Tuesday, August 7, 2012
"Can we say America is still a democracy what with the rich ruling nearly everything?"
For democracy, as a system, to work it requires an educated and participatory populace that can take responsibility for making the decisions that affect their lives. The United States of America is lauded as the birthplace and cradle of such democracy. Unfortunately, this is at least a misunderstanding and at worse an outright lie.
For nearly 250 years men such as Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton have been worshipped as heroes of democratic ideals. However, it is traditionally understated that the ideas that they propagated such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would only be available to landowners. 18th century translation: the Constitution would guarantee inalienable rights only to old slave-holding white men. The ideas of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were not guaranteed to every person. As a matter of fact they only granted these "god given" rights to white males. Privilege and oppression are not the ingredients of a democracy. Only equality serves as an acceptable base.
But what about the rest of American history? Didn't past governments amend the Constitution to grant voting rights to women, people of color, and non-land holders? On the surface yes. But as the system became more complex so did the power dynamics. Without equality of opportunity granting voting rights is a moot point. Old white men still dominated the legislature and the government and thereby created the laws.
And as if cultural oppression were not enough we have the money factor. After the Great Depression lawmakers passed an act called Glass-Steagall which kept investment banks separate from public depositors. The idea behind such legislation was to keep our democracy in tact and keep mafia-like banksters from controlling the direction of society. By limiting their gambling ability such laws kept a check and balance on corporate power. But corporate power rose from the grave of crippling legislation as any undead heartless monster would and lobbied a repeal of the law.
Beginning with the advent of the puppet President Ronald Reagan- and possibly even back as far as Richard Nixon- big banks and corporate interests have been given the ear and will of the government. Reagan "unleashed the bull" and Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall. Between these two events big banks and economic power houses were given carte blanche permission to regulate and rule themselves. In essence, they were granted independence. Now we all know how these ludicrous and bone-headed policies have ruined the world economy and plunged us into a global recession but how do they relate to our supposed democracy?
The old saying goes whoever has the gold makes the rules. In an age of mass media and instant connectivity influence is sheltered under the umbrella of profit. And since banks, corporations, and the rich have systematically dismantled the mechanisms in place to prevent the concentration of wealth, the top 1% of income earners in US own most of the wealth. Which means they control the means of government, economics, and education. After the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling- which allows corporations, organizations, and individuals to give unlimited campaign contributions anonymously- the power grab was complete. They have the gold; they make the rules.
So can we continue to live in a democracy? What democracy? This country was founded upon privilege and oppression. The ivory tower of our ideals was built on the backs of slaves, the working, and the poor. We never had a democracy. However, that is not to say that we couldn't have one. Ideas such as equality, freedom, and liberty are not unobtainable abstractions. They are achievable goals. However, we cannot look to the past for a roadmap to a democratic future. The rich and the powerful have owned this country since its inception. We live in an aristocratic oligarchy masqueraded as a two-party system. But if we commit ourselves to the core values of human dignity for everyone, compassion, integrity, and justice then we can begin to chart a map to a truly democratic future. But wide is the road to folly. To obtain such goals we must all- in our communities and in our society- commit ourselves to the narrow path of equality and cast off the old ways of division, fear, and hatred.
The United States of America never was a democracy. But if we rise up, throw off our yokes, and unite, then we can create the future we want to live in. Democracy has never given: it must be earned.