In the harsh climate of postmodern America the old adage “Money talks” doesn’t suffice: money screams. With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizen’s United v. the Federal Election Commission, a corporation’s right to sway elections with its wealth has essentially been granted part of its right to free speech, making this old turn of phrase a bitter reality. Many writers have pointed out some of the possible implications of this ruling, appropriately using hyperbole to demonstrate some of the dangers it may pose to the legitimacy of future elections. But I would argue that the direst implication for citizens is their loss of voice in this new de facto political language of dollars. By implicitly declaring financial contributions to be the protected speech of corporations, the US Supreme Court has essentially muted the 99% of us who don’t have a rich enough vocabulary to participate in the debate.
Throughout the past few generations, especially as a result of the Cold War, Americans have merged economic ideology with political ideology to the point where there is no longer a discernible difference. We’ve become unable to see capitalism as anything but the natural expression of a free and democratic society. Like Economic Darwinists, we accept the cavernous wealth divide, we ignore unjust elections, and accept our ambivalent place somewhere slightly above the invertabrate caste. We completely forget that politics and economics were once understood as radically separate systems that work with and against each other within a society, with the potential to check and balance each other for the greatest social good possible. Now, especially in our empirical pursuits, we equate spreading our markets with spreading “democracy” and “freedom,” both as a euphemism and as a justification for the imposition.
Contrary to our cultural myths, capitalism and democracy can be mutually exclusive, for instance China, which enjoys the aristocratic wealth of capitalism alongside the sublime ignorance of authoritarianism, or in the case of South America, which has experimented with democratic socialism. Ironically, despite the prominence of democracy in our narratives, it is economics that wins out in our military minds: the American hegemons have historically sabotaged countless nations attempting to bind egalitarian democracies with socially equitable economic systems.
In America we conflate politics and economics so much that the inherent checks and balances of a synergistic political economy have actually become a tyrannical system of control aimed at enriching the capitalist class at any cost. On one hand, our intangible corporate profit-machines enjoy the legal status of “unnatural persons,” essentially giving them many of the same rights as “meaty, sentient humans” (or at least the legal basis to gradually win those rights in court). On the other hand, the common, fleshy people end up subsidizing the lavish wealth of the same corporate plutarchs they depend on for a modest living, then end up having to compete with them in the marketplace of ideas, where currency is the only language spoken. Once unable to see how disenfranchised we are by the rights of “unnatural persons,” my hope is that the Citizen’s United ruling will pull the curtain from the financial wizards that already run the world. No longer relying on Political Action Committees and lobbyists to circumvent democracy, the new Corporatocracy will be exposed as the stinking decay of progressive Americanism. Just like a scream cannot be contained by shrouds, perhaps by lowering the shield of secrecy that has been protecting the corporate gods, the voiceless citizens will invent a new language – one that speaks above the din of econo-political exploitation – restoring power only to voices that emanate from the throats of a democratically engaged citizenry.