When The Powerful Control Public Opinion, Elections Aren’t Real

Caitlin Johnstone
6 min readJun 12, 2024


Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

I’ve been ignoring the US presidential race because the election is rigged.

When someone says US presidential elections are rigged, there are a number of things they could mean by that. They could be claiming votes are actively tampered with to ensure a particular outcome, as Republicans commonly claimed in the 2020 election. But that isn’t the claim I’m putting forward here — even though the US does have the most dysfunctional elections out of any liberal democracy on earth.

They could also be talking about how legalized corruption in the United States allows the wealthy to manipulate election outcomes and extract political loyalties via campaign donations. While certainly a well-established fact, that isn’t what I’m talking about here either.

They could also be talking about the fact that it doesn’t matter who wins the election since the US president is only a figurehead who pretends to run a country that is actually ruled by unelected plutocrats and empire managers in secretive government agencies. Again this is absolutely true, but that’s not what I’m talking about in this particular essay.

Actually, you could fix all the problems in the American voting system, and US presidential elections would still be rigged. You could fix campaign finance laws to the point where the wealthy are no longer able to use campaign donations to achieve desired political outcomes, and US presidential elections would still be rigged. You could give the US president all the actual government leadership powers you were led to believe he has as a schoolchild, and US presidential elections would still be rigged.

US presidential elections would still be rigged because mainstream political opinion would still be shaped by the wealthy and powerful people who control the sources from which Americans have been trained to get their information. So long as the rich and powerful can manipulate public opinion at mass scale through the corporate media, through Hollywood, and through Silicon Valley algorithm manipulation, they can rig elections however they want.

There’s a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that’s been going around social media for years which usually goes something like, “There will come a time when the rich own all the media, and it will be impossible for the public to make an informed opinion.” Unlike most cool quotes you’ll see attributed to Einstein on the internet, this one is based on something the renowned theoretical physicist actually did say — except he wasn’t forecasting something happening in the future, he was talking about something that had already happened when he wrote about it in 1949.

In his essay “Why Socialism?”, Einstein wrote the following for Monthly Review (emphasis added):

“The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

It was true when Einstein wrote it 75 years ago, and it remains true today. It remains true today because Einstein wasn’t leveling his criticisms at the individual people and events of his time, but at the overarching societal systems which are still in place now.

In a capitalist system, those who control the capital control what ideas and information will be ingested by most people. In a democratic system of government — even one with a rock solid voting system and no money allowed in politics — this will always give the wealthy the ability to rig elections by manipulating public opinion using propaganda.

And they do. In addition to buying up entire media outlets and shareholder control over them, the wealthy pour money into shoring up narrative control by other means like think tanks, online information ops such as NewsGuard and Wikipedia, and the manipulation of algorithms by online megacorporations like Google. This gives them the ability to shape the worldview of a majority of the public, thereby ensuring elections will result in outcomes that bolster the status quo upon which the wealthy have built their fortunes.

This is true throughout all US elections of significant consequence, not just presidential elections, and it is true throughout the entire western world, not just the United States. We are being psychologically manipulated at mass scale from childhood on, our minds continually shaped by people who use their wealth to dominate our shared narratives about how things are going, what’s happening in the world, and what should be done about it. We are taught about our world by deeply indoctrinated parents and deeply indoctrinated teachers who grew up in the same status quo-enforcing information environment as us, and our indoctrination continues through all the screens in our lives until our dying breath.

You can fix everything else that’s wrong with your political system, but unless you also take away the ability of the capitalist class to psychologically manipulate the public into supporting a political status quo that has been artificially shaped by the powerful for the benefit of the powerful, nothing meaningful will change. The wars will continue, the oligarchy will continue, the inequality and injustice will continue, the exploitation and extraction will continue, the ecocide will continue.

That’s why I always place emphasis on the importance of narrative control and how it’s happening — because that’s where all our other problems arise from, and because until we address that problem we won’t be able to address the others.

Luckily, it is possible to address that problem. We ordinary people are at a disadvantage in that we can’t afford to buy up all the most influential outlets and platforms in our society to impose our political preferences like the plutocrats can, but we are at an advantage in that there are a whole lot more of us than there are of them — and in that we have truth and authenticity on our side.

None of us can single-handedly stand against the imperial propaganda machine, but together we can all wage an information war with the goal of debunking imperial narratives and discrediting imperial propaganda in the eyes of the public. We can do this by using every platform and medium we can get our hands on to wake people up to the truth at every opportunity so that they can help join in the fight. The more people realize they’ve been deceived their whole lives about what’s going on in their society, the more people there are to help weaken the grip of imperial narrative control.

All positive developments in human behavior are always preceded by an expansion of consciousness, whether you’re talking about humans as individuals or as a collective. This is no different. If you can seize every opportunity to help spread awareness of the truth and open up another pair of eyes to the reality of our situation, then you are using your energy to attack the empire at its weakest point in the most efficient way possible.

Win or lose, if you dedicate your life to this fight, you can definitely say in the end that you gave it your all.


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