Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction

By Chris Hedges

Corporate forces, long before the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v.
Federal Election Commission, carried out a coup d’état in slow motion. The coup
is over. We lost. The ruling is one more judicial effort to streamline
mechanisms for corporate control. It exposes the myth of a functioning democracy
and the triumph of corporate power. But it does not significantly alter the
political landscape. The corporate state is firmly cemented in place.

The fiction of democracy remains useful, not only for corporations, but for our
bankrupt liberal class. If the fiction is seriously challenged, liberals will be
forced to consider actual resistance, which will be neither pleasant nor easy.
As long as a democratic facade exists, liberals can engage in an empty moral
posturing that requires little sacrifice or commitment. They can be the
self-appointed scolds of the Democratic Party, acting as if they are part of the
debate and feel vindicated by their cries of protest.

Much of the outrage expressed about the court’s ruling is the outrage of those
who prefer this choreographed charade. As long as the charade is played, they do
not have to consider how to combat what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin
calls our system of “inverted totalitarianism.”

Inverted totalitarianism represents “the political coming of age of corporate
power and the political demobilization of the citizenry,” Wolin writes in
“Democracy Incorporated.” Inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms
of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader, and
finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. The corporate
forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not, as classical totalitarian
movements do, boast of replacing decaying structures with a new, revolutionary
structure. They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the
Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power as to make
democracy impossible.

Inverted totalitarianism is not conceptualized as an ideology or objectified in
public policy. It is furthered by “power-holders and citizens who often seem
unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions,” Wolin writes.
But it is as dangerous as classical forms of totalitarianism. In a system of
inverted totalitarianism, as this court ruling illustrates, it is not necessary
to rewrite the Constitution, as fascist and communist regimes do. It is enough
to exploit legitimate power by means of judicial and legislative interpretation.
This exploitation ensures that huge corporate campaign contributions are
protected speech under the First Amendment. It ensures that heavily financed and
organized lobbying by large corporations is interpreted as an application of the
people’s right to petition the government. The court again ratified the concept
that corporations are persons, except in those cases where the “persons” agree
to a “settlement.” Those within corporations who commit crimes can avoid going
to prison by paying large sums of money to the government while, according to
this twisted judicial reasoning, not “admitting any wrongdoing.” There is a word
for this. It is called corruption.

Corporations have 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state
capitals that dole out corporate money to shape and write legislation. They use
their political action committees to solicit employees and shareholders for
donations to fund pliable candidates. The financial sector, for example, spent
more than $5 billion on political campaigns, influence peddling and lobbying
during the past decade, which resulted in sweeping deregulation, the gouging of
consumers, our global financial meltdown and the subsequent looting of the U.S.
Treasury. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $26
million last year and drug companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly kicked
in tens of millions more to buy off the two parties. These corporations have
made sure our so-called health reform bill will force us to buy their predatory
and defective products. The oil and gas industry, the coal industry, defense
contractors and telecommunications companies have thwarted the drive for
sustainable energy and orchestrated the steady erosion of civil liberties.
Politicians do corporate bidding and stage hollow acts of political theater to
keep the fiction of the democratic state alive.

There is no national institution left that can accurately be described as
democratic. Citizens, rather than participate in power, are allowed to have
virtual opinions to preordained questions, a kind of participatory fascism as
meaningless as voting on “American Idol.” Mass emotions are directed toward the
raging culture wars. This allows us to take emotional stands on issues that are
inconsequential to the power elite.

Our transformation into an empire, as happened in ancient Athens and Rome, has
seen the tyranny we practice abroad become the tyranny we practice at home. We,
like all empires, have been eviscerated by our own expansionism. We utilize
weapons of horrific destructive power, subsidize their development with billions
in taxpayer dollars, and are the world’s largest arms dealer. And the
Constitution, as Wolin notes, is “conscripted to serve as power’s apprentice
rather than its conscience.”

“Inverted totalitarianism reverses things,” Wolin writes. “It is politics all of
the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are
occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics
among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and
rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of
national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice
of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is
the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the
welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly
seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative
government and public administration by a sea of cash.”

Hollywood, the news industry and television, all corporate controlled, have
become instruments of inverted totalitarianism. They censor or ridicule those
who critique or challenge corporate structures and assumptions. They saturate
the airwaves with manufactured controversy, whether it is Tiger Woods or the
dispute between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. They manipulate images to make us
confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge, which is how Barack Obama became
president. And the draconian internal control employed by the Department of
Homeland Security, the military and the police over any form of popular dissent,
coupled with the corporate media’s censorship, does for inverted totalitarianism
what thugs and bonfires of books do in classical totalitarian regimes.

“It seems a replay of historical experience that the bias displayed by today’s
media should be aimed consistently at the shredded remains of liberalism,” Wolin
writes. “Recall that an element common to most 20th century totalitarianism,
whether Fascist or Stalinist, was hostility towards the left. In the United
States, the left is assumed to consist solely of liberals, occasionally of `the
left wing of the Democratic Party,’ never of democrats.”

Liberals, socialists, trade unionists, independent journalists and
intellectuals, many of whom were once important voices in our society, have been
silenced or targeted for elimination within corporate-controlled academia, the
media and government. Wolin, who taught at Berkeley and later at Princeton, is
arguably the country’s foremost political philosopher. And yet his book was
virtually ignored. This is also why Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia
McKinney, along with intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, are not given a part in
our national discourse.

The uniformity of opinion is reinforced by the skillfully orchestrated mass
emotions of nationalism and patriotism, which paints all dissidents as “soft” or
“unpatriotic.” The “patriotic” citizen, plagued by fear of job losses and
possible terrorist attacks, unfailingly supports widespread surveillance and the
militarized state. This means no questioning of the $1 trillion in
defense-related spending. It means that the military and intelligence agencies
are held above government, as if somehow they are not part of government. The
most powerful instruments of state power and control are effectively removed
from public discussion. We, as imperial citizens, are taught to be contemptuous
of government bureaucracy, yet we stand like sheep before Homeland Security
agents in airports and are mute when Congress permits our private correspondence
and conversations to be monitored and archived. We endure more state control
than at any time in American history.

The civic, patriotic and political language we use to describe ourselves remains
unchanged. We pay fealty to the same national symbols and iconography. We find
our collective identity in the same national myths. We continue to deify the
Founding Fathers. But the America we celebrate is an illusion. It does not
exist. Our government and judiciary have no real sovereignty. Our press provides
diversion, not information. Our organs of security and power keep us as
domesticated and as fearful as most Iraqis. Capitalism, as Karl Marx understood,
when it emasculates government, becomes a revolutionary force. And this
revolutionary force, best described as inverted totalitarianism, is plunging us
into a state of neo-feudalism, perpetual war and severe repression. The Supreme
Court decision is part of our transformation by the corporate state from
citizens to prisoners.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent, writes a column published
every Monday on Truthdig. His latest book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of
Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”

Original: AP / Charles Dharapak
A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher,
Zuade Kaufman.
Copyright © 2010 Truthdig, L.L.C. All rights reserved.\
Posted on Jan 24, 2010

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