Monday, April 21, 2014

The World’s Longest and Quietest Coup d’Etat

I woke up with a start this morning.  “What is it, Ace?” asked Patty.

“I don’t know,” I muttered sleepily.  “There’s something different.”  I looked around.  “I just can’t put my finger on it.”

“Different how?” she asked.  “Different good or different bad.”

“Good, it feels good.”

Her eyes swept the room, and then she gave a little laugh.  “It’s sunshine, Ace.  With daylight savings time, and after that long stretch of gray days and white snows, it’s really spring!  We’re waking up to sunshine!”

So I was feeling pretty chipper after I’d had my bacon and eggs and cereal and banana and orange juice and was on my way to work.  And there, just leaving the house down the block was my neighbor’s foreign exchange student.

Why not?  Feeling expansive, I gave a beep of the horn.  When he looked back at me, I rolled down the window and yelled, “I’m going your way.  Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”

He trudged over, as loaded down as a prospector’s mule.  “Good morning, sir,” he said.  “Thank you for stopping.  I would welcome a lift.”

“You’re always carrying a heap of books, Abdul,” I said, “but you might have broken the record this time.”

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, “my name is Aadil, not Abdul.”

“Oh.  Sorry about that,” I apologized.  “It’s hard to remember strange combinations of letters that don’t mean anything.  It’s like those tests where they ask you to memorize a list of nonsense words.  They go in one ear and out the other.”  

“Yes, I am familiar with such experiments,” he said carefully.  “In Arabic, my name means ‘honorable’ or ‘just,‘ but of course it is alien to your culture.”

“Why all the books?  Got a big test coming up?”

His face lit up.  “No, no test,” he said.  “I have changed the direction of my research, and there is so much background I must master in a very brief time.  But this is truly an exciting opportunity for me.”

“How so?” I said.  “What’re you working on?”

“My dissertation is an attempt to statistically verify the proposition that democracy in government is directly proportional to the degree of income equality.”

“Could you break that down to ordinary English?” I said.

He paused.  “The idea is that the more evenly the wealth of a country is shared, the more it operates democratically.  And the more unevenly the wealth is divided, with more and more of the wealth going to fewer and fewer people, the less it operates democratically.”

“Ah, I get it,” I said.  “The more equal the incomes, the more democracy.  The less equal the incomes, the less democracy.  So what’s the new direction in your research that has you all fired up?”

He hesitated.  “The coup d’état of April 2,” he said finally.  

“Coup d’état?” I said. “Where?”

“Where?” he said, looking puzzled.  “In the United States.  Surely as a newsman, sir, you have been following a story of such magnitude closely.”

“A coup d’état in the United States?” I said, as we got caught by a red light.  “What are you talking about?”

  “The conversion of your form of government from a democracy to an oligarchy.” he explained.  “The coup that culminated just two weeks ago when your Supreme Court took the final step in overthrowing your democracy.”

A cloud must have drifted overhead.  The bright sunlight of a few minutes ago was dimming.  “Overthrowing our democracy?” I said.  “I haven’t heard anything about it.  Are you sure?”

“I’m afraid so, sir.  Of course this has been a long time unfolding:  the world’s longest and quietest coup d’état!  It had none of the usual trappings.  No troops rolling into the heart of the capital in tanks, no gunfire, no generals making announcements that they would be ruling until a new civilian leader was installed, no new figurehead promoted to head of state.  With its lack of dramatic video footage, the coup simply wasn’t made for TV.”

I was starting to feel dizzy.  “The Supreme Court did that?” How?”

“With the McCutcheon versus Federal Election Commission ruling they delivered on April 2,” he said, as if he expected me to know what he was talking about.  “It follows their earlier Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission of January, 2010.  You may remember our conversation about that decision last fall.”

“Now that you mention it, yes,” I said, and my head was still swimming.  Or was it the world around me that was swirling, at the same time it seemed to be growing darker and darker?

“All it required was the votes of five of your Supreme Court justices, as they are called.  Are their titles not ironic, sir?  They formally withdrew control of your government from the people in common and ceded it to a wealthy few.  The Court’s latest decision was simply the crowning act, if you will, bestowing constitutional blessing on the coup.”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” I said, shaking my head to clear it.  “Why is it so dark?  Is an eclipse taking place today?”

“You didn’t notice the coup, sir?” he asked.  “According to my preliminary polling, that is one of its most remarkable aspects.  Few of your citizens are even aware of what has happened.  Yet with the Court’s decisions, the democratic legitimacy of your government was destroyed.  Your elections have been replaced by selections.”

The dizziness was back.  “Selections?  Instead of elections?”

“The wealthy few will now have carte blanche to select candidates, spend as they wish on campaigns, and usher their choices into office.”  

This guy was a raving lunatic, I thought, wondering if it was safe to be in the car with him.  “Don’t be absurd,” I told him.  “It will never come to that.” 

He just looked at me, a little sadly, then reached into a folder and pulled out several sheets of paper.  “It is already happening, and from now on it will become the norm.  Please take a look at this material I printed from the Internet a few days ago,” he said, and handed it to me.  

I pulled over to the curb, and he sat quietly, looking out the window, while I turned on the dome light and read it.  It was a report on a four-day retreat for Republican donors, hosted by Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas multi-billionaire who made his fortune with gambling casinos.  He spent $100 million backing Republican candidates in 2012, and plans to spend more the next time around.  He had summoned several GOP presidential prospects to audition in front of his guests and himself--including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Scott Walker.

“The guy summons potential presidents to his conference as if they were auditioning for the lead in a play he’s producing?” I said, incredulous.

“As you can see,” he said.   “Here is some more information you may have missed.”  He handed me more papers.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with this dome light,” I said.  “That’s not bright enough to read by.  Reach under your seat and get me the flashlight, will you?”  He looked at me oddly, and then pulled out the flashlight and handed it to me.

I skimmed the articles.  The Koch brothers and their ally Art Pope, a millionaire discount department store owner whose chains include Roses, Maxway, Super Dollar, Treasure Mart, and Value Mart stores, had financed a takeover of the North Carolina state government by the most far-right elements of the Republican Party.  The Koch-Pope-financed governor, Pat McCrory, had then put Pope in charge of the North Carolina state budget.

“They flipped the government of an entire state by only spending a few million dollars?”  I asked.  I was starting to sweat, although it was growing colder and even darker outside.

“Your state governments seem to be relatively easy to purchase,” Aadil replied.  “But now that money is no object, the federal government will likely be just as simple to take over.  The money it will take to do it may seem like a fortune to people like ourselves, but it is a pittance to people at the top of the income ladder.”

“What in the world was the Court thinking?” I wondered.

“They believe that spending your money to support a candidate is a form of free speech,” he reminded me.

“And people who don’t have any money?  Who are broke?”

“Obviously they can’t speak--at least through TV ads, mailings, phone banks, and all of the other expensive mainstays of modern political campaigns.  If one’s home is being foreclosed on, or if one has huge medical bills, or works for minimum wage, or is out of work, or any of a number of other possibilities, one simply doesn’t have the money to ‘speak’ in the political arena.”

“And people who have a lot of money?”  

“They are able to talk nonstop.  And pass it on to their children, who will be able to speak even louder and longer.”

“B-b-but that’s unfair,” I sputtered.

“Oh, no doubt,” said Aadil.  “And also undemocratic.  As I said, it’s oligarchic.  Your court’s rulings have swept away any pretense of equality in the electoral process.”  

“You sound happy about it,” I said, with some bitterness.

“Oh no, sir,” he said.  “Please forgive me if my scholarly zeal has left that impression.  The death of your democracy saddens me greatly.  But for a poor student like myself, to be given this opportunity, to be here on the scene at the moment this has occurred--it is an unexpected blessing.  Praise Allah that I have been put here to witness and chronicle these events.  I pray I may be worthy of the task.”

“Listen,” I said, “I’m feeling a little strange, and it’s getting so dark.  I hope you don’t mind walking the rest of the way; you can keep the flashlight.  And would you mind calling me a taxi with your cellphone?”

“Oh sir!” he exclaimed, as I swayed in my seat.  “Please forgive me!  I had no idea that shining the light on your nation’s affairs would lead you into such darkness.”

© Tony Russell, 2014

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