Maryann Tobin

America is in uncharted territory now that Citizens United has taken hold in the 2012 elections. It has some people questioning whether or not the United States of America is still a democracy.

Since the Supreme Court declared corporations human beings (people) in the 2009 Citizens United case, more than U.S. elections have changed. Millionaires, corporations, and secret donor Super PACs are now allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money to influence the outcome of U.S. political campaigns.

The majority of Citizens United funding is coming from conservative groups that are backing Republican candidates. With enough negative TV ads against Democrats, the millionaire-funded Super PACs can literally “brainwash” the electorate enough to take control of the U.S. government.

While some people may believe that unlimited campaign spending by millionaires is just another form of freedom, others suggest that it signals the end of democracy in America.

To understand what Citizens United has really done to America, a short visit to a dictionary can be an eye-opener.

Democracy: Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

Oligarchy: A form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

Plutocracy: The rule or power of wealth or of the wealthy; a government or state in which the wealthy class rules; a class or group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth.

Based on the definitions above, America currently has some elements of oligarchy, plutocracy and democracy. It is also fair to say that America is also in a transition period, as Citizens United takes effect. But after the next election that will change, because all three cannot coexist for any length of time.

What is likely to emerge after the 2012 elections will be plutocracy controlled by oligarchy, which, if allowed to follow its natural course, will gradually suffocate what is left of democracy.

“There have been many plutocracies down through history, and the United States is one of them…since wealth can easily be translated into power and power can easily be consolidated for purposes of political control,” according to the Daily Kos.

Plutocratic oligarchy has already taken hold in the United States, as evidenced by the growing gap between rich and poor over the past 30 years. Furthermore, more Americans are beginning to believe that the current generation will be less well-off than their parents.

Now imagine the present income inequality gap on steroids, and that is what Citizens United can do for America.

“This has nothing to do with liberals. This has to do with a Republican Party that cares more about themselves and their own power than they do about our country.” Former Governor Howard Dean said on MSNBC.

“Do you think the Koch brothers give a damn about the average American?” Dean added. “Shelly Adelson doesn’t give a damn about the United States of America. He gives a damn about Shelly Adelson.”

There are probably parts of the American electorate that really don’t care whether they live in a democracy or a plutocracy, as long as they have a job, health insurance and a decent roof over their heads.

However, under plutocratic corporate rule, wages will continue to go down, so the roof gets smaller. And health insurance is a benefit most employers would not provide, if they were not forced to by law, so that too disappears.

How quickly we forget

In the 1920s, America was ruled by the rich. There were few rules or regulations on business, no workers rights or safety requirements, no limits on the ‘freedom’ of capitalism.

The result was a high mortality rate among workers, including child labor, who regularly died in explosions and fires in unsafe work environments. There were no paid vacation days, or time off. Deadly chemicals were dumped into waterways that worked its way into the drinking water supply. Air pollution choked and sickened the public in ways science barely understood.

Then life in America got even worse. Unregulated capitalism was overwhelmed by greed, which led to the 1929 crash of the stock market and the complete collapse of the world economy. This marked the beginning of the Great Depression, which would last until the 1940s.

What America learned from her history was that capitalism drove the economy, but could not be allowed to operate without government regulations to reel in the temptations of greed and corruption.

Citizens United removed the boundaries between corruption, greed, and government.

It has been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This has become evident as America’s middle class struggles under the weight of lobbyists and Wall Street bookies with economic interests that do not include consideration for the greater good.

Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz said, “We have created a society in which materialism overwhelms moral commitment, in which the rapid growth that we have achieved is not sustainable environmentally or socially, in which we do not act together to address our common needs. Market fundamentalism has eroded any sense of community and has led to rampant exploitation of unwary and unprotected individuals. There has been an erosion of trust—and not just in our financial institutions.”

Citizens United marks more than the end of democracy. It reinforces the sad truth that America is no longer a country that rewards those who keep their integrity and work the hardest. Instead, it has become a nation that most rewards those who scheme the best.

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