The Three Biggest and Least Accountable Power Centers in America
The news has been dominated by the Supreme Court, whose term began last week; the Federal Reserve, and whether it will start responding to inflation by raising interest rates; and Facebook, which a whistleblower claimed intentionally seeks to enrage and divide Americans in order to generate ad revenue.
What’s the common thread here? The growing influence of these three power centers over our lives, even as they become less accountable to us. As such, they present a fundamental challenge to democracy.
Start with the Supreme Court. What’s the underlying issue?
Don’t for a moment believe the Supreme Court bases its decisions on neutral and objective criteria. I’ve argued before it and seen up close that the justices have particular and differing ideas about what’s good for the country. So, it matters who they are and how they got there.
A majority of the current nine justices — all appointed for life — were put there by George W. Bush and Donald Trump, presidents who lost the popular vote. Three were installed by Trump, a president who instigated a coup. Yet they are about to revolutionize American life in ways most Americans don’t want.
This new court seems ready to overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that anchored reproductive rights in the 14th Amendment; declare a 108-year-old New York law unconstitutional, thereby allowing anyone to carry a firearm; and strip federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency of the power to regulate private businesses. And much more.
Only 40% of the public now approves of the Court’s performance, a new low. If the justices rule in ways anticipated, that number will drop further. If so, expect renewed efforts to expand its size and limit the terms of its members.
What about the Fed?
Behind the stories about whether the Fed should act to time inflation is the reality that its power to set short-term interest rates and regulate the financial sector is virtually unchecked. And here too there are no neutral, objective criteria. Some believe the Fed’s priority should be fighting inflation. Others believe it should be full employment. So, like the Supreme Court, it matters who runs it.
Presidents appoint Fed chairs for four-year terms but tend to stick with them longer for fear of rattling Wall Street, which wants stability and fat profits. (Alan Greenspan, a Reagan appointee, lasted almost 20 years, surviving two Bushes and Bill Clinton, who didn’t dare remove him).