FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bernie Sanders vs. the Corporatocracy

by

We are no longer a nation of self-governing people. Our democracy has been captured by American corporate enterprise, and now we confront a documented plutocracy in its place. If we intend to challenge this and contest it, we will need a President Sanders in the White House.

Only candidate Sanders has fashioned a presidential campaign around this crisis which, for thoughtful citizens, is by far the most pressing issue in contemporary public affairs. (Note the record breaking attendance at Sanders’ rallies.) He alone is speaking truth to power regarding it. Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidates are either indifferent to the issue or ignorant of it, so none of their prospective presidencies can be expected to address it.

Corporatocracy is the power to which Mr. Sanders is speaking. It is defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as “a society…that is governed or controlled by corporations.” In such a society public policy is crafted not to advance the general well being of the people, but to protect, enhance, or create profit opportunities for hegemonic corporations.

This is America today: our democracy has been supplanted, transformed by the engines of corporate lobbying and the influence of corporate campaign contributions.

The source of the calamity is a Supreme Court case in 1886, the infamous Santa Clara County decision. It declared corporations to be legal persons—bona fide U.S. citizens with rights fully protected by the Constitution. (The precedent established by the case is technically illegal, but it has endured nevertheless.) Corporate lobbying, consequently, is an exercise of the right to petition. And the right of free speech legalizes corporate campaign contributions, because spending money is a form of speaking—which the Court affirmed most recently in Citizens United.

A document as a person and a dollar as a word are absurd equivalents, prima facie, but both are the law of the land.

Here is the truth Mr. Sanders is speaking. Except for a privileged few, the wealth and incomes of American families are systematically declining as matters of public policy, arguably for the first time in our history. Economic security is fading for nearly all of us. Standards of living are slipping.

The privileged few are the beneficiaries of corporatocracy: corporate executives and directors, major stockholders, Wall Street bankers and brokers, top-tier Washington lobbyists, holders of inherited wealth, etc. De facto plutocrats, these are the country’s richest families whose wealth and incomes, in vivid contrast, are steadily rising.

There is no doubt about this: the data supporting it is conclusive. And there is no foreseeable reversal of either trend; left unaltered they point eventually, unerringly to a polarized society of dizzying luxury and crushing squalor—a Hunger Games scenario. Some may call this hyperbole and and others may find comfort in ignoring it, but folk wisdom is unyielding here: if somethin’ don’t change, we’re gonna git where we’re headed. So something must change. A chaotic, intolerable social structure is a frightening prospect, and violence is not unthinkable: there are sobering historical precedents of angry citizens taking to the streets.

The maldistribution of wealth and incomes we suffer could not occur in a functioning democracy: self-governing people would never impoverish the many to enrich the few.

No, corporatocracy is directly and exclusively responsible here. Corporocratic governance relentlessly promotes public policies favoring corporate interests over the public good—and just as relentlessly stifles policies that might do otherwise.

We could have but we do not, for example, a national industrial policy prohibiting or restricting the export of American jobs—a policy clearly in the public interest. In its absence, American corporations over the past several decades profited immensely from labor arbitrage: shifting high paying manufacturing and white-collar professional jobs to lower-wage countries. From 1992 through 2010, some 28.7 million such jobs were exported and millions more have been since. If alternate employment could be found at all, it was typically in the lower-paid service sector. This is the greatest single cause of declining family incomes, but many other factors contribute, such as the corporocratic savaging of labor unions.

Repealing the Glass-Steagall Act during the Clinton Administration is an iconic example of enacting public policies for direct corporate benefit—even at great cost to the public. Wall Street banks, brokerages, and insurance companies sought the repeal, they were quickly accommodated, and they profited extravagantly—until the housing bubble they created collapsed, threatening their bankruptcy. Whereupon corporatocracy fashioned a bailout for them, with trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. The stock market and the general economy crashed, driving mortgages under water, decimating 401K’s, and forcing many who lost their jobs to liquidate their savings. The decline in family wealth was a direct consequence.

These intertwined issues, the bleak future for American families and the displacement of American democracy, form the core of Mr. Sanders’ campaign. “Enough is enough!” he insists, proposing a political revolution to address them.

Nothing less than revolution will challenge the corporate dominance of our politics and regain our working democracy once more. Among all the presidential candidates Mr. Sanders alone can undertake the task. Hillary Clinton’s handicap is her decades of comfortable experience immersed in the corporatocracy, working its levers, and the substantial corporate financing of her campaigns. She senses no need for the recapture of democracy. If elected, her presidency will offer little more than triangulated tweaking of peripheral issues, to stay within the corporocratic comfort zone. The diverging social trends would continue and so would the potential for violence.

The Republicans’ handicap is their ideology. In denying any value of any sort in any public enterprise (except the Department of Defense), they have furthered corporatocracy’s stranglehold at every turn. A Republican presidency would render our situation unthinkably worse, almost guaranteeing violence.

Will a President Sanders, can a President Sanders retrieve American democracy during his tenure? No, this will take decades, maybe a generation or more. It will require a return to sanity respecting the status and role of the corporation: finally and totally rejecting the absurdity of legal corporate personhood, ultimately by Constitutional amendment or by overturning Santa Clara County.

Corporations fundamentally are commercial organizations providing goods and services to the marketplace, which they typically do efficiently and well. But there is utterly no reason to have corporations involved in crafting public policy, much less to control the process. Absent legal personhood, they can be prohibited from doing so. And they must be: no corporate lobbying, no corporate campaign contributions, only American people—real, live, sentient ones—deciding what’s right and good for the American people.

Regaining our democracy will call for a fight as ugly as anything since the Civil War— hopefully without the bloodshed. Corporatocracy and its wealthy and powerful beneficiaries will not yield quickly or easily.

Mr. Sanders may not live to see the revolution successfully completed. But a President Sanders can and will undertake it, injecting a new set of aspirations and expectations into the public discourse, and setting a trajectory of substantive reform. He will unleash a new narrative, a revolution in awareness and creative thought about the nature of American politics and what it might become once more.

A revolution is on our radar screen. It will be peaceful and gradual or violent and abrupt.

Only by consciously choosing the first of these can we confidently preclude the other.

Richard W. Behan lives in Corvallis, Oregon. He can be reached at: rwbehan@comcast.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail