The bell tolls for our democracy
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Jon Donne – Meditation 17 (“No Man is an Island”)
The tolling is for our democracy, inexorably morphing into a plutocracy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporations and uber-wealthy that have invested in its hostile takeover. Instead of pledging allegiance to the United States of America, we’ll be covering our hearts and doffing our caps to the Corporate States of America.
In its ruling McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Committee last week, the Supreme Court further emasculated a post-Watergate campaign reform enacted to help level the playing field a bit for citizens. The SCOTUS in a 5-4 decision has once again bizarrely contorted the First Amendment, giving the fattest of fatcats freedom to finance as many candidates as they pleasure.
The Associated Press reports the ruling “will allow the wealthiest contributors to pour millions of dollars into candidate and party coffers.”
Coupled with the Citizens United ruling in 2010 that opened the door to so-called “dark money” and unchained the power of a corporation, a for-profit organization, by according it free speech rights, the ruling will have a deleterious effect on our political process by giving the wealthiest donors “outsized influence on campaigns.”
In days of yore, free speech meant the right of a person to express his/her thoughts without restriction and fear of governmental coercion. Now “free” has to be understood in context of monetary valuation. Speech now has a price tag. The more dollars one has, the more speech he/she has. It’s that simple of an equation.
Lord Acton’s dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely needs to be heeded, for power is equated to money, to wealth. Money and power are synonymous, one and the same, going hand in hand.
Justice Stephen Breyer writes in his dissenting opinion that this ruling coming on the heels of Citizens United “eviscerate[s] our nation’s campaign finance laws.”
Further Breyer commented, “If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision we fear will open a floodgate. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institution. It creates, we think, a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.”
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts strangely compares the uber-wealthy to Nazis and flag-burners.
“If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades—despite the profound offense such spectacles cause—it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition,” declares Roberts.
Besides being personally offensive and degrading to those fatcat such as Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch who finance Republicans through Americans for Prosperity and other rightwing political action committees (PACs), Roberts’ logic fails: It’s not the nature of the speech that is offensive, but that it is for sale.
John Nichols of The Nation states it concisely: “The justices who make up the court’s activist majority have opted for full-on plutocracy—and it is unimaginable that this week’s ruling will be the last assault by the justices who make up that majority upon the underpinnings of democracy.”
Barring a rebellion by “We the People,” the march to that plutocratic system of governance—rule by the rich—will, as Nichols notes, continue unabated.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) says, “It is far too often the case in Washington that powerful corporate interests, the wealthy, and the well-connected get to write the rules, and now the Supreme Court has given them more power to rule the ballot box by creating an uneven playing field where big money matters more than the voice of ordinary citizens.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wonders what planet the five conservative justices live.
“To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd,” he says. “The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”
The evisceration of campaign financing restrictions and the takeover of our public schools by for-profit enterprises comprise the two greatest threats to our constitutional way of governance, for without an educated citizenry free of corporate hegemony, representative democracy—government of, by, and for the people—shall perish from this earth.
Care if you are, as Donne states it, “involved in mankind,” and rebel against this latest outrage.
Otherwise, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”