How Modern Democracy Works

Two readings this week, both unmissable.

The first — longer and darker — is an extraordinary exposé by New Yorker D.C. correspondent Jane Meyer on “How Trump is Helping Tycoons Exploit the Pandemic.”

From industrial agriculture to exploitation of ever-more-marginalized workers to the mighty rivers of corporate money keeping politics nice and swampy to breathtaking deregulation happening behind the screen of coronavirus to an absolutely real gajillionaires-for-Jesus club (seriously), it’s all here. Strap in — and keep your barf bag handy.

If you can’t spare 30 minutes to read all about it, don’t neglect to consider and connect these dots:

(1) [T]he pandemic has offered Trump an opportunity: now that he can invoke an economic emergency, he can relax, rescind, or suspend federal regulations by fiat. In May and June, Trump issued a pair of executive orders directing national agencies to ignore federal regulations and environmental laws if they burdened the economy — again, in many instances, the companies were told that they just had to act “in good faith.” As the Times and the Washington Post have reported, these moves have weakened regulations on all kinds of businesses, from trucking companies to oil and gas pipelines. In [Food and Water Watch lobbyist Tony] Corbo’s view, many in the media have missed one of the biggest aspects of the COVID-19 story. “Everyone is looking at the shiny object — the pandemic,” he said. “Meanwhile, the government is deregulating everything. It’s unreal.”

(2) “She [a poultry worker employed by Mountaire Corp., the subject of the article] asked to speak anonymously, because she feared retribution both from Mountaire and from local racists, who, she said, seemed more aggressive recently toward African-Americans like her; when out shopping, she had noticed more Confederate-flag paraphernalia on public display. But she was eager to describe working conditions so exploitative that, as she put it, ‘it’s slavery, baby.'”

(3) “By 2014, [Mountaire CEO Ronald] Cameron’s name was appearing on lists of the nation’s largest campaign contributors. He and his company spent $4.8 million on Republican candidates and groups that year. He was the biggest corporate donor to the Freedom Partners Action Fund, a Koch political-action committee. […] And, according to the Wall Street Journal, Cameron helped Republicans get around campaign-finance restrictions in Maryland, where Larry Hogan, the Republican candidate for governor, appeared to be in trouble. The State of Maryland limits direct campaign contributions to candidates. The Republican Governors Association, which can spend as much as it wants, asked Mountaire for money. Late in the race, the company donated a quarter of a million dollars. The R.G.A. claims that it didn’t solicit the funds specifically for Maryland, but it went on to spend lavishly there. Hogan won, and on his inauguration day he blocked a proposal opposed by the poultry industry.”

[As if “Freedom Partners” weren’t Orwellian enough, the story also details how Cameron directs his money. Most of the dollars flow through a foundation he established in 2004 that shares an address — and a secretary — with his corporation. The foundation last reported assets valued at $327 million, and its only donors are Cameron and his corporation — which pays employees about $14 an hour and is alleged to have made illegal payroll deductions for personal protective equipment during the Covid crisis. The foundation, apparently without irony, is called the Jesus Fund.]


This is enough to make you wonder if anyone’s doing it better. As Simon Kuper writes in the FT Magazine, they certainly are.

It’s time, he says, for the United States to “lear[n] how modern democracy works” — and the examples he suggests chiefly include countries whose constitutions were written and imposed by young Americans after World War II. We had learned by then (or at least some 20-somethings in the right places at the right times had) how to go beyond the aspirations, constraints, and oversights of our founding document, and bequeathed defeated enemies constitutions perhaps more perfect than our own.

It might be time to return the favor, he argues — and it’s getting pretty hard to argue with that.

Unless, of course, you’re a billionaire with your banker, your governor, and your savior on retainer.