A decade ago the Supreme Court rendered its 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case determining that corporations were free to contribute money to politicians more or less like any individual citizen. The left exploded with anger insisting that corporations are not people and should not have a say in our elections.
President Obama made his displeasure clear saying, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.”
Such a bill never reached Obama’s desk over the next eight years but something else has happened since 2010. You don’t hear a lot about Citizens United these days, or about corporate personhood. In fact, as of late the left seems down right giddy over the idea of large corporations playing an outsized role in all manner of our social and political lives.
The left cheers when tech companies like Twitter and Facebook threaten to take measures limiting free speech that are clearly directed at President Trump and his supporters. Big outfits like NBC News and Google threaten to deplatform The Federalist at the behest of a foreign progressive think tank and the left doesn’t bat an eye.
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Corporations are pressured by progressives not to advertise on TV shows like “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” meanwhile companies like My Pillow, which do choose to advertise on the show are attacked. A boycott has been called for against Goya because its CEO dared to praise Trump. Nike and other companies have finally succeeded where activists failed in cancelling the name of the Washington Redskins.
The list goes on and on. Progressives who were quite recently extremely opposed to corporate influence in and over our lives now view corporate power as one of their most powerful tools. But it betrays hypocrisy in regard to what they view a corporation to be.
The classic argument against the Citizen United decision is that corporations are not people and therefore do not have free speech rights. This was always a nonsense position, but it was rooted in a fairly simple proposition. According to the left at the time, corporations existed to make money, unlike people (most anyway) making money was the sole purpose of the corporation making it unfit to play a role in our electoral politics.
But if the argument against corporate involvement in politics was that these are simply soulless profit machines, why would these same people want the soulless profit machines to play such a heavy-handed role in social and cultural issues? We shouldn’t trust corporations to give money to political campaigns but we should trust them to set the parameters of acceptable discourse? How does that work?
The bottom line is that there never was much principled opposition to Citizens United; Democrats opposed it because they assumed it would help Republicans. They disregard the fact that it was Democrat Barack Obama who refused federal matching funds in 2008, ushering in the age of super expensive presidential races.
What progressives have come to realize over the past decade is that there are corporations, many of them, who are natural allies to them on myriad issues. Look how quickly so many corporations took on the mantra, “Black Lives Matter” even though it serves as the name of a Marxist revolutionary organization. That’s pretty remarkable.
You have to give the left some credit here; they got off the sidelines and got in the game. If you can’t beat the corporations, join them. They should stop yapping about Citizens United now. They probably won’t, but their argument that corporations should be neutral when it comes to politics and social issues is right out the window.
As for conservatives, it is useful to finally see that corporations are not the stalwart forever ally that they once seemed to be. This is after all, no longer the Bush GOP dedicated to the Post Cold War global order, but a populist Trump GOP more similar to the Reform Party that threatens a sizable chunk of global corporations.
Since Trump won the nomination in 2016 our political deck has been shuffled, both parties look very different than they did 10 years ago, and so does the corporate/political alignment. It is hard to know how this plays out, but at least we can all now agree that corporations are indeed people.