Monday, December 16, 2013

Moyers - America Is On the Brink of Losing Its Democracy

It's almost too much to believe, I get that.  Yet when Bill Moyers warns that America is on the brink of losing its democracy, it's a warning we must heed.

The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate.  “The abuse of buying and selling votes,” he wrote of Rome, “crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections.  Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have the Roberts Court that consistently privileges the donor class.  

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have a Senate in which, as a study by the political scientist Larry Bartels reveals, “Senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we have a House of Representatives controlled by the far right that is now nourished by streams of “dark money” unleashed thanks to the gift bestowed on the rich by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. 

We don’t have emperors yet, but one of our two major parties is now dominated by radicals engaged in a crusade of voter suppression aimed at the elderly, the young, minorities, and the poor; while the other party, once the champion of everyday working people, has been so enfeebled by its own collaboration with the donor class that it offers only token resistance to the forces that have demoralized everyday Americans.

Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests, and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do.  Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality.

Listen!  That sound you hear is the shredding of the social contract.

Ten years ago the Economist magazine -- no friend of Marxism -- warned: “The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”  And as a recent headline in the Columbia Journalism Review put it: “The line between democracy and a darker social order is thinner than you think.”

We are this close -- this close! -- to losing our democracy to the mercenary class. So close it’s as if we’re leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon waiting for a swift kick in the pants.

In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a moral compact embedded in a political contract or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.

I should make it clear that I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy.  Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson.  Nor do I romanticize “the people.” You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites.  I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents.”

But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud.  That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.

Toward the end of Justice Brennan’s tenure on the Supreme Court, he made a speech that went to the heart of the matter.  He said:

“We do not yet have justice, equal and practical, for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for the urban masses... Ugly inequities continue to mar the face of the nation. We are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle.”

And so we are. One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the blood-soaked battlefield of Gettysburg and called Americans to “the great task remaining.”  That “unfinished work,” as he named it, remained the same then as it was when America’s founding generation began it. And it remains the same today: to breathe new life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence and to assure that the Union so many have sacrificed to save is a union worth saving.


Richard said...

Hey Mound,

The problem I see in discussions like this, or even on climate change, is a significant underestimation of how far down the rabbit hole we already are.

I see this all the time, "we're on the verge of losing our democracy", "we're on the verge of climate change", etc, for a seemingly indefinite amount of time. Everyone who discusses it seems to take our situation at face value, as the be-all-end-all of where we currently are never asking: how much do I not know?

The NSA revelations are a good example. Prior to the snowden release, "conspiracy theorist" was the label used for people insisting the government was reading everything you transmit electronically. It was unthinkable for most people that privacy was as threatened as we now know it is today. But now that we know today exactly how threatened it is, it's too late. The infrastructure is in place, it's a massive machine with so much momentum that it seems overwhelming perhaps impossible to stop. This happened practically overnight - and what has the world done to stop it? Not much. Where are the riots in the street over the years upon years of lies? No where.

Saying we're "losing our democracy" today is like saying we're "losing our privacy". the truth is, it's lost, it's gone, there is a massive infrastructure already setup just waiting to be revealed (as with the NSA), and when it is revealed what then? On the day that democracy is "officially lost" what will happen to save it? On the day that climate change "officially happens", what will happen to save it?

Back in 2010 when the G20 occurred and I told people this was a preview of our facist future the most common rebuttal I got was along the lines of "wheres the gas chambers?". the point is by the time the Nazi's were ready to reveal and utilize the gas chambers democracy was already long gone and the Nazi infrastructure was in place. Point is: The real infrastructure and system is always at least 10 years ahead of what's public knowledge.

The Mound of Sound said...

I suspect you're right, Richard. The question is what this resultant ersatz democracy will beget? Some, like Hedges, fear the outcome will be revolution leading to some new order that might not be particularly benign.

I am deeply dismayed at the lack of interest in our damaged democracy by either the Libs or NDP.

Richard said...

I fear at this point thats exactly what the powers that be desire. They are trying to start a violent uprising in which I anticipate they are already prepared to assume leadership roles in.

The U.S. uses unrest to facilitate desired political change, I see no reason they wouldn't use this tactic against their own people.

I still believe the true solution resides in what occupy became (not what it tried to be). See my Canadian Trends post: "Subservient Syndrome" for more info.

Richard said...

As for the libs/NDP... *sigh*. I think they showed their true colors during the election fraud.

Back Layton I think was the last true leader we had. He spoke fairly openly about the situation if asked. The Bilderberg, the monetary system, he took them quite seriously. I've asked Trudeau repeatedly for his position on the TPP. I know he supports it, I just want his supporters to hear him say it then rationalize that with his middle class mantra.

I see all 3 major parties simply wanting to utilize the current system. Until I start hearing some politicians questioning the very foundation of the system and the very meaning of growth then they are in service to the perpetuation of infinite growth no matter how much other talk they do. Were now at the point where any promotion of infinite growth as realistic or sustainable is a clear indicator where they will stand on any issue in actuality.

ben burd said...

So the big question is how do we effect change, there are enough of us thinking like MoS that we must be able to be an effective mass.

The first challenge would be to the libs and dips that unless they bang heads we are doomed to a Minority/majority of the people that we hate to see ruling us for ever.

You can call it the arrogance of the libs or the pigheadedness of the dips but either way neither of them can admit that they do not have the votes to win by themselves.

Only a onetime electoral coalition will wrest the power away from King Stephen I. How we get there is the big question

just my two cents worth

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Richard. This slavish addiction to perpetual growth you referenced is, to me, the Achilles' Heel of our society, even our civilization. Even those who realize it can't go on in an infinite planet, still cling to the idea that it can go on, just a while longer. The downside to their sleight-of-hand is that delay in transitioning to a viable, 'steady state' economic model can make the process far more difficult, perhaps even impossible, if it is attempted later.

We talk about climate change 'tipping points' but the past shows us there are also civilizational tipping points of the sort that caused the Easter Islanders, the Mayans and the Greenland Norse to collapse.

@ Ben. I agree with your assessment but I can't begin to imagine how the opposition parties would ever cooperate effectively except, perhaps, after a bitterly divisive election.

Mulcair can't escape the ghost of Jack Layton that led the membership to swoon at the thought of ascending to government. Trudeau's handlers won't settle for anything less than a restoration of the Liberal dynasty.