I have this regret: that I won’t be around to read the judgement of future historians as to when, exactly, democracy died in the United States.
This week’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission wasn’t the death knell; it was simply a reminder of how relatively easily Americans forfeited their democratic tradition. Scarcely a whimper.
What was the actual fatal blow? Was it a single stroke, death by guillotine or lightning bolt? Was it a long slow death from many causes — unhealthy lifestyle, ingestion of small bits of countless poisons, bad air, bad water, bad food, bad government?
Forced to opine, I would probably choose the second proposition, although a strong case can be made that the Supreme Court dropped the blade with its handover of the 2000 election to George W. Bush. We’d had terrible presidencies before but we’d never had one imposed on us by the highest court in the land. Having thus established the principle of non-democratic governance, what followed was predictable: the series of rulings for the corporate oligarchy and against the common man of which McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission now becomes one more part in an abominable whole.
The New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz wrote more truth than comedy in summing it up:
“By a five-to-four decision, the United States Supreme Court today defended the right of the wealthiest Americans to own the United States government.”
For the record, the majority was the usual gang of five: Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. Their earlier Citizens United ruling had opened the door for all of our “free, democratic” elections to be bought by the rich and powerful. The few fragile restraints remaining were erased this week. A single donor can now give more than $5 million in individual contributions to every House candidate, every Senate candidate, every state party committee, every national party committee and every leadership PAC connected to one political party.
And so, my fellow citizens, understand that the rulers of your country are not Obama, Biden, Boehner, McConnell et al. They are mere chattels, owned lock, stock and bribe by your real rulers: Walton, Koch, Scaife, Adelsen, Simmons, Schwab, Groff, Nau, Perry, Marriott, Bommer, Hubbard, Ackerman, Gramm, Thiel, Perenchio, Penske, Singer . . . .and more. They are the billionaires who are now endowed with the inalienable right to buy as much of, or any part of, government that they choose.
With these oligarchs calling all the shots, we are destroying our economy with the costs of endless war, destroying our environment by lack of controls on polluters and land abusers, destroying our health by letting agribusiness and giant food profiteers infuse our foods with god-only-knows what kind of poisons, making basic health care and medicine unaffordable, striking every last individual right and liberty out of our Constitution, making the electoral process a laughing stock, imposing a state religion and driving increasing numbers of us into the ranks of the poor.
With democracy dead and nuclear capabilities proliferating, Noam Chomsky wondered, in a recent speech, if the United States isn’t leading all of human civilization toward doom:
“In 1995, the U.S. Strategic Command, or Stratcom, which is in charge of nuclear weapons, published a study, 'Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.' A central conclusion is that the U.S. must maintain the right of a nuclear first strike, even against non-nuclear states. Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be available, because they ‘cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.’
“Thus nuclear weapons are always used, just as you use a gun if you aim it but don't fire when robbing a store.
“Another dire peril casts its shadow over any contemplation of the future - environmental disaster. It's not clear that there even is an escape, though the longer we delay, the more severe the threat becomes - and not in the distant future. The commitment of governments to the security of their populations is therefore clearly exhibited by how they address this issue.
“To put it bluntly, in the moral calculus of today's capitalism, a bigger bonus tomorrow outweighs the fate of one's grandchildren.
“What are the prospects for survival then? They are not bright. But the achievements of those who have struggled for centuries for greater freedom and justice leave a legacy that can be taken up and carried forward - and must be, and soon, if hopes for decent survival are to be sustained. And nothing can tell us more eloquently what kind of creatures we are.”
Today, we are the kind of creatures who meekly submit to outrages like McCutcheon v. FCC.