In my last post, I explained how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling – by striking down the laws that had been keeping corporate money out of federal elections – opened the door for giant corporations to take over our politics.
It was an unusual posting for me, in that the argument was directed at readers of a conservative bent. I even invoked the shade of conservative icon Edmund Burke, to bolster my case that Citizens United was an ideologically-driven decision, made with no consideration whatever of its practical consequences for the American political system. I’m not ordinarily so solicitous of right-wing sensibilities, but I feel this issue is of such importance that I’m willing to try the experiment.
Corporate domination is obviously fatal to true democracy, but we might want to reflect on what else is wrong with it.
For persons of a leftist tendency, corporations epitomize all the evils of advanced bourgeois society. Corporate culture means to them regimentation, gigantism, distant unassailable citadels of power, ambiguous rules that can’t be avoided, commodification, hierarchy, wage slavery, and elite privilege – human beings tethered to the needs of an inhuman system. This viewpoint finds corporate political supremacy to be tantamount to privatization of the public sphere, and to be avoided at all costs. On a somewhat less philosophical level, liberals figure that corporate political power means lax enforcement of environmental, occupational health and safety, and consumer regulations – which in turn means more pollution, unsafe jobs, and stuff that doesn’t work. Regarded from the left, Citizens United has no upside at all.
Conservatives, however, may see things a little differently. They could consider that corporate CEOs are business executives, and almost by definition will have a point of view favorable to private enterprise. Politicians subsidized thanks to Citizens United will certainly argue against overregulation, excessive taxation, and bloated government spending. They’ll fight to the death against anything smacking of actual socialism. All of that should please conservatives. So why should right-wingers be bothered about a Court ruling that seems to only help their side?
First, contemporary conservative ideology is largely grounded on free market economics – the faith that unfettered individuals will allocate society’s resources better than government can. Yet does anyone really think the managers of colossal American corporations favor a genuinely free market? If you do, I’m sorry to have to burst your bubble. In fact, corporate CEOs aren’t free-ranging libertarians. They yearn for stability and predictability. They’re entirely comfortable with regulation – as long as it benefits them – and they’re more than willing to use governmental power to achieve their ends. Indeed, as administrators of gigantic organizations, they’ve more in common with high-ranking bureaucrats, than with the heroes of Ayn Rand’s novels.
By enabling the unrestricted use of corporate resources to influence elections, the Citizens United decision does more to promote “crony capitalism” than any other recent development in American politics.
Second, if you’re a dedicated Trumpista who believes in economic nationalism and America First, the corporate sector isn’t exactly your friend. Those big corporations are the most forceful agents of globalization in today’s world. Except in name, they’ve ceased to be American – in reality, they transcend national borders, acknowledging no loyalty to any particular country. They’ve prospered because they’ve been permitted to shift capital, production, and jobs from one continent to another, based entirely on their own bottom line, with no concern for the social wreckage left in their wake. They’ll use their political clout to preserve their freedom to do this – as well as to import foreigners to take all the good jobs remaining here.
You might say that Citizens United has simply opened a way for corporations to pour more muck into the swamp, for the benefit of the alligators. I haven’t found any valid reason, liberal or conservative, for thinking that’s good.
Indeed, on this issue, it would seem that grassroots progressives and Tea Partiers should be on the same side. Their positive programs have little similarity, but they’ve a common enemy, at least. Whether your purpose is to fundamentally restructure society in the interest of what you take to be justice and equality, or to economically empower free individuals and redirect government in a nationalist direction, the corporate sector – big business – will be your principal foe. Corporations will strive to preserve existing inequities of income and status, since their whole reward structure is based on them, as well as to maintain the current globalized economic regime.
In a more rational world, perhaps ordinary folk of the left and right would cease cudgeling each other for a minute, and bestow some thumps on their mutual adversary. In particular, they might cooperate long enough to do something about Citizens United, which benefits neither of them. Alas, not much is currently possible. Reversing that decision will require either a new Supreme Court or a Constitutional amendment, neither of which is likely any time soon. I wish I could be more hopeful.
If nothing else, we could attempt to not obsess quite so much about Trump. Our democratic system is indeed under a great deal of stress these days, but our difficulties began long before our current President got into politics, and they won’t go away when he departs the scene. Trump isn’t the problem – and he isn’t the solution. He’s a great distraction, more than anything else.
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Believe it or not, I have a life outside this blog, and several elements of that existence are impinging on me right now, so my blogging is going to have to pause for a while — for about a month, to be exact. My next posting will be the day before Samhain — Monday, October 30 — and will continue after that on Mondays and Thursdays, as at present.