Capitalism, corporations, Trump – unavoidable facts, systemic contradictions
This is the first part of a four-part article, two in this post, and 3 and 4 respectively in the following two posts. The goal in the first three parts is to connect how capitalism, mega-corporations, and the Trump administration are shaping our economy in ways that are ultimately unsustainable and unjust, and, in the fourth part, to exam two proposals for how to change significant parts of this powerful alignment.
In this first part, I document some facts on mega-corporations in our capitalist system and how they typically operate with no concern about the effects of their decisions on people and environments. In the second part, I focus on some of the ways that mega-corporations, corporations generally, and their allies, influence government policy, especially – but not only – at the national level. In the third part, I consider how Trump and his right-wing political and corporate allies are working to consolidate this power in ways that are beneficial to them. Finally, I consider some proposals on how this corporate-capitalist arrangement may be changed.
Part 1: Corporate dominance in the U.S. Economy
There is no doubt that we have a capitalist economy dominated by mega-corporations that measure their success by their profits and the value of their stocks compared to those of their domestic and foreign competitors. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a megacorporation as “a huge and powerful corporation.” You get some sense of the size of these corporations from the numbers generated each year by Fortune magazine in its “Fortune 500” list of the largest corporations in the economy. In the magazine’s list for 2017, the magazine finds that “Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the U.S. GDP [gross domestic product], $2 trillion in revenues, $890 billion in profits, and $19 trillion in market value, and employ 28.2 million people worldwide” (http://fortune.com/fortune500/list). The corporation with the most revenues in 2017 is Walmart, with $485.8 billion in revenues. The corporation with the most profits in 2017 is Apple, with $45.7 billion. The biggest corporations have more assets than most nations. According to Quora, there are 220 U.S. “firms” with revenues of $2 billion or more (https://www.quora.com/Forbes-400-How-many-companies-in-the-world-generate-over-US-1-billion-in-annual-revenue).
Here’s another way of thinking about the role played by mega-corporations. The domination of industry-specific markets by a few large corporations is defined as an oligopoly. In the U.S. economy, most industries are oligopolies. We have an economy in which virtually all industries and markets are dominated by a few mega-corporations. According to Wikipedia, “An oligopoly (from Ancient Greek ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning ‘few’, and πωλεῖν (polein), meaning ‘to sell’) is a market form wherein a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). Oligopolies can result from various forms of collusion which reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. Oligopoly has its own market structure.” Wikipedia continues: “With few sellers, each oligopolist is likely to be aware of the actions of the others. According to game theory, the decisions of one firm therefore influence and are influenced by decisions of other firms. Strategic planning by oligopolists needs to take into account the likely responses of the other market participants” (https://en/wikipedia/wiki/Oligopoly).
Tim Wu throws further light on this form of corporate concentration in an article for The New Yorker entitled “The Oligopoly Problem” (https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-oligopoly-problem). He refers to Barry Lynn’s 2011 book Cornered “which carefully detailed the rising concentration and consolidation of nearly every American industry since the nineteen-eighties.” Lynn’s chief finding is that dominance by two or three firms “is not the exception but increasingly the rule.” Wu gives this example, among others: “while drugstores seem to offer unlimited choices in toothpaste, just two firms, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, control more than eighty percent of the market….” Wu argues that there should be more government regulation of such arrangements.
What about the large number of small businesses?
Okay, there are gigantic corporations. What’s new? Well, you may have heard the opposite. One of the principal myths in our culture is that small businesses are the real dynamic force in the economy? It’s a myth that serves to detract people from the real source of economic power. DMDataBases identifies 18.2 million businesses in the economy, including proprietary businesses, partnerships, and corporations. Their number excludes the over 9 million businesses counted by the IRA that are offshore “shell companies” that have “no significant assets or operations,” that is, tax havens. According to DMData’s estimates, 92.5 percent of the businesses employ under 25 employees. Indeed, 73.6 percent have only 1-4 employees (http://dmdatabase.com/databases/business-mailing-lists/how-many-businesses).
While there are a lot more smaller businesses than the mega- or large-corporations listed by Fortune, small businesses are not major independent forces in the U.S. economy. Small businesses tend to be connected to, and dependent on, large corporate producers through (1) franchises (e.g., gas stations; fast-food restaurants; various types of “chain” stores like CVS drug stores), (2) sub-contracting arrangements, such as the non-unionized auto-parts manufacturers have with the major auto corporations. Small businesses whose products are locally produced are dependent on consumers, many of whom earn their income through employment in the corporate-connected system. There are, to be sure, some small business entrepreneurs whose businesses started in garages and became huge corporations. Take the cases of Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, and Google (https://www.americanexpress.com/small-business/openforum/articles/6-incredible-companies-that-started-in-a-garage). But they are the exceptions to the rule. And, further, individual entrepreneurial success here and there does not alter the reality of corporate dominance, but is absorbed into it.
The systemic constraints on corporations
We must also never lose sight of the fact that even the largest corporations operate in a capitalist economy that imposes systematic constraints on even the largest players. That is, corporations of all sizes operate in a system that structures and channels their actions and behavior in certain relatively predictable ways. Of course, some play the game better than others. At the same, the system is not absolute in limiting what corporations can do – or how much governments can alter economies or limit corporate crime and predatory activities. Nonetheless, corporations today dominate all major industries in the U.S.
In the capitalist economy we have, there is constant pressure on even the largest corporations to worry about competition for market share and value, now increasingly from foreign as well as domestic competitors. Thus, the mega-corporations continuously engage in massive sales efforts to sell their products and services, endlessly looking for ways to hold onto and expand their markets. They need good sales and profits to have the means to attract and hold onto experienced executives and skilled personnel, to be organizationally and technologically up-do-date, to keep a good credit rating, and to acquire promising smaller and innovative businesses.
Further, all corporations, including the biggest, are forever looking for ways to lower the costs of doing business. This includes the outsourcing of jobs to low-wage subcontractors or individual contract employees in the U.S. or through supply chains internationally, often involving contractors or sub-contractors using low-wage labor. Many corporations also invest vast sums abroad in countries that offer low-wage non-unionized workers and free-enterprise investment zones. This aspect of the capitalist system is examined in-depth by John Smith in his book Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (published 2016).
The never-ending pressures to meet Wall Street’s expectations also gives top management the incentive to lower labor costs through the mechanization or automation of production, the effect of which is to reduce opportunities for jobs that provide decent wages and benefits but buttressing the corporation’s bottom line. This issue is examined by Martin Ford in his book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, or Martin Ford’s The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future. This trend of increasing automation also points to one of the fundamental contradictions of capitalism, that is, the tendency of the system to produce more and more with fewer workers. The eventual outcome is that at some point, nationally and internationally, there will not be enough consumers to purchase what is produced. Let’s return to the present.
The challenges vary to some extent from industry to industry. However, whether it is in banking, fossil fuels, insurance, pharmaceuticals, military weapons, high-tech, private prisons and detention, security and surveillance, retail, wholesale, transportation, you name it, the basic systemic characteristics generally apply:
• private ownership (sometimes by many thousands of shareholders)
• actual control by top management, not workers, not the outside board members, not government, not affected citizens (https://www.thoughtco.com/corporate-ownership-vs-management-1147907)
• the primacy of profits, typically without regard to the human, public, or environmental consequences
• the growth imperative, that is, the need for the corporation to grow or risk going out of business, seeing top executives being replaced, or being taken over by another corporation
• the constant search for cost-cutting efficiencies (e.g., the replacement of workers with labor-saving technologies),
• the displacement of negative externalities (e.g., pollution of all sorts, carbon emissions, radioactive wastes, nitrogen run off into waterways from the overuse of non-organic fertilizers) onto the public to pay for or live with in what sometimes become “sacrificial or dead zones,” “super-fund” sites, deforested woodlands, polluted air, and contaminated water sources.
The externalizing of costs – the normalization of destructive behavior
Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and author, writes on how our system of capitalism is a “looting machine,” because it “can impose the majority of the costs associated with its economic activities on outside parties and on the environment,” that is, the costs are “externalized” (http://counterpunch.org/2017/04/26/the-looting-machine-called-capitalism).
Roberts refers to the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural chemical run-off and from the toxic wastes spewed by chemical plants and oil refineries along the lower parts of the Mississippi River and Texas coastline. He also refers to how capitalism’s carbon-based economy produces global warming and ocean acidification. And such activities don’t cost the corporations a cent. Roberts also gives the example of the “outsourcing” of jobs, as an externalized cost that affects not only workers who lose jobs but results in negative effects that ripple through the public sector in, for example, lower tax revenues. He main point is that the costs to workers and the public greatly exceed any profits earned by the corporate outsourcers, but either the taxpayers end up paying the bill or the negative effects are left to continue and sometimes multiply. Roberts writes:
“Now consider the external costs of offshoring the production of goods and services that US corporations, such as Apple and Nike, market to Americans. When production facilities in the US are closed and the jobs are moved to China, for example, the American workers lose their jobs, medical coverage, careers, pension provision, and often their self-respect when they are unable to find comparable employment or any employment. Some fall behind in their mortgage and car payments and lose their homes and cars. The cities, states, and federal governments lose the tax base as personal income and sales taxes decline and as depressed housing and commercial real estate prices in the abandoned communities depress property taxes. Social security and Medicare funding is harmed as payroll tax deposits fall. State and local infrastructure declines. Possibly crime rises. Safety need needs rise, but expenditures are cut as tax revenues decline. Municipal and state workers find their pension at risk. Education suffers. All of these costs greatly exceed Apple’s and Nike’s profits from substituting cheaper foreign labor for American labor. Contradicting the neoliberal claims, Apple and Nike’s prices do not drop despite the collapse in labor costs that the corporations experience.”
Great power is frequently abused
Corporate executives often engage in activities that violate relevant statutes and law in their efforts to advance the interests of their companies or their own individual interests. The literature on corporate- and white-collar crime provides abundant documentation. The unending competition, the endless pursuit of profit and growth, the self-rewarding status that executives achieve when their corporations do well, and the opportunities to deviate from the rules to maintain a corporation’s market advantages, create the context for deviant or criminal behavior by some. Indeed, Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, identifies in a 2007 speech “twenty things you should know about corporate crime” (http://www.alternet.org/story/54093/twenty_things_you_should_know_about_corporate_crime). Among Mokhiber’s points are these:
“Corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.” – the banks that caused the housing crisis and 2008-09 Great Recession
“Corporate crime is often violent crime” – e.g., the number of people who die every year on the job or from occupational diseases, contaminated food, hazardous consumer products
“Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live” (see the next section)
“Corporate crime is underprosecuted….”
Another egregious example of corporate misconduct, if it is not criminal, is the drug industry’s involvement in the current opioid crisis. This was revealed in a segment of the CBS program “Sixty Minutes” on October 17, as host Bill Whitaker interviewed “whistleblower Joe Annazzisi” on this crisis and how drug industry lobbyists and Congress derailed the federal government’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) efforts to stop drug distributors from pumping vast quantities of opioids into US communities (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ex-dea-agent-opioid-crisis-fueld-by-drug-industry-and-congress). The following CBS account captures the gist of the story.
“Rannazzisi ran the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, the division that regulates and investigates the pharmaceutical industry. Now in a joint investigation by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post, Rannazzisi tells the inside story of how, he says, the opioid crisis was allowed to spread — aided by Congress, lobbyists, and a drug distribution industry that shipped, almost unchecked, hundreds of millions of pills to rogue pharmacies and pain clinics providing the rocket fuel for a crisis that, over the last two decades, has claimed 200,000 lives.”
Part 2 – The multi-faceted political impact of the corporations and their billionaire allies
Why are corporations interested in influencing and shaping government policies
There is a lot at stake from their perspective. Government tax policies influence how much after-tax profits corporations will have, though corporations are famous for finding ways to reduce or avoid taxes (https://itep.org/the-35-percent-corporate-tax-myth). Government regulatory policies can, if strong, increase the costs of doing business or, if weak, can reduce these costs. Think of patent regulations, the host of environmental regulations, occupational safety and health regulations, and so forth. Under present circumstances, corporations that pollute the environment are, as mentioned in Part One, often able to externalize these costs, that is, pass them onto government and taxpayers to clean up or not clean up. Investigators at ProPublica found evidence of the Trump administration’s efforts to “scale back government regulations” in various executive-branch agencies by “secretive teams” comprised of “political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts [of interest].” ProPublica “identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.” Who are they?
“The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.”
Here are three more examples of why corporations’ have significant interests in shaping government policies. One, government spending programs can offer corporations opportunities to obtain lucrative government contracts, sometimes cost-plus contracts. A foreign policy emphasizing military interventions mean profits for weapons’ manufacturers. The Trump administration and Congress have just increased the military budget by tens of billions of dollars, while at the same time escalating the number of US troops in Afghanistan, threatening North Korea with “obliteration,” taking steps to undermine the treaty with Iran, conducting major military exercises through NATO on the Eastern European borders of Russia, and increasing US naval presence in the South China Sea. Two, trade policies can also have advantages for corporations engaged in international sales and production. Three, the government’s management of public land can determine whether corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, other minerals, and timber, have access to such resources, often at very little cost.
On the latter point, the Senate Republicans and the Trump administration are pushing as part of the current budget negotiations to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northeast corner of Alaska for oil drilling. This is an area of 19.6 million acres that has been set aside to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats, fulfill international fish and wildlife treat obligations, provide the opportunity for the continued subsistence by local residents, and to ensure water quality and quantity within the refuge (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Arctic/about.html).
At the same time, the Republicans and Trump are already opening the National Petroleum Reserve, located west of the Refuge. Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post (Oct. 26, 107), the National Petroleum Reserve is a massive stretch of land of 23 million acres. The government is selling off 900 tracts of land in this reserve. And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “is taking steps toward removing the protection for [other] parts of the reserve currently off limits.” Wikipedia has a “page” on the National Petroleum Reserve, noting that it represents “the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States.” In 2010 the United States Geological Survey estimated that there were 896 million barrels of oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the region. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Petroleum_Reserve%E2%80%93Alaska).
The methods by which corporations influence government
The mega-corporations have an arsenal of methods for influencing and shaping governments policies. The mega-corporations play a decisive role in shaping government policies directly by financially supporting their favored candidates in electoral contests, through large lobbying efforts to shape and influence relevant legislation, through their own public relations departments, and by having their own executives or those who are ideologically supportive appointed to policy-relevant positions in the President’s cabinet, to other executive-branch agencies, or to agency-advisory boards. They contribute to the Republican National Campaign Committee and other Republican Party organizations. They join in supporting organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and industry-specific trade associations like the fossil fuel industry’s American Petroleum Institute. The list of trade associations is long, as you can see at: https://wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_industry_trade_groups_in_the_United_States.
They contribute to Super PACs anonymously. Open Secrets describes them as “a relatively new type of committee that arose following the July 2010 federal court decision in a case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission (http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/superpacs.php?cycle=2018). In technical terms, super PACs are known “as independent expenditure-only committees” that “may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals. These PACs can then “spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates,” though they cannot legally coordinate their spending with that of the candidates they benefit. The top 10 Super Pacs on the list by “total raised” for the 2018 political cycle include,” include 5 “conservative” and 5 “liberal.” The largest two by far are “conservative”: the Congressional Leadership Fund and the Senate Leadership Fund.
Mega corporations spend massively on political advertising, often in ways that hide their identities. They also support efforts to advance their agenda ideologically, as well as politically, through their support of conservative or right-wing think tanks. Conservapedia has a list of the American conservative and libertarian think tanks that includes, among others, American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute (http://www.conservapedia.com/List_of_conservative_and_libertarian_think_tanks).
Additionally, mega-corporations and their allies support public relations firms, fund the careers of corporate-friendly scientists and “experts,” and organize and fund faux grassroots groups. Not the least, they buy the services of the most prestigious law firms. And, politically, they benefit from the Fox TV network and a host of right-wing radio programs.
Their billionaire soul mates
The political impact of corporations is complemented by the political involvement of billionaires, virtually all of whom are connected to corporations directly as top executives or members of corporate boards, through stockholdings, or who own large businesses that have not been incorporated, such as Cargill and Koch Industries.
For example, consider the case of the Koch Industries. According another Wikipedia page on “Koch Industries” is a conglomerate. It owns “Invista, Georgia-Pacific, Molex, Flint Hills Resources, Koch Pipeline, Koch Fertilizer, Koch Minerals, Matador Cattle Company and recently Guardian Industries.” What do they do? They are “involved in industries such as the manufacturing, refining, and distribution, petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, intermediates and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching, finance, commodities trading, and other ventures and investments.” The Wikipedia account also notes that “the firm employs about 60,000 people in the United States and another 40,000 in 59 other countries” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koch_Industries).
Additionally, in 2013–2015, “Forbes listed it as the second largest privately held company in the United States (after Cargill), with an annual revenue of $115 billion. If Koch Industries were a public company in 2013, it would have ranked 17 in the Fortune 500.
Wikipedia also has a “page” on the Kochs and their political activities (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Political_activities_of_the_Koch_brothers&oldid=722119237). The two brothers, Charles and David, own 84 percent of Koch Industries.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index of the world’s 500 richest people, Charles Koch was 12th with 47 billion in net worth and David Koch was 13th also with $78 billion (https://www.bloomberg.com/billionaires).
They are ultra-conservative in their outlook and favor a very limited central government, maximum deregulation, and low taxes. They have supported political candidates and policies that want to maximize the access and use of all domestic fossil fuels. They are among the leading forces in their denial that climate change is a problem. Their fossil fuel investments and their polluting companies help to explain this retrograde ideology.
Reporting for The Center for Media and Democracy, Alex Kotch writes:
“Libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch have long opposed federal power and federal spending. Koch Industries is one of the nation’s biggest polluters and has been sanctioned and fined over and over again by both federal and state authorities. In response, the Kochs have launched a host of ‘limited government’ advocacy organizations and have created a massive $400 million campaign finance network, fueled by their fortunes and those of their wealthy, right-wing allies, that rivals the two major political parties” (http://www.exposedbycmd/org/2017/03/23/kochs-bankroll-movement-rewrite-constitution).
The Koch’s have family foundations, support think tanks. They were they initial supporters of the Cato Institute and key donors to the Federalist Society, as well as many other right-wing organizations. Their main political advocacy group is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
The are big financiers of right-wing Republican candidates. Robert Elliott reports, with some additional details, that the political and policy network led by the Koch Brothers plan to spend as much as $400 million in 2018 midterm elections (http://time.com/4652743/donald-trump-koch-brothers-400-million). Charles Koch is quoted: “We should use this opportunity [with Republican control of Washington] as an opportunity to help us really move forward in advancing the country toward a brighter future….We may not have an opportunity again like we have today.”
In their efforts last year, Roberts writes, “the Koch-backed candidates won in seven of the eight up-for-grabs U.S. Senate races.” This year, the Koch network has “staff on the ground in 36 states.” But they are involved in many politically-relevant ways in pushing a neo-liberal agenda of low-taxation, deregulation, privatization, are mounting a movement in the states to pass a constitutional amendment that would compel the federal government to balance the budget, the effects of which would bankrupt government social-welfare programs and drastically affect the majority of Americans.
They oppose the idea of a single-payer health care system, according to Wikipedia. They gave grants worth a total of $236 million to conservative groups, “like the Tea Party and organizations which opposed the Affordable Care Act in 2012 election.” They push their free-market ideology supporting programs “on more than 300 college campuses,” and have given educational grants “to nearly 270 U.S. colleges and universities ‘for projects that explore how the principles of free enterprise and classical liberalism promote more peaceful and prosperous society.’”
The Kochs are not alone. There are hundreds of billionaires and multi-millionaires who financially support a right-wing, Republican Party, agenda. This reality has been covered in great detail in such books as these:
• Richard L. Hasen, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortions of American Elections
• Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, Billionaire’s Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality
• Greg Palast, Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal Elections in 9 Easy Steps
• Nomi Prins, It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street
• Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
Corporate-Republican Ties get Stronger
Corporations have always disproportionately favored the Republican Party. However, most mega-corporations are opportunistic and have contributed to and continue to contribute to both major parties. In recent years, though, corporations in most industries have increasingly tilted their political resources toward the Republican Party. The reasons are easy enough to understand. The Republican Party is a party that favors the most corporate-friendly agenda, including extensive deregulation, privatization (e.g., of the Post Office, of Social Security, of Medicare). The party favors lowering corporate taxes and free trade. It advances policies that allow for the unhindered extraction and use of fossil fuels, a “muscular” military policy, and in opening profitable opportunities in government spending on surveillance of citizens and the detention of hundreds of thousands of “illegal” immigrants in for-profit prisons. It is also the party that often opposes policies that would strengthen workers’ rights and occupational safety and health regulations or raise the federal minimum wage. The Republican Party is also strongly disposed to supporting any policy that reduces the size of the government, with big exceptions for programs that benefit the corporations and the rich. Trump is now a great facilitator of the right-wing Republican agenda. This means high levels of military spending, subsidies and tax loopholes for fossil fuel corporations, lower tax rates for upper-income individuals and families, little effective regulation of pharmaceutical corporations and an emphasis on deregulation generally. Of course, Trump’s bellicose language toward immigrants is in accord with the positions of the Republican Party.
The Republican Party’s links to radical right groups
There’s more to be said about the contemporary Republican political juggernaut. The Republican Party is also abetted by opportunistic political alignments with single-issue groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and right-wing groups, such as, fundamentalist-oriented religious groups.
Take the NRA. The goal of this national organization is to oppose all attempts at gun regulation. The NRA’s principal justification is based on its controversial interpretation of the Second Amendment which doesn’t enjoy the support of most Americans. Nonetheless, it is one of the most powerful lobbying forces in the U.S. According to a report by Louis Jacobson for Politifact, the NRA made contributions to candidates, parties and leadership political action committees of $13 million between 1998 and 2016, plus spending $144.3 million on “outside expenditures” (e.g., campaign ads), and $45.9 million on federal lobbying. It totals $203.2 million (http://politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/oct/11/counting-up-how-much-nra-spends).
Most of the NRA’s political efforts favor the Republican Party. The NRA is funded significantly by firearms producers. Here is what the Violence Policy Center found.
“Until recently, the NRA claimed that it had no financial ties to the gun industry — despite the fact that its own publications, statements, and even awards ceremonies proved otherwise. As documented in the VPC report Blood Money II: How Gun Industry Dollars Fund the NRA, the firearms industry has donated between $19.3 million and $60.2 million to the NRA since 2005.
“The NRA’s so-called “corporate partners” in the gun industry are the nation’s top-selling manufacturers of firearms and accessories. One of the companies that has donated a million dollars or more to the NRA is Remington Outdoor Company (formerly Freedom Group), manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle used at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Other top donors to the NRA include gunmakers Smith & Wesson, Beretta USA, Springfield Armory, and Sturm, Ruger & Co; as well as accessories vendors MidwayUSA and Brownells” (http://www.vpc.org/investigating-the-gun-lobby/blood-money).
What about the religious right’s association with the Republican Party? The religious right wants the U.S. to be a “Christian nation” with a fundamentalist persuasion, and as such a nation that gives special privileges and expresses higher regard in official documents, public ceremonies, and pronouncements for the Christian faith than other religious groups. Fundamentalists vote Republican and the Republican Party welcomes and cultivates their support. They share a commitment, for example, in having a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe vs. Wade. And it looks like they have one.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times titled the “passion of southern Christians,” Margaret Renkl captures the implicit, if not always explicit, viewpoint of the fundamentalist viewpoint, more extreme and less veiled in the South but also present in fundamentalist religious circles and constituencies in other parts of the country.
“Republicans now have what they’ve long wanted: the chance to turn this into a Christian nation. But what’s being planned in Washington will hit my fellow Southerners harder than almost anyone else. Where are the immigrants? Mostly in the South. Which states execute more prisoners? The Southern states. Which region has the highest poverty rates? The South. Where are you most likely to drink poisoned water? Right here in the South. Where is affordable health care hardest to find? You guessed it? My people are among the least prepared to survive a Trump presidency, but the ‘Christian’ president they elected is about to demonstrate exactly what betrayal really looks like….” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/opinion/the-passion-of-southern-christians.html?_r=0).
Mike Lofgren makes an provocative point in an article titled “GOP Insider: How Religion Destroyed My Party” (https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/gop-insider-how-religion-destroyed-my-party). He refers to “cheap grace,” and how often it allows those with fundamentalists beliefs to find a sense of being forgiven by “God” by simply having a belief in Christ as their savior. This tolerance, Lofgren argues, also spills over into politics and the un-Christian behavior of some of the elected Republican Party officials in Washington. Here’s how it puts it.
“The religious right’s professed insistence upon ‘family values’ might appear at first blush to be at odds with the anything but saintly personal behavior of many of its leading proponents….I have never ceased to be amazed at how facts manage to bound off people’s consciousness like pebbles off armor plate. But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of ‘cheap grace,’ a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By that he meant the inclination of some religion adherents to believe that once they had been ‘saved,’ not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones too – so one could pretty much behave as before. Cheap grace is a divine get-out-of-jail-free cards. Hence the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb to overlook a politician’s foibles, not matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values.”
Perhaps the best recent example of cheap grace is when President Trump spoke last year(Oct. 2017) on moral values to a standing ovation at the Values Voter Summit (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/14/trumps-religious-right-hypocricy-values-voter-summit). Journalist Daniel Jose Comacho reports on this event, writing:
“There’s nothing moral about a president who is an alleged sexual predator. There’s nothing pro-family about a president intent on separating immigrant families. Religious freedom is a misnomer for a president who is hell-bent on discriminating against Muslims and the free speech of journalists and athletes.”
And Comacho adds there is nothing moral about defining a fetus as a person, while “remaining pro-guns, pro-death penalty, and pro-war,” and supporting police misconduct and brutal treatment of African-Americans, or threatening the health care of tens of millions of Americans, or the “heartless” attitude of Trump toward hurricane-ripped Puerto Rico, or his blasé talk about using nuclear weapons to obliterate North Korea or teaching Iran a lesson once and for all. With all this, Trump has become a leading, if only opportunistic, voice for the values of fundamentalist religious groups across the nation. They are an important political constituency for right-wing, Republican candidates as well as for Trump.
Efforts to consolidate Republican power at the state level – Gerrymandering and voter suppression
In the November 2016 elections, the Republicans had astounding success in state elections in winning control of both legislative chambers in 32 states, and, in 24 of these states, also elected Republican governors (https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/after-winning-7-more-seats-gop-dominance-state-legislatures).
Even before this, Republicans had enough control in enough states in 2010 to gerrymander congressional districts in their favor. This, as you know, was also true in Ohio.
Presently, many Republican-controlled states are engaging in widespread voter-suppression activities to reduce the votes of populations that tend to vote for the Democratic Party. Editors at The New York Times penned at editorial on this subject titled “Republicans and Voter Suppression” on April 3, 2016. They write: “…Republican lawmakers around the country have already enjoyed plenty of success erecting obstacles between the ballot box and the most vulnerable voters, especially minorities, students, and the poor that tend to vote Democratic.” They refer to voter-identification laws as one example (www.nytimes.com/2016/06/06/opinion/republicans-and-voter-suppression.html?_r=0).
Priorities USA finds in its research that “[v]oter suppression and strict ID laws are spreading rapidly around the country” (https://www.scribed.com/documents/347821649/Priorities-USA-Voter-Suppression-Memo?irgwc….)
The article continues: “according to the Washington Post, ‘before 2006, no state required photo identification to vote on Election Day.’” This has changed. “Today [after 2016 elections] 10 states have this requirement. And, moreover, “a total of 33 states – representing more than half the nation’s population – have some version of voter identification and suppression rules on the books.” The principal justification for these laws is that there is widespread voter fraud. There is no good evidence that this is the case. Priorities USA writes:
“…the evidence is clear that these laws are not only unnecessary but also serve as an obstacle preventing racial and ethnic minorities from participating in their fundamental right to vote and be a part of the democratic process.”
Priorites USA also conducted research on the voter turnouts, comparing states with “strict” voter-id laws to states with “non-strict” voter-id laws. They find, in their words, “As a result, we can say with confidence that adding strict identification requirements had significant negative effects on voter participation during the 2016 election.” The found specifically that “total turnout increased in states where ID laws did not change between 2012 and 2016 elections, but decreased in states where ID laws changed to strict.” The strict voter-id states, where “voters without acceptable ID must vote on a provision ballot and take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted” include: GA, IN, KS, MS, TN, VA, WI, AZ, ND, OH.
When you combine the Republican control of the state legislatures and governorships with Republican control of the White House and both houses of the U.S. Congress, add their widespread efforts to pass laws that suppress the votes of Democratically-leaning populations, and further add the vast resources that corporations and the rich are putting into electoral politics, Republicans appear to have a better than average chance of retaining their political control. This outcome is made more likely by the current absence of decisive leadership in the Democratic Party and the absence of a clear and compelling agenda put forth by the Democratic Party.
And given the present economic and political realities, it is unlikely that corporations are going to give up any of their advantages voluntarily for the sake of, for example, stemming the disastrous climate changes that are unfolding, or supporting policies that advance economic equity and justice, or supporting change that democratize how corporations are run, or supporting policies that accelerate the adoption of a green economy, or supporting a genuinely progressive tax system, or joining efforts to prioritize diplomacy over a militaristic foreign policy.
At the same time, there are counterforces, examined by such writers as James Gustave Speth in his book America the Possible, and Gar Alperovitz’s America Beyond Capitalism, and Cynthia Kaufman’s Getting Past Capitalism. There are some businesses committed to their employees and communities. There are progressive Democrats in the U.S. Congress. There are a growing number of progressively-minded people running for political office. There are states and local governments that are advancing forward-thinking public policies that aim at achieving fairer opportunities for their constituents. There are many progressive organizations, foundations. There are social movements that are struggling to change government policies and reign in corporate power. And furthermore, there are some millions of citizens who have democratic and egalitarian values, whether implicit or explicit, and who represent constituencies or potential constituencies for a progressive agenda. So, the outcomes desired and being advanced by mega-corporations and very rich are not going unchallenged and have yet to be written in stone.