Leonard C. Goodman is a Chicago criminal defense attorney.
There is an odd dichotomy today in our nation’s Capitol. Congress has just approved a bill known as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), providing temporary assistance to struggling families. But at the same time, our Capitol—the place where America’s children go to learn about democracy—remains locked down, surrounded by thousands of armed National Guard troops and seven-foot fences with concertina wire.
Official explanations for the continued militarized lockdown of our Capitol keep shifting. First it was in response to the January 6 riots, planned openly on social media and yet somehow catching our 16 intelligence agencies by surprise. Next the FBI predicted violence on Inauguration Day, January 20. Then we were warned about online chatter that QAnon adherents were planning something scary on March 4.
Now it’s late March. Why are the troops and the barriers still there? The answer likely relates to recent polling showing that dissatisfaction with the two governing parties has reached an all-time high in America. According to a recent Gallup poll, 62 percent of survey participants think that the Republican and Democratic “parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.” Yet, the two-party duopoly has completely shut third parties out of national politics. Third parties can’t get on the ballot, and they can’t get into the debates. No wonder there is fear and loathing in our nation’s Capitol.
Republicans pretend to care about traditional values; they pledge to fight the woke liberals trying to control our lives. Democrats pretend to fight for the poor and working class. But behind the scenes, both parties serve the interests of the investor class that funds them and demands, in return, a high rate of return on their investment capital. The public feuding between the two corporate parties depicted nightly on our cable news shows is as phony and staged as the 1970s-era wrestling matches between The Sheik and Dick the Bruiser.
Popular support for the Republican Party is so thin that the party has been taken over by a game show host who posed as the protector of working people and Christian values. The party limps along, relying on anti-democratic measures like filibusters, gerrymandering, and voter suppression to protect the interests of its donors.
The Democratic Party is only slightly more functional. It portrays itself as the champion of the working class. But behind the scenes its leaders assure their corporate donors that working people will receive no significant advances—such as universal health care or a living wage—under Democratic rule. Carrying out such a schizophrenic program requires almost constant deception. Democratic lawmakers pretend to support popular programs like Medicare for All (M4A) knowing full well that if M4A ever passed into law, their party would lose its major funders from the insurance industry. Thus, when more than a hundred House Democrats cosponsored Representative Pramila Jayapal’s M4A Bill in 2019, they knew Speaker Nancy Pelosi would never risk letting the bill reach the House floor. Democratic voters overwhelmingly support M4A. An open debate and floor vote might encourage these supporters to organize and overwhelm the resolve of the bought-off lawmakers.
The Democrats rely heavily on a lapdog corporate press to support their deception. Outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and NPR can be counted on to endorse the fiction that Democrats, who now control both houses of Congress and the presidency, really want to improve the lives of working people but are stymied by centrists like Joe Manchin, by the Senate parliamentarian, or by the threat of a Republican filibuster.
The corporate press has praised the ARP bill as a historic victory for the poor. But struggling Americans see a different reality. After a year of COVID lockdowns, many are facing crushing levels of debt and can expect assistance checks to be gobbled up by landlords, lenders, medical providers, and credit card companies. Further, because we don’t have universal health care, the ARP funnels billions of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of giant health insurance companies like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare to “cover recently laid-off workers and those who purchase their own coverage” with no price restraints on premiums or guarantees that the private insurers will actually pay for health care when workers get sick.
Working people have also noticed that after taking office, Biden immediately jettisoned every single one of his campaign promises that was opposed by major donors to the Democratic Party, including the central promise of his campaign: to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15. This was hardly a radical promise by a president whom the establishment press describes as a “crusader for the poor.” (The press generally ignores the fact that Biden has largely been funded by corporate and financial services industry cash for decades.)
A person working full time, year-round for $7.25 an hour earns about $15,000 a year, keeping them below the poverty line and eligible for food stamps. Yet major Democratic donors believe they can earn a higher rate of return on their investment capital if workers are paid poverty wages, requiring them to spend their off hours participating in the gig economy, driving us around and delivering our groceries.
Biden’s excuse for abandoning a living wage for workers—his respect for the opinion of the Senate parliamentarian—rings especially hollow since Biden has already bombed Syria without authorization from Congress, showing little respect for the law or the Constitution, or for the voters to whom he had promised a “foreign policy for the middle class” that will end “forever wars.” This illegal bombing did please the weapons industry, major donors to both governing parties.
The fact that Biden broke campaign promises to please Democratic donors is not surprising. The affluent and the well-organized routinely block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves. Yet, the speed at which Biden abandoned the core principles of his campaign was jarring even to his most loyal supporters.
Of course, the corporate press will continue to provide cover. But fewer and fewer Americans are relying on the corporate press for news and information. Nearly every week, new platforms emerge on the Internet where journalists can do reporting, break major stories, or provide commentary outside of the repressive constraints of the corporate press.
Recognizing the threat posed by unconstrained truth-telling and actual journalism, Congress has been summoning the chief executives of Google, Twitter, and Facebook before it, encouraging them to censor divergent voices. The goal is to disempower, deplatform, and demonetize dissenting voices by accusing them of advancing false claims or spreading extremism.
These efforts at censorship are incredibly dangerous and destructive. But they are also destined to fail. Americans have been turning away from corporate news in droves. They have tasted free thought and real investigative journalism online and won’t give it up without a fight.
The narrow range of opinions allowed on corporate news platforms can never be imposed on a free Internet, even one dominated by just three or four companies. To illustrate the absurdity, consider the issue of NATO expansion. In 1990, Secretary of State James Baker assured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand even one inch eastward. Today, official U.S. policy is to antagonize Russia by expanding the NATO alliance up to Russia’s border. But if you disagree with that policy, you can be kicked off Twitter for “undermining faith in NATO.”
A national government that represents corporations and routinely lies to its voters needs Silicon Valley and the corporate press to maintain a stranglehold over the dissemination of information. But as that wall of protection continues to crumble, expect the wall of troops and nonscalable fencing to become a permanent fixture in our nation’s Capitol. v