This was not, of course, the first time that American oligarchs and their supplicants plotted to subvert American democracy in favor of a harsh capitalist-controlled "free enterprise" system that handed virtually all the spoils of business over to a wealthy few.
In the early 1880s, railroad barons funded six major attempts at the US Supreme Court to create, from the 14th Amendment, a "right of corporate personhood." In 1886, although the Court rejected their theory for the last and final time, the Clerk of the Court, John Chandler Bancroft Davis, inserted into the not-legally-binding headnote of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case that the Chief Justice had, offhandedly, certified corporate personhood.
Reacting to that and the general rise of the men then called robber barons, Democratic President Grover Cleveland, in his 1888 State of the Union address, said:
"The gulf between employers and the employed is constantly widening, and classes are rapidly forming, one comprising the very rich and powerful, while in another are found the toiling poor.
"As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel.
"Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters."
From President Cleveland's comments, you can draw a straight line to the trust busting and inheritance tax of progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt in the first decade of the 20th century.
But the oligarchs fought back and, in the election of 1920, regained the power to cut taxes and regulations sufficiently that the rich got explosively richer, while the entire economy was set up for the Great Crash. (Warren Harding ran for president with two slogans -- "More business in government, less government in business" [privatize and deregulate], and cutting the top tax rate from 90% to 25%...both of which he did.)
And Lewis Powell's contribution to today's problems is easily found in the 1976 Buckley v Valeo decision, which struck down many of the campaign finance laws that had been passed in the wake of the Nixon scandals. Money transferred from billionaires to politicians, he and his conservative friends on the court ruled, wasn't "money" -- instead, it was Constitutionally-protected First Amendment Free Speech.
Just in time for the Reagan Revolution, the morbidly rich could again own individual politicians, and with the 2013 McCutcheon case, the Court ruled that morbidly rich individuals could own a virtually unlimited number of politicians. Citizens United, in 2010, radically expanded corporate personhood and the rights of billionaires and corporations to influence politics.
Thus, here we are again.
We have a billionaire oligarch in the White House.
We have a man as VP who's such a toady to oligarchs he actually promoted the idea in 2000 that tobacco doesn't cause cancer, and today denies climate science on behalf of the petrobillionaires who have funded much of his political career.
We have an entire Republican Party that's been captured by toxic-emissions corporations, petro-billionaires, and others among the morbidly rich. On the left, thanks to the DLC and its heirs, substantial parts of the Democratic Party are beholden to the banking, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries (although the Congressional Progressive Caucus is working to change this).
The Washington Post recently ran an article about how the very institutions of America are beginning to break down under the sustained assault of the oligarchs (although the Post doesn't use that word). The main point of the article is that Donald Trump actually believes that both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, committed major crimes, and that the attorney general and others in the Department of Justice covered up those crimes.
Where did Trump get such a wild idea? It seems certain that he got it from billionaire oligarch Rupert Murdoch's Fox News. And because he actually believes that previous presidents got away with committing major crimes both to win elections and to stay in office, he apparently thinks he should be able to as well.
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