$th of July

Four years ago this month, a University of Minnesota student named Max P. Sanders was charged with bribery for putting his presidential vote up for sale on eBay.

The preceding May he had set a minimum bid of $10.00 for his presidential pick and offered to furnish photographic evidence of his eBay-bought choice in the voting booth. “Good luck!” he said in the listing. “Your country depends on You!”

The auction was something of a lark, of course, and Sanders received no offers. But the prank caught the attention of the Minnesota secretary of state’s office and Hennepin County prosecutors were alerted. On July 3, 2008, Sanders was charged with a one felony count of bribery under an 1893 state law that makes it a crime to offer to buy or sell a vote.

John Aiken, a spokesman for the Minnesota secretary of state’s office, said: “There are people that have died for this country for our right to vote, and, to take something that lightly, to say, ‘I can be bought’—it’s a real shame.”

The Hennepin county attorney on the case, Mike Freeman, concurred, “A lot of us served in the military trying to protect the right to vote.” “This is serious stuff.”

Well, yes. And no.

Mostly no. I’m sure many of you had as hard a time keeping a straight face reading this as I did writing it.

Bribery? Sold suffrage?

Has anybody been paying attention to Capitol Hill lately?

Corporate lobbyists spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year bribing our congressional representatives to cast votes that support heinous corporate indulgences and promote preposterous levels of corporate immunity. Billionaires spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year propping up puppet politicians to lick their boots in exchange for bottomless campaign coffers and cushy seats on corporate boards in their political afterlives. And our Supreme Court–via its Citizen’s United decision–now enjoys its lowest approval rating ever for not just enabling the wholesale financial confiscation of our political system but actually sanctifying it.

Does the inescapable reality of our representative democracy being bought and sold every day really have to be pointed out? Don’t most of us simply accept it now and expect it?

To be fair, the charges that came down against Sanders the day before the 4th of July in 2008 obviously smacked of an attempt at political point-scoring. But I can’t help but go back to Aiken and Freeman’s ridiculous indignation.

Does anyone really believe that the brave men and women Aiken and Freeman referred to fought for or sacrificed their lives for a nation where multinational corporate personhood holds more sway in the election booths than real, live, flesh and blood American citizens?

Does anybody honestly believe our soldiers knowingly and voluntarily risk their lives so our elections can be bought and sold by shadowy Capitalist entities?

The U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United rendering basically declared money a form of free speech and enabled corporations and billionaires to anonymously (and therefore freely) purchase political offices and pay for their say in our governance.

To some extent things may have always been thus, but now they’re thusly so one hundred or one thousand fold.

We can be bought.

Our lives can be dictated by any frat-boy heir with a trust fund or three to spare.

So when you take a seat in a local ballpark or fold out a lawn chair near a public space to watch the community Fourth of July fireworks show, please ruminate a bit before the pyrotechnics start.

Yesterday, our flag wasn’t emblazoned with a C-note. Yesterday, our real allegiance wasn’t pledged to a stack of grubby cash.

Today we are one nation, under dollar signs, with liberty and justice for those can afford it.

Our country no longer belongs to us, and it certainly no longer depends on us to be anything other than gullible, over-consuming, semi-sentient dupes.

Do we still live in a place where the right to vote is really worth fighting or dying for?

E.R. Bills of Fort Worth is the author of The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas and Letters from Texas, 2021-2023. Read other articles by E.R..