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Trump exploited ‘big philanthropy’ cult of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos



trump charity
delivers remarks at the Susan B Anthony List gala in Washington,

Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty

  • Author Anand Giridharadas believes elite-led
    philanthropy fueled the rise of Donald Trump. 

  • In his new book
    , Giridharadas argues that Trump exposed the
    hypocrisy of wealthy philanthropists, then used it to beat them
    at their own game.
  • Giridharadas predicts that Trump may face a powerful
    reckoning as citizens begin to take charge of their own political

On June 28, 2016, Donald Trump assumed the podium at a recycling
plant in Monessen, Pennsylvania. In the
audience were around 200 residents who had witnessed the city’s
decline from a booming manufacturing center to a desolate
expanse of urban blight. The building where they
gathered  a former
steel mill
 that once held thousands of
workers  had been downsized to a small
facility of just 35 employees. 

Seconds into
his speech
, Trump highlighted the grievances
of the city’s workers: “Globalization has made
the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy,” he
said. “But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but
poverty and heartache. When subsidized foreign steel is dumped
into our markets, threatening our factories, the politicians do

It was an effective message — one
 enough to turn the Democratic
stronghold into a majority-red city during the 2016 presidential
election. Across Pennsylvania, voters seemed to latch on to the
idea that the wealthy elite had used their money to sway policies
in their favor, away from the interests of the average American

In many ways, they were right. In his new book,
Winners Take All
, Anand Giridharadas outlines how
billionaire philanthropists like Mark Zuckerberg have used
charity to bolster their reputation while simultaneously
advancing their own agenda.

In recent years, the Facebook CEO has touted
as a solution to all sorts of crises, including
lack of education, unemployment, and public health. In a 2017

commencement address
at Harvard University, Zuckerberg talked
about lifting up the poor and providing easier pathways for
undocumented immigrants to attend college. All the while, his
company has created a monopoly on not just the tech industry, but
politics and the press as well. 

Helpfulness, Giridharadas said,
has become “the wingman of hoarding” — and
have taken note. 

The history of ‘big giving’

The trend of organized philanthropy emerged at the close of the
nineteenth century with billionaire tycoons
like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller. As their
fortunes continued to pile up, these men recognized that
large-scale donations to the public good could earn them
political influence, which could then be used to further their
monopolies. For the first time, private billionaires began to act as
stand-ins for small government.

This angered many Americans, who
saw the billionaires as “robber-barons” using charity to exert
their own power. But by the twenty-first century, the nation had
all but abandoned its antagonism of organized philanthropy.
People began to see tech companies as panaceas for disaster and
inequality, capable of inducing widespread global

This change arrived at the

expense of blue-collar jobs
that once formed the bedrock of
the American economy.
More than decade after the tech boom, America’s
skepticism had returned. According to Giridharadas, our
nation is less susceptible to the idea that technology is
changing the world than it was five or ten years ago. As a
result, many have reverted to the Gilded Age belief that
billionaires, and their billion-dollar companies, are to blame
for our modern ills. 

Under the current tax system,
billionaires like Jeff Bezos likely pay lower tax
rates than their secretaries. Meanwhile, their companies have
contributed to
declining wages
in highly concentrated labor

It’s an idea that Donald Trump
began to harness long before his speech in Monessen,
Pennsylvania. While announcing his presidential run in 2015,
he told
the crowd
: “I watch the speeches of [my fellow Republicans],
and they say the sun will rise, the moon will set, all sorts of
wonderful things will happen. And people are saying, ‘What’s
going on? I just want a job. Just get me a job.'”

With these words, Trump
highlighted the false promises of those in power, while exposing
the palpable failure of our economy to provide for average

has been a slow-burning takeover of all aspects of American life
by the winners of market capitalism,”
said Giridharadas. “When the future rains on America
today, it’s the very few who tend to harvest all the

Trump may have been part of that
takeover, but he was also instrumental in rallying against

Exposing, exploiting, and embodying big

“I think of [Trump] as an
exposer, an exploiter, and an embodiment of this cult of
elite-led social
change,” said Giridharadas. “He did
a masterful job of reading people’s intuition that elites were
paying lip service to them … while in fact they were really out
for themselves.”

This hypocrisy is present not only among the world’s
billionaires, but among elite circles like the Aspen Institute
and Clinton Global Initiative, where corporate giving
is hailed as a “win-win”: good for the public, good for the
public image. And yet, few of these circles have stopped to
consider how their vast pools of wealth have tamped down
opportunities for the very people they’re attempting to

This was evident in the amount of

who voted for Trump in the 2016 election. As
people in major urban centers like New York, Los Angeles, and

an Francisco promised
that technology, trade, and globalization were going to improve
people’s lives, Trump recognized that these forces were
decimating entire communities.

Trump then exploited that
information by casting blame on marginalized and vulnerable

Instead of
going after hedge funds and reckless lenders, Giridharadas said,
Trump “deflected [America’s anger] onto immigrants and black
people and Muslims and women. … He made it about a

Whether in spite or because of
that strategy, Trump landed himself in the nation’s most powerful
office. There, “h

trademarked the whole arc of billionaire
saviors,” Giridharadas said. He became a champion of
the white working class — those who lost their jobs at the hands
of industrialization and saw little benefit from the tech

Like Zuckerberg, Carnegie, and Rockefeller, Trump may have to
reckon with the hypocrisy of his movement. 

Fighting fire with fire

With the next presidential election just two years away,
Democrats have been working hard to identify the most effective
challenger to Trump. For the most part, the list resembles the
familiar prototype of billionaire philanthropists: Michael
Bloomberg, Oprah, Howard Schultz,
Tom Steyer, even Zuckerberg before last year’s
Cambridge Analytica scandal

Giridharadas questions this
inclination to nominate someone of Trump’s wealth and

is it about us that keeps turning to billionaire sugar daddies
and sugar mommies to rescue us from another fake billionaire
change agent?”

One possible answer is that
Americans are inherently distrustful of
nts — and for good reason. To
many, the Obama era did not
deliver the kind of transformative change it initially promised.
Occupy Wall Street
didn’t redistribute
the nation’s wealth (in fact, wealth
more concentrated
in the US in recent years). And the wave of
technology apps that emerged in the last decade didn’t always
help people manage
their money
 or reduce inequality.

If mass movements didn’t yield
significant change, people thought, perhaps an individual
benefactor with a steady stream of cash would do the

But the 
monopolist’s relationship with the public is
one of “master to servant,” said Giridharadas. While
citizens may benefit from a billionaire’s generosity in the short
term, their interests are rarely represented by big

When faced with this criticism,
many tech elites have a way of spinning the conversation.
According to Giridharadas,

 Silicon Valley companies often espouse
the view: “We are here to make the world a better place. Why
would you write a negative story about us? Do you hate the Afghan
girls we are liberating? Do you hate justice? Do you hate the
people in Africa whom we’re beaming the internet to through

That attitude, he said, is
“tougher for us to deal with as a society.” “I

n some ways,” he said, “it’s much easier for
us to process straightforward greed and power-grabbing.”

A new kind of movement

While Trump may have beaten billionaire philanthropists at their
own game, he’s not immune to the same criticism.

According to Giridharadas,
the most effective way to challenge big philanthropy is to take
back the power from the elite winners of the economy. On a small
scale, that means more minorities and
 low-income people in positions of
influence. On a larger scale, it means building a movement led by
workers and citizens who can represent their own

To accomplish this, Americans
must dismantle the illusion that billionaires hold the
answers — an illusion that has already begun to crumble
under the unsteady footing of the Trump

In light of
Trump’s struggle
to assuage working-class
concerns, Giridharadas believes the reckoning is already

“After the
Trump era, if you still think that billionaires are going to save
do I have a book for you

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