March 4: Corporations, Congress, and Conspiracies

Prior to the 20th Amendment, the designated day for presidential inaugurations was March 4. This, like much of our Constitutionally-determined election schedule, was based on the realities of travel in a nation where the horse was by far the fastest and most reliable way to get around. Once it was possible for news to travel by telegraph and presidents-elect to travel by train, lawmakers decided the president could be inaugurated in January. Enacted in 1933, the 20th Amendment tightened up the election calendar ever-so-slightly, so a president elected in November would take office just two months later. The speed of the twentieth century!

This calendar change is nothing more than a pub trivia question. It doesn’t impact the day-to-day for most people and it doesn’t really impact presidents or presidents-elect who, in the twenty-first century, can jet around the world and send instant messages. Some have even suggested that the process should be sped up further given how quickly information and individuals can travel in the modern era.

But for Trump-aligned conspiracy theorists, March 4 is actually still the true inauguration day. To understand why, we have to talk about some seemingly unrelated things first.

Back in 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Citizens United v. FEC, a landmark decision that held that the First Amendment applied to corporations for the purposes of spending money on political campaigns. This quickly introduced a new concept to the public: corporations were people, and people could spend any amount of money they wanted to. Liberals decried the court’s ruling and a quote from 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney became the symbol of everything wrong in America: “corporations are people, my friend.”

The problem with all of this is that Citizens United v. FEC didn’t say corporations were people. That would have been a meaningless thing to say, because by definition corporations are people – from the Latin corpus, meaning body, we get incorporate, “body creation.” Corporations are a kind of person, different from a human person but with similar rights and powers like buying property, entering into contracts, and – occasionally – getting convicted for criminal behavior.

The real scandal of the Citizens United decision was that it equated money to speech, proclaiming that restricting the amount of money you could spend was tantamount to restricting your ability to speak freely. But once it had entered the popular lexicon that Citizens United was what made corporations legal people, it was incredibly hard to dislodge people of that incorrect notion.

And part of why might be because Americans tend to conflate “corporation” with “business,” especially big business. A quick Google search for “America is actually a corporation” reveals a ton of people who insist that the United States is a corporation (it is, sort of) and therefore a business (whoops, no).

The United States isn’t alone in this confusion. After Australia filed paperwork to sell bonds in the United States, a conspiracy theory began to circulate that Australia is not a country but an American corporation. Several requests have been filed under Australia’s Freedom of Information Act, which either result in no information available (thus proving that it’s real and covered up) or the debt offering documents (thus proving that it’s real), but the thing is that Australia – like every country, basically – is already a corporation.

The idea that the United States is a corporation is based on the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871, which consolidated the several municipalities of the District into a single municipal corporation, the District of Columbia. And, since D.C. is under federal jurisdiction, it surely made the whole thing one municipal corporation and, as we all know, a corporation is a business. So the United States is a large business. That’s obviously unconstitutional, so obviously that we don’t even have to explain how so don’t worry about it, and therefore anything that has happened in the U.S. since 1871 has been illegal.

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that the 20th Amendment, changing inauguration day, was enacted in 1933, which means it was illegal because it happened under America, Inc. and not the true America. That means, thusly and therefore, that Joe Biden is not the Real President.

Now, uh, it would also mean that Donald Trump was never the real president, right? Don’t worry about that. He’ll become the real president today, March 4, 2021, and since term limits came after 1871, too, he can be president for life. Great!

There are some problems with this interpretation, of course. First of all, it would invalidate every single law enacted since 1871. That might not be great for Trump supporters, since it would mean that Colorado, the Dakotas, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii are no longer states. That takes out a lot more Trump electors than it does Biden electors.

I’m trying to figure out how deep this conspiracy goes, though. Check out the seal of Chicago: incorporated March 4, 1837. Is this proof that inauguration day is really supposed to be today? And that Chicago is a corporation? And that all this was planned as early as 1837?

Official seal of Chicago, Illinois

Or is it proof that people backing this particularly conspiracy theory are off their rockers? Perhaps Chicago is just a city – a municipal corporation – and its incorporation date is a coincidence.

Perhaps Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

Exactly how this conspiracy is meant to unravel is unclear, too. As is their way, Trump’s supporters have planned some terrorist attacks on the United States Capitol for today, forcing Congress to cancel business for the day. Do you set off a bomb and then Conservative Jesus comes and high-fives you and proclaims Donald Trump president? How do they think this is supposed to work? I’m genuinely asking. I don’t get it.

At any rate, it isn’t happening. Donald Trump might run for president in 2024 and he might not, although he’s making it seem like he will. But he’s not going to be president right now, and we seriously need to tackle the extremism that promotes this idea that installing Trump as dictator-for-life is worth violating the decency of democracy and liberty.