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John Colson: Hit or Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

These are strange times in America, there’s no denying it.

The U.S. Supreme Court just overturned a half-century of precedent by ruling that corporations (unions, too, but that’s a subject for another time) should enjoy the same rights as people, ostensibly in a nod to the First Amendment. But it actually was nothing more than a blatant political ploy to unleash the money men of the right wing in the game of politics, a move that has brought swift condemnation from anyone still harboring dreams about the integrity of the U.S. constitutional form of government.

At roughly the same time, top military brass are calling for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” that heinous bit of socio-political legerdemain engineered by Bill “that depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is” Clinton.

If the Clinton-era policy is repealed, it will mean that gays and lesbians can no longer be discharged from military service simply because of who and what they are, which by itself might seem to be a progressive step forward in human relations.

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But taken together, these two developments inescapably bring us to the question of what a person is, and what rights and responsibilities accrue to such a person.

Is a corporation a person? My answer is, “No.” A corporation does not breathe, reproduce in the biological sense, require clothing and food to live, or in any way fulfill the basic definition of “personhood.”

A corporation, at its core, is a financial tool aimed at providing certain conveniences and benefits to the persons who have created it, profit by it and, presumably, control it. It is an “it,” a thing that, while achieving an unwholesome amount of power and influence over actual persons and their lives, should not be confused with, say, a man or a woman who can seal a deal with a handshake and feel remorse over lapses in morality and judgment.

In granting it certain rights, privileges and liabilities, U.S. courts have blurred this line over the past couple of centuries, and have brought us to the point where a pack of activist jurists are able to say, without blushing, that corporations are essentially persons.

The plain fact is that corporations are tools of the wealthy class, in the U.S. and other countries, who want to extend their power and control over entire populations, to ensure continued profits and luxury for themselves.

In granting corporations the right of free speech, the court has set us all up for potentially terrible consequences. How long will it be before corporations are able to cast ballots in elections? At that point, it will be irrevocably clear that the U.S. experiment in democracy has failed, and we will have transformed our republic into a true oligarchy, a nation ruled by a small elite by virtue of wealth.

And how does this relate to the possible repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

It’s like this. Gays and lesbians have been relegated to second-class citizenship due to their sexual orientation, just as blacks and other racial minorities have been mistreated in their own ways.

For black people, it took a decade of turmoil and social unrest to begin repealing the social framework that kept them in thrall, a process that continues today and will do so for a long time to come.

But for blacks and gays, the process toward recognition of their full “personhood” has been a matter of fighting from the bottom up, of bucking a system that, for whatever reasons, has long held them in subjugation.

For corporations, the process has been just the opposite, because it has been rooted in the struggle of the wealthy elite to solidify their control over the unruly mob of working people who make up the bulk of this nation.

In other cultures, other times and other parts of the world, a ruling such as this one might have generated mob unrest, even revolution, once full understanding of the implications filtered all the way to the bottom rungs of society.

But not here, thanks to the very mechanisms of governance that the same wealthy elite has established over centuries, and which are the foundations of the supreme court’s ruling itself.

We’ve been snookered again, people, and far too many of us either don’t know it yet or don’t care enough to do something about it.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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