Nondisparagement Clauses and the Path to GOP Corporatist Tyranny

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . . It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”*

– Letter from Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864

“The United States Congress, the avatar of the democratically elected national legislature in the modern world, is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and the other special interests that control their campaign finances.”

– Al Gore

Remember the other day when I was talking about how the Republicans would replace our democracy with an un-electable board of directors? Well, let me ask you a question: Do you enjoy being able to complain about our government? About your representatives? About their policies (assuming they have any) and their hypocrisy and their lies?

You can complain all you want about your government. You can write what you want, as I do here, effectively sharing negative reviews with other voters across an Internet “free” of corporate control. This is not only an essential element of our right of free speech as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, but it is a key element of democracy. A voter without the right to voice her opinions is not a voter.

Recently, there has been an upswing in the idea that you, as consumers, do not have the right to write negative reviews about corporations. This might not come as a surprise to liberals and progressives, who have already seen how little Republicans like being questioned. You can get dragged off, beaten, and trampled for daring to ask a Republican a question. So big surprise corporations feel the same way.

The solution for corporations? They can’t sneak into your living room and beat you, but they can sneak into contracts anti- or nondisparagement clauses. From wedding photographers and cake makers to dentists and others, even if they screwed up or provided bad products or services, you can’t tell anyone about it, at least if you agreed to the fine print forbidding you from telling the truth about their shoddy practices.

Far from simply improving the products or services they provide to eliminate complaints, they wish to forbid you to complain. And they will sue you to force you to keep your silence. You might remember a Utah couple last year who faced $3500 fine for writing a negative review. Warned CNN legal expert Paul Callan, “[I]f you do write a negative review, make sure it’s accurate because you could be sued for libel even if the company doesn’t have a non-disparagement clause.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. We have already seen how the Republican Party, putting forward an egregiously offensive platform that has kept them out of the White House for two consecutive elections, refuses to embrace a broader base by moderating its views. Instead, it becomes more extreme, and then complains that liberals – and sometimes the mainstream media, as in 2012) says bad things about them.

We can laugh at the idea that a non-existent “liberal media elite” stole the 2012 election from them, but we are seeing laws against non-existent voter fraud too, so don’t act surprised. It can’t be that their platform sucks. It has to be because liberals are mean.

Look at it this way: The Fairness Doctrine that required, well, fairness in reporting, has already gone the way of the buffalo. What’s the next step? How long before we find laws forbidding voters from criticizing Republicans? Mitch McConnell’s solution at last night’s debate was to simply say everything Alison Lundergan Grimes said was lie, but you’ve seen how Republicans react when they are accused of lying.

If our elected government is replaced by an unelectable board of directors, is it far-fetched to think corporate policies might trump our freedom of speech?

We have already seen that mercenary forces (e.g. Blackwater) employed by the government are immune from the laws that govern the rest of us. It is hardly surprise that Republicans see this as a successful business model and want to privatize war as well. People laughed at Bill O’Reilly’s idea of a mercenary army being sent to fight ISIL, but people would once have laughed at the idea of privatizing our government. The idea of privatized warfare and mercenary armies is not unique to Bill-O. Author Stephen Pressfield wrote a chilling 2011 novel, “The Profession,” about America’s mercenary armies in 2032

There is almost nothing Republicans could do at this point that would seem far-fetched. My bullshit meter was broken way back during the Bush administration and even if it worked at this point, it would not register the extremes of Republican dishonesty and hypocrisy we are seeing today.

We’ve seen corporations insist on their employees voting a certain way (i.e. Republican). Remember last year when Walmart got busted forcing employees to make political contributions to Republicans? In 2012 Huffington Post told us about nine CEOs pushing workers to vote for Romney, and in that same year, Koch Industries, the guys who advertise about how great they are for America, warned 45,000 employees of the consequences of failing to vote Republican. Coal miners were forced to attend Romney event without pay.

Can your employer fire you for how you vote? The answer is a frightening yes, depending on the state you live in, because in those states, an employer can terminate you for any reason they like. You are employed at will. THEIR will. Since 2010, thanks to the Supreme Court’s attempt to dismantle democracy with its Citizens United decision, things have gotten much worse for American voters, who are now somewhat more than wage slaves and somewhat less than autonomous human beings.

And if you won’t vote their way, say if you’re a minority, black or Latino, or the wrong religion, like a Muslim, or have no religion at all, like an atheist, they will just make certain you can’t vote. The Republican Party has lost any interest it once might have had in democracy and desires only to perpetuate conservative control of our government. If you watched the debate between Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell last night, you might want to consider that McConnell has referred to the idea that corporations might not actually be people as “absurd.”

Corporations are people, say the Republicans. Actually people, increasingly, are not. Keep that in mind as you tread to the polls, winding your way through members of well-armed right-wing militias determined to make sure only the right sort of people vote.

* Snopes calls his quote “spurious” though its pedigree seems sound and if you doubt, you might wish to keep this Lincoln quote in mind:

“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people’s money to settle the quarrel.” – Speech to Illinois legislature, Jan. 1837. Lincoln’s Complete Works, ed. by Nicolay and Hay (1905), Vol. 1, p. 24.

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