I hope to print out something along these lines, in many copies, and send it to societal leaders of many different stripes, all politically influential in America, in the coming weeks.
Methods, Motives, Manipulation and Morality
An Open Letter Appealing to Leaders of the United States Government, As Well As America’s Political, Societal/Cultural, and Business Leadership, in which I Present a Practical and Philosophical Argument Against Corporate Personhood
Dear American Leader:
Hello! I address you as “American Leader” in your capacity as a governmental, political, legal, business, or societal/cultural leader, and inasmuch as you are more influential – and you are! – in shaping American politics and society than the average American citizen. I am, in many ways, little more than an average American citizen. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and am retired from my 1979-2012 Federal Civilian US Department of Defense career.
I am writing you to ask for your help in influencing our government and society to reject a harmful idea adopted, cultivated, and established in our Constitutional Law, or at least in our highest Court’s interpretation of that law: the concept of Corporate Personhood and the resultant consideration of corporate money as enjoying the protections of Free Speech. I will explain all of this in detail, partially because I want to be as clear as possible, but also because of a pertinent fact: You Who Read This have succeeded at a high level in our current governmental, political, economic, and cultural structure; you are among The Winners, and I believe Government by the Winners, not by the People, to be a central component of the problems I am about to outline. Please forgive me in advance for directly and forcefully attacking so many problems and principles that have brought you, personally, a high degree of success. I see it as necessary, and part of my responsibility as an American citizen who took a Federal oath to protect our Country and Constitution.
The Central Problem: A Moral Philosophical Conflict
American Government, Politics, and Industry, and the successful and prosperous leaders therein, in order to establish their success at their respective fields and also preserve and protect the benefits of that success, interact with each other and with the citizens of this country according to conflicting moral philosophies. These oppositional bases for reasoned assessment of right-and-wrong, good-and-bad, and decisions based thereon appear in my mind as opposed phrases: “What’s In It For Me” versus “What We Owe to Each Other.” And when I say “Me” and “Each Other,” I am referring to an individual human being, someone who seeks influence and voice in government, politics, society, and the business world in order to survive. Such a person may organize with others into larger entities that seek greater and representational influence.
“What’s In It For Me” falls easily into the alternate phrasing of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but does so in the sense of individual benefit, as opposed to collective or societal benefit, and by having drawn that distinction, I think I have made clear some of where I am headed with this idea.
But the basic conflict between a “What’s In It For Me” basis for reasoned moral decisions with a basis of “What We Owe to Each Other” works, as I will explain, to destructive effect as a cause of much dilution, manipulation, and corruption of the American spirit by equating it with competitive, rather than compassionate, spirit and The Profit Motive – especially writ large, by Corporate Personhood.
The Central Cause: Running Society Like a Business
One might not think that the prevalence of a capitalist profit motive or a corporatist model of Big Business would be destructive to American politics, government, and society. Certainly, in theory, it might not have been controversial at all. However, the conflict between the two moral philosophies summarized above and the ambitions of a relative few powerful and successful individuals – including you, a direct and named recipient of this letter – have resulted in the establishment or rise over our national history of a de facto American Ruling Class: corporate entities and wealthy individuals with international connections and shrewd methods of establishing and holding on to wealth and power. This has succeeded due to our Supreme Court in the Citizens United ruling essentially establishing Corporate Personhood, and our government bolstering the concomitant “money-as-Free-Speech” argument, which blends with how our society historically and currently conducts Big Business – the corporate, inter-state, inter-national world of big companies and huge profits – to create a manipulative, immoral basis for government and politics.
And it has indeed been manipulative and immoral, as long as the moral philosophy in question is anything more socially-oriented than What’s In It For Me, or a capitalist profit motive.
Example One: Running Government Like a Business
The principle of using successful business practices in the halls of Federal Government to make it better – or in fact to use such principles anywhere to bring general benefit – has a great deal going for it. Why not increase one’s likelihood of success, whatever one’s endeavor?
Sadly, this is not what, in my observation, truly came with the push, the mantra, to “Run Government More Like a Business.” What I saw happening more, in my experience as both a government employee and a citizen of the United States, was a concentration of power in the hands of the few, rather than the many, and a rise of authoritarianism, of loyalty-above-all, of suited sycophants of all stripes advancing their political and governmental careers by giving the prosperous few, not Us, the People, what they wanted in government and politics.
Truly, large corporations and the extremely wealthy enjoy the catbird seat in our government as it Runs Like a Business: Quid Pro Quo is the transactional nature of all stages of government; tax shelters abound; restrictions on donations to political candidates, and to lobbying for the pet causes of the disproportionately privileged, are almost as negligible as the tax burden on these ultra-wealthy “persons.”
Example Two: Manipulation for Profit
By removing the Fairness Doctrine and allowing no restriction on corporate control of the avenues of publication and dissemination of ideas, America’s powerful have continued a tradition they started with the promotion of Manifest Destiny and its justifications for slavery, genocide, and centuries of inequality and corruption in America: Paid pastors, pundits, and politicians use subtle sociological and psychological tactics to influence the minds of millions to be copacetic with such abuses of power, and of our fellow human beings.
There is a Corporate benefit in this. It has been the powerful and shrewd, throughout the years, who have been capable of appropriating the power of the pulpit, of mass broadcast and journalistic media, and of political opportunists to perform the flim-flam art at the national level. Make no mistake: Most of America’s worst, most widespread vices and its most pernicious viral ideas were seeded by the direct and indirect actions of these shrewd, powerful few acting within the enhanced power of corporations and, recently, Corporate Personhood.
Example Three: Quid Pro Quo and the Suited Sycophant
Success in government, according to what I saw at the upper management level in the Department of Defense agency where I worked, depended much more on whom one knew than on what one accomplished for one’s agency’s mission.
There is a culture of think-alikes, suited sycophants, game-players in government, as I think there always has been, and it now dominates how Government runs itself, as previously stated, “More Like a Business.” The revolving door, very lucrative, between the Federal Government and the lucrative world of the Government/Defense Contractor, is well known and has put shine on the resumes of many in the Investor Class. It has done much less good, I would argue, for the missions of our government agencies and the American People. Imagine how much better our government would have responded to many recent crises if we had not been writhing in the throes of too-frequent reorganization, and if our genuine hard-workers and those who exposed systemic problems had been promoted rather than punished for their productivity and patriotism.
Example Four: Recent Political Corruption
One need look no further than Trumpism and the Radical and Religious Right – but one needs to look below the surface – to see massive influence of corporate spending – in the form of Dark Money, protected and unlimited by “money-as-speech” interpretations of Corporate Personhood.
A deliberately worsened pandemic and an insurrection on the Capitol in defense of baseless claims of a stolen election – the President behind these abuses of power, the domestic threat and Clear and Present Danger of his continued candidacy – can point with laser-like accuracy at the powerful and shrewd corporate forces that benefited from the rise of the Radical Right, the Religious Right, Dominionism, and Trumpism. And it is not the deluded millions fooled into following these misguided movements who benefited. It is Corporate Personhood. Look at the stacked Supreme Court and our glacially slow Executive and Legislative branches in pursuing accountability, progress, and action.
Solution Suggestion: End Corporate Personhood
Government of/by/for The People must free itself from the practical governmental and political concept – established deliberately and gradually as a component in our national law by the ambitions of powerful, prosperous men and by the subtle manipulation of millions in our electoral processes – of Corporate Personhood and Money-as-Speech. No less than the future of our country and its democratic and Constitution processes depend on decisive, responsible action. It is, after all, What We Owe to Each Other as a nation of individual human beings, most of whom recognize our individuality, diversity, and dependence on our fellow citizens, and on Government Of, By, and For the People.
Foundational Ideas: Thomas Scanlon, Moral Philosophy
I am greatly indebted for many of my starting-point ideas to a moral philosopher whose principle of Moral Philosophy’s rational basis in What We Owe to Each Other: Thomas M. Scanlon, Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard University. I discovered his work, as many did, through a popular television comedy, and hope he will not hold that against me.
Foundational Ideas: Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Anti-Racism in America
I also must thank Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of “Stamped from the Beginning” and many other good books, for his ideas and history on anti-racism, all established in brilliant historical context and thorough sound reason. His work has helped me see causal connections to Corporate Personhood in centuries of corruption in American government, media, religion, and society.
I have never met T.M. Scanlon or Dr. Kendi, but I believe America and you, the reader of this letter, owe them both a debt of gratitude, especially if you help our nation take their wise counsel and the poor observations and suggestions I have made based thereon, and turn them into constructive political action and governmental benefit: Reverse Citizens United. Remove Corporate Personhood. Refute Money As Speech. Severely Limit Corporate Political Spending.
Thank you very much.
I remain, a citizen:
J. Calvin Smith
Talking Rock, Georgia, USA 30175
Thursday, July 14, 2022