whos destroying democracy 3 27jpg

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, most Americans expressed concerns about democracy being in danger of collapse. This marks a significant increase from previous surveys that indicated around half of Americans shared these worries. Citizens are increasingly uneasy about the potential erosion of democratic norms and institutions.

In 2020, the Knight Foundation and the University of Chicago interviewed over 10,000 eligible non-voters from the 2016 presidential election. Although these individuals represented a diverse group with various reasons for not voting, many felt that their vote didn't matter and that the system was rigged against them.

A 2014 study by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University analyzed data from over 200,000 public opinion surveys, revealing that the American government does not consistently represent its citizens' preferences. Instead, the study found that wealth and power often significantly impacted governmental policies more than the average citizen's views.

These findings are deeply troubling, implying that the American government may not be operating as a true democracy. The consequences of this situation could include a decline in trust in the government and a surge in political apathy.

What led us to this point?

Three Key Supreme Court Rulings

Three key Supreme Court rulings have significantly impacted the role of corporations and wealthy individuals in U.S. politics, resulting in increased influence and the potential for legal bribery. These rulings are:

innerself subscribe graphic

Buckley v. Valeo (1976)

Before Justice Lewis Powell's retirement, a landmark decision challenged the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971, which sought to limit campaign contributions and spending. The Supreme Court declared that restricting individual and organizational campaign contributions was constitutional, as it helped prevent corruption or the appearance thereof. However, the Court also found that limiting campaign expenditures by candidates and independent expenditures by individuals and groups violated the First Amendment's protection of free speech. This ruling paved the way for wealthy individuals and corporations to invest large sums in political campaigns and sway politicians.

First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978)

During Justice Lewis Powell's time on the Court, a decision was made addressing corporate political spending. The Supreme Court overturned a Massachusetts law that forbade corporations from using their funds to sway the outcome of ballot measures not directly related to their business interests. The Court maintained that corporations, like individuals, possess First Amendment rights to free speech, encompassing the right to support political communication financially. This ruling broadened the involvement of corporations in political campaigns and enabled them to contribute to political causes more directly.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

This groundbreaking decision considerably increased the sway of corporations and affluent individuals in U.S. politics. The case revolved around a challenge to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, which imposed restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and unions during electoral campaigns. The Supreme Court determined that such limitations on independent political spending by corporations and labor unions infringed upon the First Amendment's free speech protections. As a result of this ruling, corporations and unions were granted the ability to invest unlimited funds in political campaigns through independent expenditures, giving rise to Super PACs (Political Action Committees) and dark money organizations capable of accepting and disbursing large sums of money to influence elections and politicians.

Who Are Politicians Accountable To?

A trio of Supreme Court decisions has paved the way for more significant influence by corporations and affluent individuals in U.S. politics. This has resulted in a system where politicians are more accountable to their financial supporters than to the people they represent. Detractors argue that this has given rise to legalized bribery, as elected officials often prioritize the interests of their wealthy benefactors over their constituents' needs.

The study's revelations indicate a pressing need for reform within the American political system. There are several avenues for achieving this, such as simplifying the voting process, curtailing the impact of money in politics, and enhancing government transparency and accountability.

Thus the Supreme Court ushered in the age of legal bribery of some members of Congress. And to save our democracy, we first must neuter the US Supreme Court.

About the Author

jenningsRobert Jennings is co-publisher of InnerSelf.com with his wife Marie T Russell. He attended the University of Florida, Southern Technical Institute, and the University of Central Florida with studies in real estate, urban development, finance, architectural engineering, and elementary education. He was a member of the US Marine Corps and The US Army having commanded a field artillery battery in Germany. He worked in real estate finance, construction and development for 25 years before starting InnerSelf.com in 1996.

InnerSelf is dedicated to sharing information that allows people to make educated and insightful choices in their personal life, for the good of the commons, and for the well-being of the planet. InnerSelf Magazine is in its 30+year of publication in either print (1984-1995) or online as InnerSelf.com. Please support our work.

 Creative Commons 4.0

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License. Attribute the author Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com. Link back to the article This article originally appeared on InnerSelf.com


Related Books:

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

by Timothy Snyder

This book offers lessons from history for preserving and defending democracy, including the importance of institutions, the role of individual citizens, and the dangers of authoritarianism.

Click for more info or to order

Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America

by Stacey Abrams

The author, a politician and activist, shares her vision for a more inclusive and just democracy and offers practical strategies for political engagement and voter mobilization.

Click for more info or to order

How Democracies Die

by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

This book examines the warning signs and causes of democratic breakdown, drawing on case studies from around the world to offer insights into how to safeguard democracy.

Click for more info or to order

The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism

by Thomas Frank

The author offers a history of populist movements in the United States and critiques the "anti-populist" ideology that he argues has stifled democratic reform and progress.

Click for more info or to order

Democracy in One Book or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn't, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think

by David Litt

This book offers an overview of democracy, including its strengths and weaknesses, and proposes reforms to make the system more responsive and accountable.

Click for more info or to order