Category: Political Science
The United States is no much of a Democracy, and it wouldn’t have mattered much going forward had Hillary Clinton become the next president:
[T]here’s the brazen falsehood of the widespread belief that the U.S. is a “great democracy” in the first place, to be subverted by Russia (or anyone else). Over the past three-plus decades, leading academic researchers Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern), both establishment, liberal political scientists, have concluded, the U.S. political system has functioned as “an oligarchy,” ruled by the few wealthy elites and their corporations. Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which major party holds the White House and/or Congress. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo two years ago, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.” Such is the harsh reality of “really existing capitalist democracy” in the U.S., what Noam Chomsky has called “RECD”—“pronounced ‘wrecked’ by accident.”
The Inauthentic Opposition
The late Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin considered U.S.-style RECD a form of “corporate-managed fake-democracy” and “inverted totalitarianism.” He called it “democracy incorporated.” It’s a “democracy” in which the only two officially viable and corporate-captive political organizations, the Democratic and Republican parties, both stand well to the right of majority progressive-populist public opinion. The right-wing leadership of these two corporate and militarist parties skews the game against those in their party who would campaign and perhaps govern in accord with that public opinion.
I received this new Declaration of Independence in a mass emailing from Alan Grayson:
We need a new declaration of independence. FDR took a stab at this, with his “Four Freedoms.” Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear. That’s a good start.
But now, eight decades later, we need to declare our independence from other forms of oppression.
We hereby declare our independence from bigotry, in all its evil forms. We declare our independence from racism, sexism, homophobia, language discrimination and chauvinism. Everyone has equal rights, no matter where you’re from, what you look like, what language you speak, and whom you love. Everyone deserves respect.
We hereby declare our independence from narrow-minded, extremist or violent religious fundamentalism. We live in a land where church and state are separate. Religious belief, no matter how sincere, is no license to dictate to others whether to terminate a pregnancy, whether to use contraception, or whom to marry. Earlier this year, I placed my hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution; I didn’t place my hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.
We hereby declare our independence from the greedy. Malefactors of great wealth have no right to buy and sell elected officials thorough the legalized bribery of “independent expenditures.” They have no right to despoil our land and our water, the air we breathe and the food we eat. They have no right to manipulate or gut our laws in order to increase their lucre. They have no right to jack up the price of what we buy, or determine what we see on TV or on our computer screens.
We hereby declare our independence from “1984”-style surveillance. Neither the Government nor a private company has any reason to monitor the activities of innocent people, without their express, informed and freely given consent. Who I’m with, what I say, what I buy, what I read; that’s none of anyone else’s business. Privacy – the fundamental right to be left alone – is an essential part of what it means to be a human being.
We hereby declare our independence from exploitation. Bad bosses are today’s King George. They want to work employees as hard as they can, and pay them as little as possible in return. They call the difference profit. If workers are organized, they can fight back. But if not, then they need legal protection from exploitation. If you have a job, you should have a living wage, and time-and-a-half for overtime. If you have a job, you should have health coverage. If you have a job, you should have paid sick leave. If you have a job, you should have a pension. As John Mellencamp would say, “Ain’t that America?”
We hereby declare our independence from misinformation. Fox News is a lie factory. Special interests used to lie to us about the dangers of smoking; now they lie to us about the dangers of pollution and climate disruption. They claim a right to “free speech,” but we have a right to honest speech. We have to be part of what a Reagan aide once dismissed as the “reality-based community.”
We hereby declare our independence from hubris. No, we can’t bring peace through war. No, we can’t force our way of life or our way of thinking on seven billion other people. No, we aren’t going to end the 1200-year-old civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia. No, we aren’t going to go and kill everyone everywhere in the world who harbors some harsh views of us. And no, they won’t greet our soldiers with flowers, bake apple pies for them, and salute the American flag with a hand on their hearts. They want to be them, not us. We can care for victims, protect ourselves and help our friends without sticking our nose into every else’s business.
We hereby declare our independence from a rigged system of fake trade. We buy their stuff, creating tens of millions of jobs in other countries. But they don’t buy an equal amount of our stuff. Instead, they buy our assets — $11,000,000,000,000.00 of our assets. They not only rob us of our jobs, but they drive us deeper and deeper into debt. When did Uncle Sam become Uncle Sap? If we don’t declare independence, the endgame is national bankruptcy.
And me? I hereby declare my independence from the corrupt system of campaign finance. I will not carve up the law into little pieces, and sell it to the highest bidder. I will not make “friends” with lobbyists and special interests and the minions of multinational corporations, and then “help” those “friends.” I will not forsake my real job – doing something good for the 700,000 people who chose me to be their Congressman – in favor of begging millionaires and billionaires for a few crumbs from their tables.
Rolling Stone points out that, despite some huge problems with his proposed solutions, Marx was correct about these ill-effects of capitalism.
1. Capitalism’s Chaotic Nature
2. Imaginary Appetites
3. The Globalization of Capitalism
5. The Reserve Army of Industrial Labor
To this point, Karl Marx offered a system of government that has not worked well anywhere that it has been tried, at least so far. I took a college course on Marx many years ago, and I was impressed with many of his criticisms of capitalism. Some of those criticisms of capitalism are becoming apparent to most of us, as set forth in this article by Sean McElwee of Rolling Stone. Here are the headings:
1. The Great Recession (Capitalism’s Chaotic Nature)
2. The iPhone 5S (Imaginary Appetites)
3. The IMF (The Globalization of Capitalism)
4. Walmart (Monopoly)
5. Low Wages, Big Profits (The Reserve Army of Industrial Labor)
Marx was wrong about many things. Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with – which left it open to misinterpretation by madmen like Stalin in the 20th century. But his work still shapes our world in a positive way as well. When he argued for a progressive income tax in the Communist Manifesto, no country had one. Now, there is scarcely a country without a progressive income tax, and it’s one small way that the U.S. tries to fight income inequality.
Here’s a related article by Jesse Myerson of Salon: “Why you’re wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism).” Here are the misconceptions:
1. Only communist economies rely on state violence.
2. Capitalist economies are based on free exchange.
3. Communism killed 110 million* people for resisting dispossession.
4. Capitalist governments don’t commit human rights atrocities.
5. 21st Century American communism would resemble 20th century Soviet and Chinese horrors.
6. Communism fosters uniformity.
7. Capitalism fosters individuality.
Myerson’s conclusion regarding misconception 7:
As a matter of fact, most of the greatest art under capitalism has always come from people who are oppressed and alienated (see: the blues, jazz, rock & roll, and hip-hop). Then, thanks to capitalism, it is homogenized, marketed, and milked for all its value by the “entrepreneurs” sitting at the top of the heap, stroking their satiated flanks in admiration of themselves for getting everyone beneath them to believe that we are free.
Obama Administration’s is waging a war on the Constitution, but you’ll barely hear anything about it in the mass media. At Truthout, John Cusack of Truthout recently interviewed law professor Jonathan Turley. It’s an extended interview that raises many serious points. They explore at depth the moral quandary many voters SHOULD feel, but won’t, when enter the voting booth. In a related matter, they suggest that many Obama supporters are followers of a personality cult. And repeatedly, the mass media is going Obama license to do more of the same, despite the lies, despite the trashing of the U.S. Constitution. Here are two excerpts from the long interview:
CUSACK: I hate to speak too much to motivation, but why do you think MSNBC and other so-called centrist or left outlets won’t bring up any of these things? These issues were broadcast and reported on nightly when John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez and Bush were in office.
TURLEY: Well, there is no question that some at MSNBC have backed away from these issues, although occasionally you’ll see people talk about –
CUSACK: I think that’s being kind, don’t you? More like “abandoned.”
TURLEY: Yeah. The civil liberties perspective is rarely given more than a passing reference while national security concerns are explored in depth. Fox is viewed as protective of Bush while MSNBC is viewed as protective of Obama. But both presidents are guilty of the same violations. There are relatively few journalists willing to pursue these questions aggressively and objectively, particularly on television. And so the result is that the public is hearing a script written by the government that downplays these principles. They don’t hear the word “torture.”
They hear “enhanced interrogation.” They don’t hear much about the treaties. They don’t hear about the international condemnation of the United States. Most Americans are unaware of how far we have moved away from Nuremberg and core principles of international law.
[More . . . ]
I considered writing something about the recent primaries in Michigan and Arizona, in advance of Super Tuesday, but things have become so mind-numbingly bizarre I’m not sure I’d have anything relevant to say, at least not about this particular election cycle. As a personal observation, I’d like to say that any of the Republican candidates […]
I just finished taking this test of United States government civics and history. I correctly answered 32 out of 33 questions, having guessed at a couple of them. I believe that most of these questions are fairly worded and that they concern important topics of which American voters should be familiar. I assume that I scored highly because I work as a lawyer, because I read quite a bit, and I actually lived through some of the events mentioned in the questions. I would think that Americans who choose to vote should be able to answer more of these questions correctly than incorrectly. In fact, it is my opinion that people who do terribly (those who answer more incorrectly than correctly) should voluntarily refrain from voting in national elections because they lack a basic foundation of knowledge on which to base political decision-making. Now consider this:
More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI’s basic 33 question test on civic literacy and 71% of them received an average score of 49% or an “F.” The quiz reveals that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
As discussed by the linked article, even significant numbers of elected officials who took this test displayed ignorance regarding basic topics. This is highly discouraging, of course (and see here).
It is difficult to argue that the People of this country should self-govern when so many of them are so ignorant of the basic information they need in order to cast meaningful votes. It’s time to break the silence and to admit to each other that in order to self-govern, the citizens will need to be much more selective in how they spend their free time. They apparently need to be much more selective in their television viewing and book choices (25% of Americans did not read any books last year). Better education is the answer, but how can we educate the many millions of people who have already graduated from school? How can we pry them, at least once in a while, from the addictive fare offered by the Entertainment Industries?
I would love to make all candidates currently running for President take a comparable test. I would suspect that at least several of them would fail even this simple multiple choice test. Actually, I believe that Presidential candidates should be required to take a much more difficult and detailed test under supervised conditions to demonstrate whether they are well-versed in American politics and history. Their scores should then be published (along with the questions and their answers) for voters to consider.
These test results indicate that these are dangerous times for our country. It’s frustrations like these that lead me to advocate dramatic measures, such as passing a Constitutional Amendment to get money out of politics. Such an amendment would be a start, and only then might we have meaningful conversations about what needs to be done to fix the country. We cannot have such conversations while we have ignorant voters and corrupted politicians. If we can’t depend on the People of this country and if we can depend on our elected officials, on whom can we depend?
Maybe, after passing a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics, we could have some chance to break up big banks and big media, we maybe then we could start weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels and we could start investing in better quality civics and history education for our children.
Or maybe my proposed first step is a pipe dream. Based on many conversations I’ve been having with people I respect, I’m increasingly worried that we don’t have what it takes to pull out of our current nose dive.