Feature photo by Fred Moon
The centuries-long Enclosure (privatization) Movement in the U. S. is nearing completion. The bipartisan conspiracy to give corporate property transubstantiated into personhood the right to vote in municipal elections in Delaware is the opening salvo in the final assault on performative democracy.
Just in time for Independence Day, this year, Democrats in the Delaware state legislature embraced the Republican proposal to open ballots to further corporate manipulation “regretfully” in exchange for a deal on the state budget. It is a transparent maneuver to codify the American oligarchy’s takeover of community governance with a veneer of bipartisan support, and an attempt at plausible deniability in the form of political expediency by the titular “left” leaning party.
The ruse that getting a budget passed was a higher priority than protecting electoral integrity is intended to present this monumental betrayal of democracy as just a case of normal political wrangling. Far from being convincing, the move exposes the two-party charade as the Vichy-style betrayal that it is.
It is an admission that democracy has been surrendered to the corporations in what Joe Biden calls with pride “the corporate state of Delaware.” It is a betrayal as significant as the Santa Clara “corporate personhood” and the Citizens United “money is free speech” decisions, only this time a state legislature and not the Supreme Court is leading the way.
With representatives like these, calling our system of government a republic is pure hypocrisy. Wouldn’t you say?
The Bipartisan Betrayal
The domestic colonization of American communities was achieved through municipalization – the charterless incorporation of towns as subdivisions of states lacking political agency. The domestic campaign of conquest over every American town was launched in 1819 with the Supreme Court‘s Dartmouth decision. The subordination of local self-government to centralized political control was marketed as a pillar of American federalism in which the states and the nation shared sovereignty with each other, but not with the people.
In the early Progressive Era, with naught but a footnote citing an obscure Iowa case, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted Dillon’s Rule, as documented in “How Wealth Rules the World.” Obscure parts of the Dartmouth case highlighted by Judge John Forest Dillon’s Cedar Rapids decision ended the fundamental right of self-government with a bit of soft-shoe sophistry. Contemporaneous with the federal application of Dillon’s local democracy killer, middle-class nativist progressives argued for municipal “reform.” Their campaign sold the extinction of local democracy as the “professionalization” of community governance. It was a quiet betrayal that is now a full-throated shout-down of community rights.
But why did nominally liberal-minded progressives go along with the betrayal? In a word: immigration. Opposition to the new arrivals gaining political control of municipal population centers historically has been a bipartisan stance that even progressives defend as legitimately harmonious with the “framers’” original intent.
To counter the fast-growing influence of millions of new citizens on elections and policies in American towns and cities, reform-minded middle-class influencers concluded that kicking “democracy” upstairs to let state legislators define local policies, and to block the burgeoning power of ethnic blocks to meddle in commercial affairs, would rescue the power and economic advantages of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) from dilution.
Even the Progressive campaign for municipal home rule (mostly in Western states) advocated for professionalization in local government, which amounted to the paternalistic replacement of uncouth newcomers with educated nativists. Without directly challenging Dillon’s Rule, which utterly subordinated municipalities’ law-making powers to state legislators, progressives touted fake “home rule” as a compromise with corporate hegemony, all the while knowing it was a deal with the devil. Because state legislators were a more reliable shield against democratic meddling in corporate “private” affairs like mining for the extraction of fossil fuels in municipal jurisdictions, municipal governance was handed over to the same hierophants who’d been elevated to office to ensure elite control of state affairs.
The two-party system is central to the success of state-level mechanisms for protecting the privileged class against democracy. Those mechanisms include legal bribery through campaign contributions, gerrymandering, and judicial imposition of precedent as a catch-all safety net for preserving the status quo, even when precedent guarantees injustice.
As part of the mythic lore of American social progress, history generally remembers the efforts of progressives in a more flattering light. But from the perspective of the domestic communities they converted into municipal resource colonies and sacrifice zones, it just seems like a whitewash. Wouldn’t you say?
With Representation Like This Who Needs a Dictator?
Delaware’s quiet outrage registered hardly a blip in corporate media. Other state-led concessions to oligarchic power have included the invention of corporate immortality and, in 1899, New Jersey allowed corporations chartered there to own other corporations — an unheard-of relinquishment of public political power over private commercial entities that other states quickly emulated.
Handing corporations the franchise comes simultaneously with a big push to disenfranchise minority and liberal-leaning voters across the country. And though right-of-center Democrats make a show now and then of pushing back, displaying horror at the subversion of democracy aimed at minorities, they continue to support state preemption of locally enacted protections of community rights against corporate impunity. Nor are they ever likely to challenge Dillon’s Rule.
One might be forgiven for expressing cynicism over shows of mild dismay that voters will soon be joined at the polls by the corporations for whom state preemption is routinely flexed, with the knowing approval of the “sane” party.
Averting their eyes from the already established disenfranchisement of local governments – and hence all Americans – suggests that the utter annihilation of popular governance is being allowed to advance on multiple fronts with bipartisan unanimity.
Here’s an idea: set up a few LLC shell corporations in your hometown. Maybe when this new bipartisan reform movement comes to your state you too can vote multiple times. Once as a private citizen and then as many times as you have LLC avatars. Hell, if the globalization of corporate impunity has come home to roost, since we can’t seem to beat ‘em, we may as well join ‘em.
That was a cynical joke, not a proposed solution, by the way.
Can we just admit that the whole American experiment has been a joke and it’s time to stop pretending it’s something it’s not? It would be nice if we could be honest with ourselves, even if the official history books keep lying to the children. Wouldn’t you say?