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Trump and the Factions of the US Oligarchy

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Inspired in part by the pioneering work of Peter Dale Scott, a plethora of analyses have noted "deep state" opposition to Donald Trump and his administration. There is much truth in this assessment. Trump's policies and pronouncements certainly run counter to the agenda of the globalist-oriented "liberal" establishment. However, his administration promotes the interests of a reactionary "conservative" faction of the US oligarchy or power elite. This right-wing faction began to mount a serious challenge for national power in the 1960s and finally succeeded with Ronald Reagan's election, but the current administration is the first to exclusively represent its agenda.

After World War II, the Wall Street-centered liberal faction dominated US policy and presidential administrations through its principal think tanks and foundations. The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) provided personnel and policies for the Eisenhower administration and despite Kennedy being "little acquainted in the New York financial and legal community ... the heart of the American Establishment," his appointments ensured an establishment administration. [1] There is strong indication, though, that Kennedy ran afoul of not only CIA Director Allen Dulles, a member of the CFR's board of directors, but also Chase Manhattan Bank chairman John McCloy, who was simultaneously serving as the chairman of the CFR and the Ford Foundation. These two men would play an influential role as members of the Warren Commission, particularly in their insistence on the single-bullet theory despite the "strong doubts" of the other commissioners. [2] Throughout the second half of the twentieth century and into the next, David Rockefeller would be the dominant establishment figure as chairman of the CFR and then as its honorary chairman.

Nixon's administration was the first to incorporate conservative-faction elements and the interests of the American Security Council (ASC), the leading think tank of the military-industrial complex. Like Trump, Reagan's favorite think tank was The Heritage Foundation, founded in the 1970s and funded by right-wing plutocrats Richard Scaife and Joe Coors. Heritage supplied Reagan with many of his economic and foreign policies, based on libertarian or neoliberal economics and the rollback of communism and socialism in "Third World" countries like Nicaragua. The secretive Council for National Policy (CNP), closely tied to Heritage, would soon form as "a conservative version of the Council on Foreign Relations." [3] Today, Heritage and CNP members account for a large number of Trump's appointments. [4]

Both factions built international networks during the Cold War. For the liberal power elite, the main policy forums have been the Bilderberg Group and later the Trilateral Commission. The most prominent politicians and government officials have attended these conferences along with leading financiers and industrialists. Again, David Rockefeller had an outsized role, in the Bilderberg Group with his close friend Henry Kissinger and in the founding of the Trilateral Commission, assisted by Zbigniew Brzezinski. The conservative power elite has its counterparts in Europe-based Le Cercle and the World Anti-Communist League (since renamed the World League for Freedom and Democracy), which originated in East Asia in the 1950s. Obsessed with combating communism and the left in general, these groups featured far-right and fascist elements from several continents. [5]

Some of the most infamous US interventions can be traced to the think tanks of the two factions and their power brokers. The 1954 CIA-orchestrated overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala had its origins in a CFR study group and came to fruition through links between the CFR, the CIA, United Fruit Company of Boston, and the Eisenhower administration. [6] Similar relationships help to explain the Nixon administration's plan to force a military coup in Chile during the early 1970s by launching a major CIA operation, in that case led by copper companies and other US corporations with ties to the Council of the Americas, another Rockefeller-created organization. In the 1980s, the Reagan Doctrine of support for counterrevolutionary insurgencies against communist-friendly governments was inspired by The Heritage Foundation and backed by the ASC as well as the conservative faction's international allies. [7]

The Iran-Contra scandal, a product of the Reagan Doctrine, exposed factional conflict within the Reagan administration itself. Bill Clinton's tenure was accompanied by an escalation in factional conflict, as elements of the conservative faction devised the "Arkansas Project" and other initiatives to sabotage a presidency strongly supported by the liberal faction. Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune, funded the project through The American Spectator conservative magazine. It consisted of stories about Clinton's alleged misdeeds during his time as governor of Arkansas involving the Whitewater real-estate development and sexual misconduct. [8] Currently, liberal plutocrat George Soros is playing an anti-Trump role reminiscent of Scaife's earlier anti-Clinton crusade, funding opposition groups and referring to the conservative faction-backed president as "an impostor and a con man and a would-be dictator" on the eve of Trump's inauguration. [9]

However, Trump's most powerful enemy is the media associated with the liberal faction of the oligarchy, many of its executives and journalists belonging to the CFR membership. One of his many tweets about "fake news" clearly stated this opposition: "So they caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!" Conversely, Trump has been laudatory of conservative-faction media, tweeting, "Congratulations to @FoxNews for being number one in inauguration ratings. They were many times higher than FAKE NEWS @CNN - public is smart!" [10] While Fox News has been widely viewed as Trump's media arm, even contributing personnel to his administration, the other major networks and leading newspapers have attempted to delegitimize his presidency, most notably by constant reporting and commentary on yet unproven Russiagate allegations. [11] Meanwhile, Trump's increase in military spending and deep cuts to vital environmental and social programs receive only a fraction of this amount of coverage.

What does this suggest for the rest of Trump's presidency and the potential for genuinely democratic rule in the United States? Assuming a continuation of intense factional conflict over the next few years, the possibility for constructing a substantive democracy will exist, but a divided population and public apathy present enormous obstacles for ending oligarchic rule. Although the Internet has allowed for the proliferation of democratic media, most Americans still uncritically absorb the output of the oligarchic media of both factions. These problems must be overcome as a democratic revolution in the United States may be necessary to prevent ecological and civilizational collapse both domestically and globally.


Joseph Raso is the author of A Tale of Two Factions: The US Power Structure Since World War II (published 2018). He has worked at think tanks in Washington, DC, and taught political science at McMaster University in Canada.


[1] Arthur M. Schlesinger. A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Mariner Books, 2002), 128.

[2] Kai Bird. The Chairman: John J. McCloy and the Making of the American Establishment (Kindle Edition), location 12168.

[3] Marc J. Ambinder, "Inside the Council for National Policy," ABC News 2 May 2002:

[4] The Heritage Foundation. "Trump Administration Embraces Heritage Foundation Policy Recommendations" (23 January 2018):

[5] Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson. Inside the League: The Shocking Expose' of How Terrorists, Nazis, and Latin American Death Squads Have Infiltrated the World Anti-Communist League (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1986).

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Joseph Raso is the author of A Tale of Two Factions: The US Power Structure Since World War II (published 2018). He taught political science at McMaster University in Canada and has worked at think tanks in Washington, DC.

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