“…[T]wo of the country’s most distinguished political scientists, Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz, recently approached the puzzle of U.S. singularity in another way: they compared the number of stumbling blocks that advanced industrial democracies put in the way of their citizens’ ability to achieve their collective will through the legislative process.
“Calling these inbuilt ‘majority constraining’ obstacles ‘veto players,’ the two scholars found a striking correlation: the nations with the fewest veto players have the greatest inequality. Only the United States has four such veto players. All four were specified in the slavery-defending founders’ Constitution that cannot be altered without the agreement of three-quarters of the states.
“Other features of the U.S. system further obstruct majority rule, including a winner-take-all Electoral College that encourages a two-party system: the Tenth Amendment, which steers power toward the states; and a system of representation in the unusually potent Senate that violates the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ to a degree not seen anywhere else…
“What makes the U.S. system ‘exceptional,’ sadly, is the number of built-in vetoes to constrain the majority… (226). In the dream vision of the apparatus Charles Koch has funded to carry out [James McGill] Buchanan’s call for constitutional revolution, it would be all but impossible for government to respond to the will of the majority unless the very wealthiest Americans agree fully with every measure. The project has multiple prongs…
“[Koch’s] cadre is promoting a view of the Constitution that comes from a unique era of U.S. history: the period after the defeat of Reconstruction and leading up to the Great Depression. Buchanan acknowledged as much in the book that built his career, when he and coauthor Gordon Tullock said that nation’s decision-making rules were closer to the ‘ideal’ in 1900 than in 1960 [in ‘the age of both Lochner v. New York and Plessy v. Ferguson—decisions [that] blocked…meaningful employment reform…’] (227-28).
“[T]he interpretation of the Constitution the cadre seeks to impose would give federal courts vast new powers to strike down measures desired by voters and passed by their duly elected representatives at all levels—and would require greatly expanded police powers to control the resultant popular anger… (228).
“To advance their constitutional revolution, the donor network has pumped hitherto unheard-of-sums into state judicial races. While media attention has focused on the impact of Citizens United on the presidential and congressional races, the opening of the spigots in state judicial races may prove more consequential over the decades ahead as corporate donors invest in those they believe will interpret the constitution and the laws in their favor… (229).
“As the push for aggressive judicial activism on behalf of economic liberty illustrates, for all the small-government rhetoric, the cadre actually wants a very strong government—but a government that acts only in a way they deem appropriate. It wants our democracy to be curbed as Chile’s was, with locks and bolts on what the majority can do.
“Three additional battlefronts illuminate this truth, highlighting the stark restructuring of power under way. One is a power grab by affiliated state legislators reaching down to deny municipal governments the right to make their own policies on matters hitherto within their purview, not least local election rules. Pushed by [Koch’s funded] State Policy Network affiliates and guided by [Koch’s funded] ALEC-affiliated legislators, GOP-controlled states have been passing what are called preemption laws that deny localities the right to adopt policies that depart from the model being imposed by the network-dominated state legislatures… [Consider that] ALEC-backed legislators in forty-one states introduced more than 180 bills to restrict who could vote and how…
“A related strategy further distorts political representation to advance property rights supremacist project. One part of this initiative was the most audacious gerrymander in U.S. history, with the purpose of ensuring systematic underrepresentation of Americans viewed as troublesome by the cause and overrepresentation of the more manageable—while lining up the supermajority of reliably controlled states needed to hold a constitutional convention… [Thus] transforming the nation by using decennial redistricting process to sharply boost the power of Republicans, even where majorities backed Democrats, and to pull the Republican Party to the right of its own voters in the process. (230-32).
”Understandably, many saw the power grab in purely partisan terms, but it was much more. The breathtaking import is conveyed well by Salon editor-in-chief David Daley: ‘Without the protection of a fairly-drawn district, the citizen is a pawn of billionaires who use the map of the country’ to get what they want…
“A final example of the new bullying we can expect from the plan to enchain democracy also harks back to the midcentury South, with its inquisition-minded state and private bodies to investigate and intimidate dissenters. In 2015, the journalist Kenneth Vogel revealed that the Koch network had ‘quietly built a secretive operation that conducts political surveillance and intelligence gathering on its opponents, viewing it as a key strategic tool in its efforts to reshape American public life.’
“A case in point: when Jane Mayer began to expose the operations of the Koch brothers and their network, they dispatched private investigators in a fruitless quest to find dirt with which to discredit her and tried to convince her employer to fire her. Anyone who tries to expose what this cause is up to thus must ask…: Will I become the target of a similar scurrilous attack? Wouldn’t it be wiser to keep quiet? (232).
“…For what is the substance of James Buchanan’s and Charles Koch’s idea of liberty but Harry Bird’s Virginia, the state subjected to the ‘most thorough control by an oligarchy’[…] Virginia enacts their dream: the uncontested sway of the wealthiest citizens: the use of right-to-work laws and other ploys to keep working people powerless; the ability to fire dissenting public employees at will, targeting educators in particular; the use of voting-rights restrictions to keep those unlikely to agree with the elite from the polls; the deployment states’ rights to deter the federal government from promoting equal treatment; the hostility to public education; the regressive tax system; the opposition to Social Security, [Medicaid] and Medicare; and the parsimonious response to public needs of all kinds… (233).
“The libertarian cause, from the time it first attracted wider support during the southern school crisis, was never about freedom as most people would define it. It was about the promotion of crippling division among the people so as to end any interference with what those who held vast power over others believed should be their prerogatives. Its leaders had no scruples about enlisting white supremacy to achieve capital supremacy.
“And today, knowing that the majority does not share their goals and would stop them if they understood the endgame, the team of paid operatives seeks to win by stealth. Now, as then, the leaders seek [John C.] Calhoun-style liberty for the few—the liberty to concentrate vast wealth, so as to deny elementary fairness and freedom to the many.
“Is this the country we want to live in and bequeath to our children and future generations? That is the real public choice. If we delay much longer, those who are imposing their stark utopia will choose for us. One of them has announced flatly: ‘America will soon make a decision about its future. It will be a permanent decision. There will be no going back.’ As we consider the future of our democracy in light of all that has happened already, we may take heed of a Koch maxim: ‘Playing it safe is slow suicide’” (234).
MacLean, Nancy. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. New York: Viking Penguin, 2017.
These are some of the well-funded Think Tanks and Doners of Radical Right-Wing America: George Mason University/Mercatus Center, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (Koch funded), Cato Institute (Koch funded), Americans for Prosperity (Koch funded), State Policy Network (Koch funded), the Reason Foundation (Koch funded), Charles Koch Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, Olin Foundation, Earheart Foundation, the Tax Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Federalist Society, Institute for Contemporary Studies, Institute for Humane Studies, Independent Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Leadership Institute, the Liberty Fund, Scaife Family Charitable Trusts, Mont Pelerin Society…
We already have witnessed a takeover of the Republican Party, the weakening of our labor unions, right-to-work laws to keep workers powerless, the shutting down of the federal government, the denial of climate change from the executive and legislative branches of government, ALEC-backed legislators who created bills to restrict minority voting, the scapegoating of teachers, the attacks on retirees’ and public employees’ pensions, the deprivation of university and college adjunct faculty, the systematic dismantling of public ownership and services, the privatized exorbitantly priced healthcare system, the rewriting of the tax code to benefit the wealthiest Americans, the victimization of immigrant children and their parents, and other forms of oligarchic oppression.
Are we also going to allow the continuing deregulation of our environmental protections; the continuing privatization of our public schools; the eradication of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the transformation of the U.S. courts and the privatization of the justice system; and a reinterpretation of the U.S. Constitution to successfully oppress the majority of Americans?