Pledge allegiance to the corporations of the United States of America, and to the republic which they now own. One nation, indifferent to its citizens, with liberty and justice for the rich.
Anyone who still hoped, against all the evidence, that the American democracy could be saved from strangulation by the pervasive and increasing death-grip of big money, has just been served with a do-not-resuscitate order by the Supreme Court of the United States. No greater perversion of the principles of our Constitution, and of the language we use to talk about it, can be imagined.
The court ruled that the Congress may not restrict the ability of corporations to spend whatever they want to spend to advocate in any way they see fit, the election or defeat of a political candidate. The Congress has forbidden such practices for more than a hundred years, but the current Court says they were wrong. They did this in the name of the Constitutional guarantee that no citizen of this country shall have his freedom of speech abridged by the government. By their handling of the case before them, and their enthusiasm for the opportunity it gave them, the conservative majority on the court indicated that they will at their first opportunity strike down the law that forbids corporations from contributing to federal candidates, and the limits to donations to federal candidates.
The ruling rests on two fundamental perversions of the principles and language of American democracy:
- Corporations are citizens, and come undere the protection of the Constitution. You might as reasonably argue that a shark is a missionary. A corporation is an artificial entity, a piece of paper defining an organization whose sole purpose is to make money (and limit the liability of its owners). As a shark does nothing but feed, so a corporation does nothing but ingest money. It has no morals, it has no soul or religion (other than the worship of money, in precisely the same way that sharks worship food), it has no mercy and no aspirations whatsoever for the welfare of ordinary people. Yet the Supreme Court has ruled that this shark is entitled to the same Constitutinal protections as, for example, a Mother Theresa — and that henceforward they must swim in the same pool.
- Money is speech. Is there no formulation silly enough to simply be laughed into oblivion? Apparently not, and otherwise sensible people must discuss the ways in which money is not the same thing as speech. This notion — that if you limit my ability to spend money distributing my speech, you limit my freedom to speak — is a corruption of language and logic that confuses the freedom to speak with the freedom to be heard. The point of the Constitutional protection is that a citizen should not suffer penalty for speaking his mind; not that he is guaranteed an audience for what he has to say. The purpose of the First Amendment was to protect the powerless from the powerful. The effect of the revisionist ruling is that from now on, corporate representatives will stroll into the office of any representative and say, “If you speak out on behalf of powerless citizens, contrary to our interests, we will use our power to defeat you.” How’s that for turning the Constitution inside out?
In the words of a New York Times editorial:
“…the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding. Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.”
Yeah. Good luck with that. Right after they punish the wealthy bankers and rein in the health care industry.
Cynics maintain that the ruling changes nothing because big money routinely breaks the laws against buying politicians anyway. Few such cynics will support legalizing drugs because people routinely use them anyway. How about murder? Any point in keeping that law on the books when people kill each other anyway?
In my book Brace for Impact: Surviving the End of the Industrial Age I argue that not one of the major institutions that exist to protect the welfare of the people is working, or planning to work, or holding serious dicussions, on any of the multiple, dire and growing threats to our supplies of food, water and energy. By not doing anything, they are assenting to an inevitable collapse of the entire edifice. Now, one of those institutions — the Court charged with protecting, preserving and defending the Constitution — is working actively against the people the Constitution was written to protect, and on the side of the ruthless and powerful people who are bringing on collapse.