How Do We Stop Corporations From Shoving Fascism Down Our Throats?

America has a serious fascism problem, but it goes way beyond the kinds of authoritarianism displayed by people like Donald Trump. It goes deep, now, into the very structure of corporate America. 

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about fascism, generally in the context of Republicans denying people their right to vote or Donald Trump sending an armed mob to murder five people at the US Capitol to try to install him as America’s first strongman dictator.

Indeed, authoritarian governance is a major aspect of fascism. But there’s another piece to the puzzle, and it is playing out right now across America, and getting almost no coverage whatsoever.

It’s when giant corporations are able to control government and thus stop things like a national healthcare system, rational gun control laws, free college, or even the tiniest tax on carbon. When they’re able to push through “criminal justice reform” that makes it nearly impossible to prosecute corporate CEOs when their companies kill workers, consumers or even poison entire communities.

It’s when they don’t do it through presenting strong and defendable ideas in the public realm and before Congress, but by pouring cash into the pockets of individual politicians and their parties.

It’s when corporations and the very rich have seized control of the political process through the use of their considerable economic power, after having used that power to change laws so they can legally buy politicians.

When government gives corporations this core power to write laws, and, in exchange, corporations facilitate government power to suppress dissent and marginalize non-fascist political parties, a country finds itself on the edge of classical fascism.

The word fascism comes from the Roman fasces, a bundle of sticks with a rope around it, typically adorned with a hatchet on the top. There’s one carved into the podium in the United States Senate, an homage to the ancient Roman Republic which originated it and partly inspired our Constitution.

The idea is that a single stick can easily be broken, but a bundle of sticks is almost impossible to break. Similarly, a single state may be vulnerable, but a collection of states, united together, is unbreakable.

But the Roman fasces, although that symbol was used throughout history as a symbol of the ancient Roman Republic, took on a completely different meaning in the late 1920s when Italian dictator Benito Mussolini derived from it the word fascism.

To him, fascism met something quite different than just the strength of a united country. It meant the literal merger of corporate and state interests, ultimately facilitating a strongman authoritarian government. Corporations and the government becoming interpenetrated and intertwined, ruling the country together, with a “tough guy” in charge.

The “tough guy” or authoritarian leader would then shower his own beneficence on the corporations that funded his political power.

Mussolini was so enthusiastic about this that he declared the essential merger of state and corporate power. As he said in The Labour Charter (Promulgated by the Grand Council of Fascism on April 21, 1927, published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, April 3, 1927, p. 133):

The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organised in their respective associations, circulate within the State.

Giant corporations across Italy competed for Mussolini’s favor, and for the government contracts that could doubly flow from it. Not to mention the political power that could grant profits, tax cuts, and immunity from being held responsible for everything from industrial accidents causing the death of workers to deadly pollution killing entire communities.

Today, as a substantial number of Republican politicians are actively working to subvert democracy and establish a merger of corporate and strongman rule, what Mussolini called fascism, those politicians are also being supported and encouraged by large numbers of major American corporations. 

In exchange for that support, particularly during the Trump administration but also on a state-by-state basis where Republicans control state governments, those corporations get everything from tax cuts to assistance in avoiding unions to a pass on pollution or even corporate malfeasance that kills people, like we just saw with the for-profit corporate power grid in Texas.

We are moving from the early technical dimensions of fascism to the true realization of Mussolini‘s vision. 

If these Republican politicians and the corporations supporting them are successful, and a Republican strongman like Trump or his imitators (Scott, Hawley, Cruz, Cotton, etc.) again achieves the presidency, we will fully enter an American version of that which Mussolini created in Italy in 1927.

Over 120 American corporations vowed, after the January 6 insurrection, that they would no longer make campaign contributions to those Republicans who fought certifying the 2020 election.

But the lure of fascism for a corporation is extraordinary. 

The benefits of fascism include huge profits for the company and its stockholders; massive payouts to senior executives and members of the board of directors; not just tax breaks but actual subsidies with taxpayer’s dollars of a whole variety of activities including R&D and even free land; complete immunity for the executives when their decisions destroy communities or even kill people; and a steady flow, back-and-forth, between government regulatory agencies and the very corporations regulated by them.

It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that as long as Republicans are offering this fantastic dream world to America’s corporations, those companies might toss out a few news releases saying they’re not going to support fascistic Republican politicians, but that that seemingly moral stand would collapse almost instantly.

As Daily Beast investigative reporting found, corroborating the groundbreaking reporting that Judd Legum has been doing for weeks on his popular.info website, at the very least AT&T, CIGNA Health, Ford Motor, and Pfizer have broken their commitment not to support insurrectionists.

More will, no doubt, follow soon.

But how could they do otherwise? Modern corporation are an altogether different animal from those in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s when corporations went out of their way to be, or to at least seem to be, good citizens of the community and the nation.

The Reagan administration in the 1980s essentially re-wrote the rules of corporate governance. 

It used to be the corporations had a responsibility to their local community, to their workers, to their shareholders, and to their customers. Their senior executives and Board of Directors had a responsibility to the institution of the company itself. Prior to 1980, the average CEO in a large American corporation had worked in that company for about 30 years, typically climbing from the bottom to the top. And the average CEO only earned 30 times what the most poorly paid employee made.

That was the norm in America up until the 1980s. But the Reagan administration, through a series of administrative law changes, re-wrote those rules.

They adopted an idea that had been kicking around among rightwing cranks like Robert Bork and Milton Friedman for years, that had been scorned by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and even President Richard Nixon. 

It was that a corporation has only one, single obligation to only one, single entity: to increase profits and thus dividends and its share price for its shareholders.

The Supreme Court, stacked with corporate shills by bought-off politicians, has since ratified that new perspective in a series of decisions peripheral to it, as I lay out in my book The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America.

So now corporations don’t have to answer to their communities, their employees, their customers or even the idea of the permanence of the institution. All they have to answer to is profits for stockholders.

And the stockholders frankly don’t give a rat’s ass about how the corporation is run or what it does, so long as it keeps cranking out cash every quarter so the dividend checks continue to arrive. Which is why corporate CEOs now make over 300 times what their lowest-paid employee makes, and in some sectors it’s thousands of times more.

As many of us pointed out back in the 1980s, and I wrote about at length in my book Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People, this was almost certain to cause American business and the American government to reconfigure themselves along the lines of the classical, Mussolini definition of fascism. It would lead to the merger of corporate and state interests, and the end of electoral democracy.

America does have a serious fascism problem, but it goes way beyond the kinds of authoritarianism displayed by people like Donald Trump, Rick Scott, Ted Cruz, or Tom Cotton. It goes deep, now, into the very structure of corporate America. 

If America is to survive as a democratic republic, we not only must repudiate strongman authoritarianism: we also must change federal rules regarding corporate governance to repudiate shareholder primacy, block fascism, and thus restore corporate behavior to something resembling sanity and responsibility.