Citizens United Changed Everything
We have reached a tipping point in this nation. To borrow from Francis Fukuyama, the end of history is being written right now on the proverbial wall of America. If this nation was a constantly evolving canvas, then the paint has dried, the stage is set and the lines are drawn. Our society is reaching the end of an intellectual history. When it comes to the ideology of politics for civilization, there is no middle ground.
Democracy in America is dead. In its place is a plutocratic system that is wrought with big money, and an even bigger concentration of power centralized in the hands of the few. This is not a prediction or a far-reaching hypothesis. This is reality. Right now, they are the winners, and we the people are the losers. The United States Senate recently blocked a proposal to amend the Constitution to toughen regulations on campaign finance and election spending restrictions. The debate centralized around the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The original ruling essentially removed a multitude of barriers to corporate spending to buy elections. The Supreme Court stated that Congress has little power to limit spending money on election ads; as a result, corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Although corporations were banned from donating directly to candidates, no limits on the amount of outside spending were permissible. The amendment that was struck down several weeks ago would have placed limits on campaign fundraising for candidates and outside groups. This is essential because the current political climate is one where a very small group of people can wield their financial influence to “buy” elections. Consider in 2010, 0.26% of the population gave 68% of contributions to Congress. It is not realistic to point to this one statistic as indicative of a new political climate but it is pretty clear that the divide between the top 1% and 99% is growing. The top 1% has seen their incomes rise by over 86% since 1933, while the middle class and lower class incomes are flat or down; thus, American politics is seen as a force dominated by money from the aristocrats. The dire result is an increasingly exclusive class of the selected few calling the shots on how to run the government. The most critical part of the proposed amendment was the clause that declared corporations are not people but identities when it comes to campaign spending. Corporations as an identity would not struck down altogether but would be examined under a different light when it comes to elections.
The involvement of corporations and big business interests are one of the most pivotal in defining democracy in this nation. Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University conducted a study of the American political system by analyzing over 1,800 initiatives from 1981–2002. They found “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S government policy while mass based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence”.
Even more damming was the fact that (if) policymaking is dominated by business and affluent Americans “then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.” Average citizens still matter, but only if they agree with the elite. Right now, the United States has an unchecked political system that is ruled by the interests of a few, and certainly does not represent the views of the many.
There is a reason a fool and his money are soon elected, it’s because it’s the truth. The truth is that money runs this country. Matt Taibbi was right. “The players may be a bit different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game.” Instead of price fixing, enter the death of democracy. The game is rigged to the elite: it’s rigged to those who sit on top and not to those who sit around us in everyday life. Our society is at our own end of history: the defining moment where the stage is rapidly being set. The democratic process has been extolled as an American virtue for decades is rapidly waning, if it is even still in existence.
This does not mean our current political condition is an absolute truth thus we have to accept. A concentrated few may be running the show, but they have not put their rubber stamp on the “book” of our nation. There are 314 million Americans with the power to stand up and write another chapter for our country. An authentic and progressive chapter can come to the horizon. This crisis does not have to be our end of history because we all can continue the story. Citizens United has changed everything. It is up to the people to decide how. The brave may not live forever but the cautious don’t live at all.