warned our democracy was being damaged. “Every day that an orderly Presidential transition process is delayed, our democracy grows weaker in the eyes of our own citizens and the nation’s stature on the global stage is diminished,” the letter read. It was signed by 164 CEOs, billionaires, bankers, real estate moguls and insurance titans. That afternoon, Trump caved.

And the decision by the Michigan officials and legislators not to defy the vote in their state as Trump asked? Well, that’s interesting too. Because on Monday afternoon, in a supposedly unrelated event, GM CEO Mary Barra announced her company would no longer support the Trump administration’s efforts to gut auto mileage standards. In a letter to environmental groups, she said the company supports the ambitious electric car goals of “President-elect” Biden. There is no direct evidence that GM leaned on the Michigan officials. It may just be a coincidence that they ignored Trump.

But GM is Michigan’s largest employer. And if it had gotten off the Trump train, the local Republicans would surely take note.

There is an assumption that billionaires here support Trump, who claims to be one of their kind, despite strong suspicions he is not. And some certainly do, like casino mogul Shelley Adelson, who donated a whopping $173 million to Republican campaigns in the last four years.

But I actually know a lot of billionaires. Maybe 20. This is oddly not uncommon in the software business, where your luckier colleagues can go from shared apartment to owning the county after a single big success. I had the great honour to work directly for the richest man in California and then upgraded my boss to the richest man in the world.

And here’s the thing: they the corporate elite doesn’t really like don’t like Trump. Yes, most didn’t denounce him. Many certainly liked his tax cuts and deregulation. More than a few donated and liked the chance to meet. But they also like competence, performance, sufficient integrity to execute a plan and — most of all — stability. And they don’t like coups, in the boardroom or in the country.

Trump is pretty much the opposite. Run America? He could barely run the Trump Organisation. Every billionaire I have spoken with about Trump mentioned that he has gone bankrupt six times. “Seven if you include America,” one told me last week.

Dick Brass was vice-president of Microsoft and Oracle for almost two decades. His firm Dictronics developed the first modern dictionary-based spellcheck and he was an editor at the Daily News, NY.

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