Capitalism is endemic to the American way of life. Since the earliest days of its founding, the United States has valued, praised, and encouraged “free enterprise” as a hallmark of individual initiative and a key element in citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
All that changed Monday.
The United States has been worshipping at the altar of capitalism for so long now that we’ve lost all ability to see that rights accrue to individuals – free agents and groups of same which sometimes form legal entities for the purpose of conducting commerce – not to those legal entities themselves.
While clear signs that the personification of businesses had gone too far prevailed before the Supreme Court’s ridiculous ruling in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, the Court had an opportunity to moderate that clearly untenable path. Instead it doubled down, affirming that, at least for five ideology-driven old men, businesses are not just people, they can also be religions, where individuals – be they customers or employees – must check their rights at the door.
The theoretical and actual impact of this is beyond doubt. America – to many of us little more than a legal construct (much like the businesses it worships) – is dead. Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby is the last nail in this never-really-was-a-country-anyway’s coffin.
While surely a blow to the broader population’s chances of reining in the capitalist model, the Court’s much-reviled Citizens United ruling was not, for me at least, absolute proof of Carlin’s Theorem. (Yes, that would be George Carlin: “They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”) Like many others when Citizen’s United was handed down, I reasoned that if people would finally organize around an umbrella of indisputably humanist, commonsense, peace-, people- and planet-first policy imperatives, it wasn’t too late to beat back the forces of unbridled greed, and oppression of the working masses. There might even still be hope for collapsing in a dusty heap that grand enabler of capitalism – perpetual warfare – in favor of responsible freedoms, egalitarianism and peace.
Such a successful challenge had not been mounted in this (“)country(”) for more than 100 years, but I chose to believe – foolishly, it now appears — one could again take root.
My hope was grounded in part in single-issue successes of varying importance won since our Progressive Era of 1892-1917; the first (and apparently last) great cross-partisan uprising against elitism, corporate greed and worker oppression. That era produced women’s suffrage, direct election of Senators, the eight-hour workday and labor unions, progressive taxation, anti-trust laws, and the beginnings of a social safety net. Victories since, including civil rights (though under direct assault as I type), abortion rights (ditto); women’s rights (tritto), gay rights, marriage equality and reform of marijuana laws buoyed my spirit.
Then came the Occupy movement, which held real promise as the populist uprising I’d hoped for, embracing myriad issues of humanism while advocating kicking corporatists to the curb. Before, at least, its masterful and nearly immediate co-option.
And now, finally, Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. Hope is a disease, and I’ve been cured.
It’s bad enough when greed and oppression are personified and treated as legitimate constituencies in any national debate. But when their practitioners are also sanctified — granted special dispensation from following the law based on a claimed set of religious beliefs, despite the long-held and rigorously tested ideal of separation of Church and State — the game is clearly over. Why fool ourselves?
In codifying companies’ “right” to refuse to follow duly-enacted American law – despite operating in America and employing Americans and selling to Americans who access their businesses via American infrastructure – the Supreme Court, in legal effect, created countless Branch Davidian compounds all across the country. (You do remember the Branch Davidians, right?)
In light of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, it’s no stretch to suggest a sign be placed at the entrance of every for-profit company claiming an exemption to laws of the United States, to wit:
UPON ENTERING THESE PREMISES, THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES NO LONGER APPLY NOR PROTECT YOU. FROM A LEGAL STANDPOINT, YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER AND WILL REMAIN WITHIN THE BOUNDS AND UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF ANOTHER COUNTRY, UNTIL YOU AGAIN CROSS THIS THRESHOLD. ASSUMING YOU DO.
Is that extreme? Think about it.
By bowing to what it deemed a “sincerely held” religious objection to the law — a “sincerity” questionable at best (and more accurately an outright lie) when one considers that oh-so-abortion-aghast Hobby Lobby purchases and sells products produced in a country (China) where forced abortion is the law – the Supreme Court accepted prima-facie Hobby Lobby’s claims of religiosity of an extent sufficient to countervail its inherent responsibility to obey the law. What now stops the Court from opining that companies have a right to police their grounds however they see fit, up to and including summary executions for, say, shoplifting — if that’s what an organization’s claimed “deeply held religious convictions” dictate?