Post-Democracy America

It might be a little too early to begin carving the tombstone, but SCOTUS made a valiant, naive effort to destroy American democracy and prove everything George Carlin said about corporate America absolutely valid.

Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission might very well go down in history as the most significant change to American democracy since the ratification of the Constitution.

Elections will soon become a shower of cash and attack ads. Candidates will be unable to keep up with corporate spending, and in an act of self-defense (the name of a populist political party in Poland, ironically enough), campaign spending limits will disappear and an election, even more so than now, will be a question of capital.

How many Americans know about this decision? “Who won last night?” “What happened on Idol last night?” “Have you seen that new iPhone app?” These are the concerns of the average American; SCOTUS rulings generally go unnoticed by everyone but law school professors, academics, and attorneys. We pay attention to the tube, and while we might notice an increase in political ads, who is going to notice who is paying for those ads? Who is going to think critically about what the advertisement’s financial backer gains by our buying into that interpretation of this or that politician’s stance or legislative plan? Swift Boat showed how effective an ad campaign can be. We’re sure to see more of it — exponentially more.

The SCOTUS has sold us out, in short. Our voice is no longer heard because our fiscal contributions — and let’s face it: that’s what gets you heard today — are insignificant compared to Big Tobacco, Big Insurance, Big Unions, Big Everything.

Big Capitalism; Little Us.

It’s not just the outcome that’s disturbing: equally troubling is how this case played out.

The court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity, and it scheduled arguments during its vacation. (NYT Editorial)

There is hope for remediation: the legislature could require share holders to approve of a corporation’s political activities, for example. Whether that would that survive an inevitable challenge is a question I’m in no position to answer.

I do know that I haven’t felt this pessimistic about this country’s future in a very long time. Crony-capitalism and democracy went head to head: our democracy has one knee on the mat, and corporate America is sitting in a dark corner of the arena with a smug grin.

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One thought on “Post-Democracy America

  1. nina says:

    There’s been much discussion at my Law School over this. And it’s interesting to read the conservative blogs now — my colleague’s is one, but there are so many… (who are outraged that Obama should make statements indicating his displeasure at the way the court ruled). For me, the positioning of the corporate voice began long before this case — by conferring some attributes of personhood to the corporation (but of course without accountability) many many years ago. After that, you almost saw this coming: personhood, free speech, 1st Amendment…

    For me this week the slide really began with Massachusetts.

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