A Mass of Mutes
July 7, 2012
Every since I learned the Supreme Court in 1886 endowed corporations with personhood in the case of Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, I’ve been scratching my head wondering how they pulled that off.
What were ordinary Americans thinking when they went along with the ruse, I thought? The court assumes the mantle of Judges of the Heavenly Host, calls certain business entities “persons” and, aping the Lord, gives them the rights of human persons and nobody raises enough of a row to call them out?
We should’ve been banging on pots and pans!
I don’t know, maybe it was done in innocence. Maybe they just didn’t think it through. A lot of that goes around among folks who think of themselves as brilliant. This is how we got our carbon-soaked atmosphere —we didn’t think things through. By the law of unintended consequences, what seemed like a good idea at the moment (a few Model-T’s belching exhaust) often morphs into something threatening and unmanageable.
In the head note of the 1886 decision the Chief Justice’s oral argument began, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”
Suddenly a thing without a heart, which never breathed a breath, never tasted the sweetness of life or its bitterness, which never knew love, compassion or the beauty of empathy, is raised to personhood by nine men in black robes with the crack of a gavel.
So the morphing began.
Even though a head note is not part of the court’s decision, and therefore does not set precedence, corporate personhood was set in stone two years later in Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania when the court ruled that “Under the designation of ‘person’ there is no doubt that a private corporation is included (in the 14th Amendment).
“There is no doubt.” Sounds religious doesn’t it?
Ok, that ruling was ridiculously bad enough, but bring the legal fiction of corporate personhood together with a later absurd ruling and you have a stew as lethal as any dreamed up by MacBeth’s three witches:
“Double, double toil and trouble,” the court may as well have said, “Fire burn, and caldron bubble. For a charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
In 2010 the Supreme Court doubled down on its corporate bias. In the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission it ruled that the 1st Amendment, “prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditure by corporations and unions.”
Do you know how much money a corporate person makes? Think millions and billions.
How much does your own personal person make —oh hell, throw in your wife’s or husband’s personal wages too— my guess is, combined, your two persons are not making anything close to millions and billions. So, in strictly financial terms, can we agree that corporate persons probably have more clout than natural persons?
This is not s stretch.
So here’s our present situation as former labor Secretary Robert Reich sees it:
“A funny thing happened to the First Amendment on its way to the public forum,” he says. ” According to the Supreme Court, money is now speech and corporations are now people. But when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with the political consequences of this (Occupy Wall Street), they’re treated as public nuisances and evicted.”
Bottom line (no pun intended): if money is political speech then most of us are right now petitioning our representatives, mouths gagged with off-shore-manufactured socks, through which we can yell our muffled cries until we’re blue (or red) in the face —trying to broadcast the effects of income inequity on the middle-class and poor. But we’ll be doing this until all the U.S. chickens come home to roost (which will probably be a tad too late with the Supreme Foxes guarding the hen house).
Corporations are people and money is speech, how odd. We must be in Wonderland where, as Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean…”
Since Ronald Reagan’s one-sided proclamation that “government is the problem” the right has vilified government and pressed for the privatization of just about everything that would lead to the vast accumulation and concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands at the expense of the common good.
But brighter and nobler minds have seen the dark side of Reagan’s distraction:
“There is an evil,” founder James Madison said, “which ought to be guarded against.”
Madison then went on to define that evil as “…the indefinite accumulation of property (and) the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by…corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.”
With this year’s obscene attempt by corporate persons to purchase the United States government we are experiencing what so troubled Madison.
We can only undo the damage done to the democracy of the U.S. by the Supreme Court in its Orwellian corporations-are-persons and money-is-speech rulings by
1.) not electing a president who says “Corporations are people, my friend.” (Romney) and
2.) following up with a constitutional amendment to eliminate the court’s conceit of corporate personhood.
Regarding the first, do your best to ignore the corporate hype that spews from the lips of Mitt during the next few months. As for the second, run, do not walk to Move to Amend (movetoamend.org) and join before we find ourselves a poor mass of mutes sucking on socks, picking at the crumbs of a plutocracy populated by big, wide-open mouths.
by Jim Culleny
for the West County Independent