The corporate attack on democracy

Corporations can't save democracy

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published April 24, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Protesters Gather Outside Fox News Studios To Call Out Channel's Silence On The Dominion Lawsuit (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Protesters Gather Outside Fox News Studios To Call Out Channel's Silence On The Dominion Lawsuit (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Contrary to what many people had hoped and wished for, Dominion Voting Systems' settlement in its defamation lawsuit against Fox "News" for nearly 800 million dollars — the largest defamation settlement in United States history — is not some great victory for American democracy. In many ways, the outcome is a reminder of how corporate power and greed are antithetical to and actively undermine real democracy.

Fox has not been cowed or humbled by the Dominion lawsuit and settlement. It most certainly will not stop serving as the de facto propaganda outlet of the Republican Party. Moreover, Fox is not even required, and most certainly will not, publicly apologize for defaming Dominion with intentional lies and other misrepresentations that the latter's voting machines were compromised and fraudulent. Fox made those false claims as part of Donald Trump's Big Lie strategy during the 2020 election and in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 riot.

As I explained in an earlier essay here at Salon, Fox "News" will only use the Dominion case as a lesson and test for how far they can go in their assault on democracy and the truth without consequences.

Ultimately, that Dominion would settle with Fox for almost 800 million dollars is more proof of the wisdom and advice offered by the legendary hip hop supergroup the Wu-Tang Clan that "Cash rules everything around me C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dollar dollar bill, y'all".

To that point, The Star-Ledger Editorial Board offered this excellent summary of the Dominion lawsuit and what it means (or not) for American democracy:

But while some may be satisfied that Fox conceded, it is another blow to democracy that this media gorgon can still go about its business, with no obligation to correct the record or repair the damage already done, while it continues to expose the country to dangerously high levels of mendacity and fanaticism.

To be clear: Dominion won, but America lost.

Fox took a hit in the wallet, despite perpetuating one of the biggest shams in our history by floating ballot fraud nonsense – all in service of a candidate they held in contempt and knew had lost the election. And in the months that followed the Capitol riot – which was triggered by those same lies – Fox's talking heads repeated a full-throated denial of the insurrection and even attacked Republicans who wouldn't go along with the Big Lie….

So Fox's cynicism rolls on, as it deftly avoids consequences. That has become the norm for a network that has always reported lies and racist opinion as fact, distorted public understanding of everything from climate change to Barack Obama's citizenship, and turned white grievance, fear mongering, and contempt for democracy into high art.

Media expert David Rothkopf put it best: "Nothing that is broken in our system got fixed today," he wrote. "That is the only meaningful metric of the Fox-Dominion settlement. We seem increasingly incapable of righting wrongs, reversing attacks, reducing threats."

At Esquire, Charles Pierce is even more blunt and direct:

All of these things will likely come to pass because American corporations, even the ones that own large media outlets, have the dedication to democracy of a sea urchin when it might impinge on the bottom line. Dominion Voting System was just doing what modern American corporations do. And, when it comes right down to it, it's not Dominion's job to make whole our commitment to our republic. That's our fcking job, and we've shirked it long enough.

In all, Dominion's decision to settle with Fox "News" is a "teachable moment" about how corporations are first and foremost (and by law) a legal arrangement designed to protect self-interested actors where money and profits are more important than people – or the Common Good or democracy or other civic virtues.

Fox News will only use the Dominion case as a test for how far they can go in their assault on democracy.

Contrary to how they brand themselves with sophisticated lifestyle marketing and other techniques (such as giving money to charity and being supporters of "diversity" and "the environment" and other "progressive causes") that are designed to create an emotional connection between the corporation and the consumer, the corporation is not your friend. But beyond the Dominion settlement, many of America's leading corporations are continuing to undermine the country's democracy and civil society by giving money to the Republican Party and its candidates, elected officials, and other leaders who supported (and participated in) the Jan. 6 coup attempt.

A key part of America's national mythology is that democracy and capitalism are one and the same thing and that corporations and big business and "free markets" are essential indicators of "freedom" and "democracy." In reality, the corporation supports those arrangements of political economy that allow them to maximize their profits. Democracy is not a prerequisite for such an outcome. There are many examples, almost too many to list, where corporations have in the past and continue to support anti-democratic and authoritarian policies -- and antisocial and anti-human policies more generally including genocide, slavery, war profiteering, and global climate disaster -- if they deem it in their financial interests to do so.

Based on its behavior as compellingly demonstrated by law professor Joel Balkan in the bestselling book "The Corporation" (and in the award-winning documentary of the same name), the corporation can reasonably be described as a sociopath if not a psychopath. The Guardian summarizes this: "If you did a psychological profile of the corporation, what would it look like? Self-interested, manipulative, avowedly asocial, self-aggrandising, unable to accept responsibility for its own actions or feel remorse - as a person, the corporation would probably qualify as a full-blown psychopath."

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

If the corporation does support "democracy," it is mostly a function of a realpolitik calculation that such governments and societies will allow the corporation more latitude of action and protections under the law (laws which the corporate and financial sector and other moneyed interests actually craft to serve their interests).

Also at the Guardian, Robert Reich offers these examples of corporate power and how they work against democracy and what the average person actually wants from government and public policy:

According to a landmark study published in 2014 by the Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern professor Benjamin Page, the preferences of the typical American have no influence at all on legislation emerging from Congress.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups and average citizens. Their conclusion: "The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." Lawmakers mainly listen to the policy demands of big business and wealthy individuals – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns and promote their views.

It's probably far worse now. Gilens and Page's data came from the period 1981 to 2002: before the supreme court opened the floodgates to big money in the Citizens United case, before Super Pacs, before "dark money" and before the Wall Street bailout….

Reich continues:

The corporate return on this mountain of money has been significant. Over the last 40 years, corporate tax rates have plunged. Regulatory protections for consumers, workers and the environment have been defanged. Antitrust has become so ineffectual that many big corporations face little or no competition.

Corporations have fought off safety nets and public investments that are common in other advanced nations (most recently, Build Back Better). They've attacked labor laws, reducing the portion of private-sector workers belonging to a union from a third 40 years ago to just over 6% now.

They've collected hundreds of billions in federal subsidies, bailouts, loan guarantees and sole-source contracts. Corporate welfare for big pharma, big oil, big tech, big ag, the largest military contractors and biggest banks now dwarfs the amount of welfare for people.

The profits of big corporations just reached a 70-year high, even during a pandemic. The ratio of CEO pay in large companies to average workers has ballooned from 20-to-1 in the 1960s, to 320-to-1 now.

Meanwhile, most Americans are going nowhere. The typical worker's wage is only a bit higher today than it was 40 years ago, when adjusted for inflation.

But the biggest casualty is public trust in democracy.

In 1964, just 29% of voters believed government was "run by a few big interests looking out for themselves". By 2013, 79% of Americans believed it.

Corporate donations to seditious lawmakers are nothing compared with this 40-year record of corporate sedition.

Public intellectual Noam Chomsky is even more direct in his assessment of corporate power (what he describes as the "RECD") in the era of late capitalism:

First, let me say that what I have in mind by the term "really existing capitalism" is what really exists and what is called "capitalism." The United States is the most important case, for obvious reasons. The term "capitalism" is vague enough to cover many possibilities. It is commonly used to refer to the US economic system, which receives substantial state intervention, ranging from creative innovation to the "too-big-to-fail" government insurance policy for banks, and which is highly monopolized, further limiting market reliance.

It's worth bearing in mind the scale of the departures of "really existing capitalism" from official "free-market capitalism." To mention only a few examples, in the past 20 years, the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, carrying forward the oligopolistic character of the US economy. This directly undermines markets, avoiding price wars through efforts at often-meaningless product differentiation through massive advertising, which is itself dedicated to undermining markets in the official sense, based on informed consumers making rational choices….

In a way, all of this explains the economic devastation produced by contemporary capitalism that you underscore in your question above. Really existing capitalism – RECD for short (pronounced "wrecked") – is radically incompatible with democracy. It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive really existing capitalism and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. Could functioning democracy make a difference? Consideration of nonexistent systems can only be speculative, but I think there's some reason to think so. Really existing capitalism is a human creation, and can be changed or replaced.

To stop the rising fascist tide and the onslaught of the Republican Party, the "conservative" movement, and its agents such as Fox "News" and other parts of the neofascist machine on American democracy, freedom, and human and civil rights -- and happiness -- requires that the American people engage in collective action, organize, vote, pressure, boycott, educate themselves, become engaged citizens, and overall take their destiny into their own hands. Looking to corporations such as Dominion (or the courts or voting alone or the Democratic Party) or other centers of elite power will not save us from the rising fascist tide and its living nightmare.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

MORE FROM Chauncey DeVega