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Laura Bonham: Citizens United vs. United Citizens — The Showdown of the Century

With the presidency of Donald Trump, the fusion of government and corporate rule is complete.

When the US Supreme Court decided in favor of the plaintiff in the Citizens United case on January 21, 2010, did the five justices who supported it know that their decision would open the door to a fascist state within six short years? In large part, Citizens United caused a minority of voters, aided by the Electoral College, to elect a real live major international corporation in the form of Donald Trump as President. The fusion of government and corporate rule is complete.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Samuel A. Alito, and Clarence Thomas joined Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote for the majority. They claimed there was no evidence that ‘independent’ money influences and corrupts the electoral process.” In all their judicial wisdom, somehow they did not foresee at the time what the other four Justices and a large majority of Americans from both parties saw: the potential merger of our government with U.S. corporations.

Trump has gone on to appoint the most corporate administration ever. Nearly 70% of Trump’s appointments  have corporate ties, and his entire cabinet is mostly unqualified and unsuited for, or in opposition to, the department they head. Plainly put, these corporatists are in position to destroy the very departments that exist to protect We the People and the economy and environment on which our livelihoods depend.

We the People have been struggling under Corporate Rule for some time. Nowhere is it more apparent than in our electoral process, already corrupted before Citizens United, as CEO’s, board members, and major shareholders flooded the process with direct and indirect donations, individual and bundled, to campaigns, parties, and PACs, far outspending what the ordinary citizen could afford. Citizens United put an end to the charade and lifted most corporate regulations governing the independent spending of money in elections. It lowered the bridge over the moat, and allowed the marauders unfettered access to the citadel of American democracy: our elections.

History will most definitely repeat itself when profit for a few outweighs economic wellbeing for the many. The U.S. is currently embroiled in another Gilded Age, where corporations, instead of bought-off politicians, are actually running the place. Mark Twain is credited for coining the term “Gilded Age,” a truly ironic turn. Perhaps the most famous of American populists, Twain possessed an abiding love and faith in this country and his fellow Americans, while taking every opportunity to skewer government. He famously said these words: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” We the People are near the point where we must collectively decide to withdraw our consent to be governed, or allow the current fascist government to roll right over us and every last bit of our tattered democracy. We are exactly where our predecessors were during the first Gilded Age: the 1% playing us against ourselves, while robbing us blind.

The first Gilded Age produced Robber Barons and Rebels. Their “Robber Barons” are our 1%, and still include names like (J.P.) Morgan, Carnegie, Mellon, and Rockefeller, who got exceedingly rich by exploiting people and the rule of law. Practical and obvious solutions, like Medicare for All, a green sustainable economy, and a guaranteed annual income are impossible because they reduce profits for the same few, despite causing great expense, harm and death to the many, without their enactment.

Since the beginning of the Gilded Age, corporations have been using the courts to assume constitutional human rights, which enabled their dominance then and a modern fascist state now. The 1886 Santa Clara County V Southern Pacific Railroad case gave corporations their first human right: equal protection under the law. (Women would fight and shed blood to obtain that right for the next 34 years.) From that point forward, corporations have been rewriting sections of the U.S. and state constitutions to gain constitutional rights meant for human beings, and other rights — like immortality — which no human being could possibly assert.

It’s important to recognize that the affirmation of “corporate personhood” in Citizens United is far more damaging than granting them the single right to speak in elections. Since that ruling, the Hobby Lobby case imbued for-profit corporations with an additional, although narrow, First Amendment right to religious belief, undermining the separation of church and state. A clear pattern exists: corporations and their lawyers chipping away at the Constitution, bit by little bit, gaining more rights and undermining those of actual living, breathing individual people.

The recent tax reform  package signed into law by a president purporting to make America great again and opposed by a huge majority of voters, is a prime example of what happens when corporations rule. The reform package provides a little temporary tax relief to some working Americans. The bulk of benefits go to corporations and their major shareholders (the 1%) in the form of permanent tax cuts, purposely driving the nation into astronomical debt. Cuts to public assistance programs and earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare cannot be far behind when it comes time to reconcile the budget. The inequality gap widens.

Many organizations and certain Democrats are calling to overturn Citizens United, which will only take us back in time to 2009, when corporations already possessed other First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights along with the Holy Grail of human rights, the aforementioned 14th Amendment – the right to equal protection under the law.

As long as corporations don’t die and are recognized as people with 14th amendment rights, addressing campaign spending will not fix the problem in the long run. The only constitutional remedy is to abolish corporate constitutional rights all together and replace them with a set of clearly articulated privileges, which enable them to conduct business in a secure and stable environment while protecting the public welfare.

The We the People Amendment, now before Congress, does exactly that, and it is the only amendment to completely overturn Citizens United and all rulings imbuing corporations with constitutional human rights.

It’s difficult to compare current conditions in the country to conditions one hundred years ago, and not ask ourselves, “What are We the People going to do about this, and what specifically am I going to do?” Our predecessors were already fully engaged in the struggle and reaching millions of Americans (without the Internet). We have technology they never dreamed of to help us organize, but do we have the will, resilience, and presence of mind and body to take what is rightfully ours: our own government? Alice Walker had it right when she said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

The “Rebels” of the Gilded Age were progressive populists, who self organized and built power. The Progressive Era is characterized by solidarity organizing across the producing class (those who labor to produce) through direct assistance, action, and electoral organizing, resulting in the formation of the People’s Party. Although co-opted by the Democratic Party, a wave of legislation embracing the Peoples’ Party platform passed, positively impacting the lives of most workers (overwhelmingly white) and opened the door to the creation of the middle class (overwhelmingly white). We may be living in a fascist state, but we still have many tools of democracy at our disposal. Like our progressive predecessors, it’s time to pick them up, start organizing for power, pass the We the People Amendment, and build a real transformative democracy where every single person is a recognized person under the Constitution with full voice, equal rights and a real chance at equity.

There are many fronts of resistance happening right now, which are all elements of a burgeoning democracy movement. From Occupy and the North Dakota Water Protectors to Black Lives Matter and The Dreamers, single issue movements are ebbing and flowing. The Trump Presidency has caused economic, environmental, and social justice advocates to organize more frantically than ever. Organizations like Liberty Tree, Move to Amend, and the US Social Forum, to name only a few, are building the democracy movement from the ground up by providing tools, educational materials, actions, and resources to practice and create solidarity, equality, and eventually a real democracy. Resistance is important, but it must include an alternative to the status quo.

If We the People are truly going to carry on with the great American experiment in democracy and self-governance, we must learn from the Populists, who failed to find common ground with communities of color. Corporate rule is the common feature of almost all issues of concern to We the People, no matter what demographic we may fall in. By joining those on the frontlines of oppression to fight corporate rule as it plays out in both urban and rural areas — in common cause — we can achieve what the populists couldn’t: solidarity and a chance at authentic democracy that works for the benefit of We the People, not Robber Barons and the 1%.

It’s no mistake that most Americans are at a loss as to what they should do next. Far too many of us have been taught that casting a ballot is the only necessary participation in a democracy. Even if that were true, consider how the political parties have maneuvered to protect themselves and their donors; there is absolutely no way in the current moment to vote ourselves out of this mess. Corporations have been intentionally changing the rules of the game for the last fourteen decades, so that no matter who wins, the people lose. The fix is in; citizens/patriots need to be creative and intentional in the way we move forward.

Just as it was for the American Revolutionaries, the Abolitionists, the Populists, and the Suffragists before us, the moment for We the People to non-violently rise up is upon us. This, too, is a war for the heart and soul of this nation – -an ideological showdown of immense proportions. Will we unite to fulfill the promise of American democracy or will we allow corporate rule to keep us divided? Will every sacrifice to protect our freedoms, made by those patriots before us, become meaningless under a fascist state and continued corporate rule?

What should you do next? If abolishing corporate rule isn’t your first issue, please make it your second. Sign the petition, then volunteer  with the Campaign to Legalize Democracy!

First published in Common Dreams. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


Laura Bonham

Laura Bonham is a member of Move to Amend’s National Leadership team and a contributing wordsmith in Move to Amend’s communication department. She is a community organizer, former candidate for state office, and a small business owner.


The Trump International Hotel has become a symbol in Washington of President Donald Trump’s continued corporate ties as he serves in the White House. (Photo: Mike Maguire/Flickr/cc)

One comment on “Laura Bonham: Citizens United vs. United Citizens — The Showdown of the Century

  1. Vox Populi
    January 24, 2018

    Despite the blinders and filters put in place by corporate media, I imagine that most people in the US would agree that this country is in the hands of multinational corporations.

    How prevalent, how insidious, how total that control is, is obvious from the corporate-heavy presence in offices from the Trump Cabinet down to local governments, school districts and sports arenas, and the increasing income gaps between the 1% and the rest of us.

    The condition is reflected in our pop culture images of totalitarian systems like the Matrix and widespread conspiracy theories of nefarious sinister evil-doers.

    It’s also apparent in the relatively recent additions to our everyday vocabularies of terms like oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, and hegemony, and the widespread agreement that we are now living in a new Gilded Age.

    What may not be as clear to many, is exactly how we got here, and more to the point, how do we get back to some semblance of democracy.

    As the Laura Bonham article here discusses, it didn’t start with the recent Trump Congress tax bill, nor with the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. It didn’t start with the Koch brothers and their ilk setting in motion the right-wing grassroots movement to take over electoral politics following Goldwater’s failure to win the Presidency.

    It didn’t start with the little-noted but crucial decision of the Democratic Party to bring big-money PACs into Congressional elections in an attempt to counter GOP dominance in the Reagan era.

    Although its origin can be traced back to the elitist-populist conflicts in the Revolutionary Era and the eventual victory of Hamiltonian over Jeffersonian ideology, a more clear-cut historical nexus, as.Bonham points out, is the 1886 Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara v Southern Pacific Railroad, which gave corporations the legal rights of personhood.

    The present ramifications of this landmark decision of the previous Gilded Age are enormous, and go a long way toward answering the question of how we got here.

    Answers to how we get out of the mess are not as clear. How do you escape a totalitarian system you are willy-nilly part of, formed by, embroiled in? How did human dignity and a sense of human rights survive the Nazi and Leninist-Stalinist totalitarian regimes?

    While the “We the People” constitutional amendment proposed in the Laura Bonham article has all the right positions and may serve as a fine educational instrument and organizing tool, it doesn’t present a viable means of escape.

    Not only would it, like any proposed amendment, open the door to consideration of a host of other, very undesirable, amendments, but it doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in the hell of corporate control reality.

    So, yes, sign the petition at the end of the Bonham article, but realize that winning this fight is going to take more than that, more than signing any number of petitions, more than voting in any number of elections or marching in any number of marches. Do all that, the struggle must be fought on all levels at all times, but do it knowing that the struggle has been going on for a long time and will go on long after the 2018 elections, no matter who wins.

    Participatory democracy means recognizing that we are political animals, that in order for democracy to work, politics must be part of our everyday lives, not (as the Koch campaign and corporate media has painted it) some dirty affair we hire others to do, and that we engage personally only in polls, petitions, and occasional elections, or in private kvetches, bullsessions, Facebook blurbs and otherwise preaching to the choir.

    And as democracy is a matter of constant vigilance, constant participation, so Resistance is a way of life.

    Michael Gregory


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