Citizens United and Citizens Divided

Saturday is the anniversary of the Citizens United decision that held up the idea that corporations are people. I know of no individual person that agrees with this decision – ok, Mitt Romney unashamedly says, “corporations are people my friend” in this clip. How can this be? How can any human deny their own species of its unique place in the world? I will break down the ideas behind this concept and try to make any sense of this point of view. Meanwhile I’d like to make some suggestions on how to start this conversation.

In that clip, Romney is explaining that the money from corporations goes to people, therefore they equal people. For all of us, not just presidential candidates, we tend to ignore facts and use what we can to justify our positions. While for many of us that argument rings hollow, perhaps he has actually convinced himself that because people work for corporations that they are the same. Each of us can construct a worldview that reinforces our own desires and beliefs and when confronted with outside opinion – it sounds crazy. This supporting argument is rather weak because in fact a corporation cannot put on a shirt, take a breath, and has no DNA. Any grade school scientist could come to the conclusion that indeed corporations are not humans. The actual values that cause folks like Romney – and our Supreme Court – to make these justifications, actually stem from their worldview that authority is the supreme moral compass. This authority ultimately rests in their belief in God, which might mean a Christian – or Mormon – one, but it also might mean a deitized view of money. In the Christian world view, many believers feel as if God rewards those that are righteous and punishes those that are evil. This leads to a lack of compassion for the downtrodden; far be it from some human to go against what God has put forth. “Rewarding” those “evil doers” (such as the unemployed, uninsured, and destitute), with programs like food stamps and unemployment checks is actually going against God. In the case of deitized money, anything that goes against allowing someone to accumulate more is like denying them access to God.

So how can you have an argument with someone about this in a non-hysterical, civil, manner? Speak from your values. Progressives tend to value empathy above all else. We see the unemployed, uninsured, and destitute and feel their pain. Progressive Christians feel like it is their duty to do “God’s work” and emulate the compassion of Jesus. They don’t see the downtrodden as “evil doers”, but just folks that have been through some tough times. Progressives hold the value of social responsibility in high regard and endorse the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats”; they also might see themselves in the downtrodden – perhaps they’ve appreciated help when they were at a low point and they want to pay it forward, spread good will, and promote peace.

Ask a conservative, “Why do you feel that way?” and then actually listen to them. Ask them if they feel that the unemployed and destitute should be punished. Keep cool and avoid being reactionary. Maybe they feel that the unemployed are lazy – it speaks to their value of a high regard for the “bootstraps” grit of autonomy. A Progressive response to this is to recall their high priority on the values of equality and opportunity – the unemployed don’t want hand outs, they want to work, they simply don’t have the opportunity to do so.  When your debate opponent begins parroting talking points and/or a pundit or career politician, call them out on it, say that you want to hear about their feelings on the subject – not just the party line. Force them to step outside the comfortable zone of Washington ping pong politics and to get into their own heads and hearts.

Some folks are very uncomfortable searching their own belief systems and must look to someone else for their opinion. We’ve got to stop this, it only plays into the hands of those that profit from nasty confrontation and it is dividing our nation ever deeper. Corporations don’t have feelings, but they do grow. And like a storybook monster in the closet, they especially grow when fear, greed, and domination is the rule of the day. As Americans, we must stop this pattern. If corporations are legally people, why shouldn’t they be held to the same standard as the rest of us when it comes to the damage they can do – the film The Corporation uses a psychological analysis (outlined by the World Health Organization) and came up with a diagnosis of “psychopathic” when evaluating corporate behaviors. Ask anyone supporting the corporate personhood claim why we should allow any corporate “person” to not only harm other people, but subsidize it to do so. A quote from the forementioned film’s synopsis:

The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social “personality”: it is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. Four case studies, drawn from a universe of corporate activity, clearly demonstrate harm to workers, human health, animals and the biosphere.

We can’t expect instant harmony between the polarized camps our society has established. Talking and understanding takes time and patience – something many of us don’t feel we have much of – but, bickering and reactionary snipes certainly isn’t bringing world peace anytime soon. We’ve got to remember that we are all human, we breathe the same air, walk the same earth, and have loved ones. It’s not all or nothing, take baby steps to establish some trust and rapport. We are the only ones who can save us from ourselves.

Along those lines, get involved in the action today. There is a push for a Constitutional Amendment that would strip corporations from their personhood status and protections. Please contact your representatives today; start here and here.

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7 thoughts on “Citizens United and Citizens Divided

  1. Amy,

    Do you have a place you can “occupy” where local people can sit down with you and have these conversations that matter about our public square?

    I like calling them 1st Amendment gatherings, because the 1st Amendment is supposed to guarantee our freedom to gather. Where are you gathering?

    Those physical conversations could be grist for your mill here at your blog.

    Chuck Watts

  2. Nathan says:

    Amy: I hope you and Adam are doing well!

    I would not usually comment, but I wanted to point out that from a decidedly Christian perspective the second paragraph does not at all depict a truly Christian worldview. In fact, it could be construed as fighting words. I am not in the least bit offended because I understand that this is how the “Christian Right” comes across. Indeed, even some in the church might agree with your evaluation and think it’s morally correct. However, that does not mean that it’s actually Christian. Also, to say that the Christian worldview believes that the poor are just getting what they deserve and thereby that Christianity leads to a lack of compassion is misguided at best. Yes, terrible things have been done in the “name” of Christianity. But, the most selfless and compassionate humanitarian efforts are led by Christians as well. Perhaps evaluating actions is more valuable than evaluating words when it comes to figuring out what one believes. To do that one would have the look at individuals rather than at governmental policy.

    For the sake of clarity, Christianity does not start with authority as its moral compass. Just as some start with faith that there is no God, Christians start with faith that the Scriptures are true. Of course that means a Christian sees the Scriptures as their authority, but that’s very different than the Romneys of the world, which I would describe as believing that “self” or “consensus” is the ultimate authority.

    I describe myself as a “conservative” because I think a limited, simple and very static authority (or law) provides the most freedoms for the most people. This, of course, is not where either major political party is today. Both want more laws and both believe that consensus is the ultimate authority. That’s dangerous in my view and why authority, both the sword and moral authority, should be kept to a minimum at a governmental level. I really don’t want a “conservative” or “liberal” authoritarian government. But it seems that major political parties, as well as the judicial system, are headed down that road.

    So, being conservative, at least for me, has nothing to do with being compassionate or not. However, being compassionate has everything to do with how I treat and help my neighbor.

    I hope that’s helpful.

    • Amy Meier says:

      I really appreciate your take Nathan, thanks for writing. The truth is that I don’t know many people who like the labels, but it is the culture we live in, and it does cause much conflict, so it is where I’m starting.
      I did write a bit about what I am calling progressive Christians that may be closer to how you identify. I’ve been involved with many wonderful Christians and Christian organizations. The truth is that not all Christians rely on scripture as an authority. Even the term “Christian” is a contested concept. For me I see the major difference in concepts is whether or not you consider the Bible (written by humans and edited by those with an agenda) or the spirit of God/Jesus that resides within you, to be your authority. I’m curious what you think of that idea.

      • Nathan says:

        That’s a good question and I can see the connection to progressive Christianity, though I would not describe myself as such.

        I believe the Scriptures are the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and put on paper by humans hands in real history. The issue of agenda is a touchy one in that it’s clear that many of the biblical writings have geographical and historical contexts, but I would not say that there were “personal agendas” and liberties taken in the same way a politician does in our day. In fact, throughout the Scriptures the writers are constantly presented as flawed and sinful and thereby points to the human condition and need for Christ. But more to the point, the Scriptures say that the Word was God and that the Word was with God. It connects the personality with the statements. So, I see them as one in the same. This, of course, puts me in the conservative camp again. However, I have done my best to understand the connection of axiomatic faith with working out that faith in real life. In other words, we all start with faith and therefore we will be different.

        My view is that true authority is outside myself. I’m not, nor is what I think, the ultimate authority. Instead, it is Christ who connects the Scriptures with God. So, in my view, to be a Christian is to accept and follow Christ’s authority first over our own sinful selves and in loving God, and second by showing that we love God by loving our neighbors.

        In the end, yes, I see the whole of the Scriptures as my authority, but that’s not my starting point. Instead, faith is, and that leads me next to the Scriptures. This may seem like splitting hairs, but this is partially why I’m not an authoritarian. It does mean that I believe some of us are truly correct and some of us are truly wrong. But it also means I don’t believe I have the right to make a law to force you to be like me. Besides that, the Scriptures indicate that I don’t have that right or authority and that I must even go so far as to treat those with whom I disagree with love, which is why I said “partially” above.

        It’s difficult to express all that needs to be expressed in a blog post, and this is already too long, but there’s a snapshot….


      • Amy Meier says:

        It is wonderful that you took the time to explain your point of view. This is exactly what I’m hoping for, civilized discourse. It is just as troubling for me to hear all Christians painted with a broad brush as it is to hear all non-Christians treated similarly. Our value systems usually aren’t that far apart – though the differences may be really important to any given individual. Discussing those differences with a peaceful heart and cool head are what I’m aiming for. It sounds like you have kept that kind of spirit since I’ve known you. Thanks for being a peaceful force in your community, our community.

        And, right, blogs are usually truncated conversations, but I hope to stimulate real discussions outside of the virtual world. Discussions that eschew polarization and encourage getting each other to recognize a bit of ourselves in every human we meet.

        Thanks again, I hope you’ll keep checking in occasionally for a taste of “civilized politics” – it doesn’t have to be an oxymoron!

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