Corporations Are Citizens — What Are We?

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I sure wish this image reflected reality

W.J. Astore

Back in January 2010, I wrote the following article for Truthout in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision.  Despite recent mass protests driven by murders of blacks such as George Floyd, not much has changed.  Police reforms are stalled at the federal level, and a racist president continues to inflame even as he seeks greater power.  Americans are told change will come via the ballot box, but when politicians are essentially owned by citizen-corporations, changing a few faces in Congress or even the Oval Office will change little.  As George Carlin explained to a skeptical audience: “You have owners.  They own you.”  And so we are reduced to certain roles in society, mainly as consumers but also as warriors and prisoners – or so I argued in 2010:

Corporations Are Citizens — What Are We?

This week’s Supreme Court ruling [Citizens United] that corporations are protected by “free speech” rights and can contribute enormous sums of money to influence elections is a de jure endorsement of the de facto dominance of corporations over our lives. Indeed, corporations are the new citizens of this country, and ordinary Americans, who used to be known as “citizens,” now fall into three categories: consumers, warriors and prisoners.

Think about it. Perhaps you’ve noticed, as a friend of mine has, that the term “citizen” has largely disappeared from our public and political discourse. And what term has taken its place? Consumer. That’s our new role: not to exercise our rights as citizens (perish the thought, that’s for corporations to do!), but to exercise our credit cards as consumers. Here one might recall President George W. Bush’s inspiring words to Americans after 9-11 to “go shopping” and to visit Disney.

Think again of our regulatory agencies like the FDA or SEC. They no longer take action to protect us as “citizens.” Rather, they act to safeguard the confidence of “consumers.” And apparently the only news that’s worthy of note is that which affects us as consumers.

As one-dimensional “consumers,” we’ve been reduced to obedient eunuchs in thrall to the economy. Our sole purpose is to keep buying and spending. Corporations, meanwhile, are the citizen-activists in our politics, with the voting and speech rights to match their status.

At the same time we’ve reduced citizens to consumers, we’ve reduced citizen-soldiers to “warriors” or “warfighters.” The citizen-soldier of World War II did his duty in the military, but his main goal was to come home, regain his civilian job, and enjoy the freedoms and rights of American citizenship. Today, our military encourages a “warrior” mentality: a narrow-minded professionalism that emphasizes warfighting skills over citizenship and civic duty.

And if that’s not disturbing enough, think of our military’s ever-increasing reliance on private military contractors or mercenaries.

The final category of American is all-too-obvious: prisoner. No country in the modern industrialized world incarcerates more of its citizens than the United States. More than 7.3 million Americans currently languish somewhere in our prison system [awaiting trial, on parole, or in jail]. Our only hope, apparently, for a decline in prison population is the sheer expense to states of caring and feeding all these “offenders.”

There you have it. Corporations are our new citizens. And you? If you’re lucky, you get to make a choice: consumer, warrior or prisoner. Which will it be?

Is There Anybody More Shameless than Trump?

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Trump hugs the flag at CPAC

W.J. Astore

Trump’s “superpower” is his utter shamelessness.

He’ll tweet lies and conspiracy theories about Martin Gugino,  a 75-year-old activist who was shoved to the ground and sent to the emergency room by Buffalo cops.  He’ll shamelessly use both the Bible and the flag as props.  He infamously teargassed peaceful protesters so he could pose with a Bible in Washington, D.C.  Trump, of course, knows nothing about said Bible; when asked, he couldn’t name a single passage from it, nor did he seem to know the difference between the Old and New Testaments.  No matter — Trump knows a useful prop when he sees one.

When the Bible fails to impress, it’s back to the flag again.  Trump is reviving the whole kneeling dispute in the NFL, when Colin Kaepernick and other black players took a knee in protest against police brutality.  Allegedly finding this “disrespectful,” Trump hugs Old Glory to his body while grinning like the cat who swallowed the canary.

For a refreshing dose of reality, I was watching George Carlin and he reminded me politicians have three favorite theatrical props: the Bible, the flag, and children.  Trump is two for three; when will he start arguing that he should be reelected to save the children?

There’s a breathtaking shamelessness to Trump.  It comes with his all-consuming ego and astonishing narcissism, but it’s more than that — Trump enjoys tapping into his shamelessness so as to inflame his base and further divide America.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party empowers him because they find him both intimidating and tractable.  Trump intimidates because he can fire-up his cult-like base against any Republican with a single tweet; Trump is tractable because he largely does the bidding of corporate elites and financial powerbrokers.  They may not like Trump’s egotism and vulgarity, but they sure do like all the money flowing upward to them.

This dynamic reminded me of a line from the Bob Seger song, “Night Moves“: I used her, she used me, but neither one cared/we were gettin’ our share.  But even those who are getting their share should be wary of Trump: his utter shamelessness means he has very little to lose.