Thursday was not merely a 9/11 for American democracy — it was worse. The Supreme Court’s appalling and unconscionable 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission means, essentially, one thing: Corporations will not just dominate, but rule, American politics for the forseeable future. On Paul Burka’s Texas Monthly blog, UT law professor David Anderson summed it up chillingly: “This is the end of politics as we know it, the end of democracy as we know it.”It is almost impossible to comprehend the immensity of what has happened. As The New York Times wrote in an appropriately apocalyptic editorial, “With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.”Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy,” the Times wrote. But limiting the damage is all that can be done by Congress. It is doubtful that anything can be done to prevent the Citizens United decision — surely the most radical act of judicial activism in American history — from twisting democracy into an expression of pure, unadulterated corporate will. The fat cats have won — and won in a way that even the most cynical of us never really believed possible. The ruling, based on a profound perversion of the First Amendment, frees corporations from a longstanding ban that had been upheld repeatedly, for decades, against their spending directly on campaigns. Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, Microsoft: They can now fork out as much as they want, as much as they need, to elect corporate shills like Gov. Rick Perry. And they can spend any amount to defeat any candidate who might dare stand up to them on behalf of the people. Once in office, politicians will be committing political suicide if they dare to, say, vote for a health-care reform bill not favored by insurance companies. Or if they raise their voices against a war that the defense contractors want to use to fatten their profits. Republicans will be short-term beneficiaries of this decision, of course. Especially Republicans in states like Texas, where unions — which can also now spend unlimited amounts on campaigns — are anemic compared to corporations. As Howard Fineman of Newsweek said last night on MSNBC, “Democrats in red states: Look out.” But Democrats will not be the only losers. We will all lose — all of us, that is, who are not content to passively surrender control of our government to corporations. The celebrations of right-wingers like Hiram Sasser of the Liberty Legal Institute in Plano, who idiotically called the decision “a major victory” that “ends a dark period of political censorship,” only demonstrate the bottomless depths of their stupidity. The baldfaced lies of such politicians as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had the gall to claim that “sunshine” laws would make everything OK by letting people see who was buying their elections, only demonstrate the depth of their utter contempt for democracy. All is not quite lost. While many on the right will be lulled by partisanship into thinking this is a good thing, saner people will surely not roll over and allow this to happen without hollering at the tops of their voices and trying to do something. But what? President Obama spoke out immediately and strongly against the ruling and vowed to work with Congress to pass laws that would enable citizens to continue to have some small voice in the democratic process.
That’s good. But even it it happens, it won’t be enough. Ultimately, the only thing that can save us from complete corporate control of the U.S. government will be a new Supreme Court ruling overturning this atrocity. If I were Pat Robertson, I’d be advising everyone to pray for one of the five justices who will now go down in history — if real history is still allowed to be written, read and taught in the America of the future — as agents of tyranny, as traitors of the most infamous kind, to be struck down somehow so that Obama can appoint a justice who gives a whit about the U.S. Constitution and the liberty of our people. I’m not Pat Robertson. But I am as angry and vengeful and terrified, as I write this, as that bizarre man has ever been. The Five Horsemen of the American Apocalypse have materialized, in black robes, and they have left what remained of democracy in smoking ruins.
CORRECTION: This post originally misidentified Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader. McConnell was Senate Minority Leader at the time of writing, and became Senate Majority Leader in 2015.