Of General Motors, Frogs, and Scorpions

Updated: Dec 18, 2019


That our current president is a liar and a fool is, at this point, established common knowledge. More than half the people who voted for him knew this in November 2016. Many of them still see trimp as the “lesser evil” or a “Hail Mary pass”.

And why not? The failure of our political system has been bruited by talk radio and corporate-funded whispering campaigns which long predate electronic social media. But this failure is much more than vague or feverish perceptions.

The many genuine failures of our political system are also much more complicated than the agonizing frustrations inherent in even a well-functioning democracy if one were ever to exist.

Somehow enough voters in Ohio thought it was worth taking a chance on trimp. Some of them actually believed there was some way he could bribe, order, cajole, intimidate, or shame the monster corporations to provide and protect their job opportunities.

Of course, this was just the most recent of a long chain of conservative Republican tax cuts for the rich and for the corporations. This giveaway was designed to trickle down through the economy to create and preserve “good jobs”. And just like every other conservative Republican tax cut in US history, it merely lined the pockets of the rich and emboldened policies and attitudes that foment more misery and hopelessness among the rest of us. This is our political system.

This is dysfunction.

Now trimp and many communities in the Midwest have been again betrayed by General Motors. This is a corporation which would likely not exist today except for a taxpayer bailout. It still receives subsidies today. The plants GM is closing are built on the ruins of neighborhoods purchased with taxpayer money. These plants were built on the crushed and scorned memories of the working poor who lived and loved and died in those bulldozed and buried neighborhoods. Like a scorpion on a frog's back GM is a corporation which cannot stop itself from repeatedly stabbing the communities which support it with poison sting after poison sting.

Maybe trimp will launch a justly deserved presidential campaign of vilification against this predatory corporation. Maybe a frightened GM will buy him off with vague promises to reopen these plants in return for further sweeteners and subsidies. Maybe trimp will find a way to blame the poor and the brown and immigrant for GM's troubles. Maybe our president* will distract us with some new and terrorizing conflict where we will feel obliged to support our troops. Maybe trimp will soon be paralyzed by revelations from the Mueller investigation and inquests into associated scandals.

Maybe, along with the voters of Ohio, we will be fooled again. And again. And again.

Maybe we are all nothing but crash test dummies for an idiotic, though very mighty, corporate elite.

Whatever happens with (or to) trimp, this is the time to focus more attention on the role of corporations in our economy and our society. As more and more jobs are replaced by automation or are exported to terror regimes which know how to keep wages low, Americans who care about the future need to re-examine old prejudices, ideas, and beliefs.

The original corporations were entities created to serve some public "good". They were projects to build cathedrals. They were universities. They were towns and cities. Later on, more mercenary corporations were chartered, but even then it was understood that corporate privileges and independence were granted in return for some benefit to the sovereign. This started happening right about the same time in history as the idea that the people were sovereign began to be realized. And not long after this came the idea that by their very nature "corporations are people too" began to be insinuated into our common law system of precedents.

These immortal undemocratic zombie-like "people" often sit on piles of accumulated wealth that would overwhelm and embarrass the neediest greediest dragon of any self-respecting fantasy world. These unsleeping profit-motivated entities glide shark-like through human communities taking as much value as they can and giving back as little as they can get away with. They buy, sell, and trade our politicians and lawmakers the way 11-year-olds used to swap bubblegum scented baseball cards. And too much of our economy, our education system, our hopes, and our dreams are all based on the idea of our selling our days and talents to them in return for a living wage.

A scorpion cannot stop itself from stinging. The profit motive overwhelms all scruples. But we can change our laws and our incentives to reinforce other motives and other responsibilities. We cannot erase or outgrow greed, but we can nurture and protect better motivators. We can certainly punish scofflaws and promise breakers.

The death penalty for a corporation is the revocation of its charter. GM may or may not deserve the ultimate sanction. But for our economy and politics to become functional, we have to start changing the terms by which corporations are chartered and governed. We also have to make them and their all too human chief decision makers more subject to the rule of law. We have to make them accountable to democracy instead of its destroyers.

Maybe the failing (oh so sad!) trimp administration can make itself slightly useful. Maybe it can draw attention to the way corporations and their billionaire owners have betrayed our gullible trust. And maybe it could do some clumsy and unintentional service to the centuries-old efforts to extend and establish a meaningful “rule by the people.”

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