A Markdown Democracy, Colltalers
Two major events, apparently unrelated but whose timing reeks of surprise and irony, have framed the past week: a U.S. Supreme Court rule, which struck down crucial restrictions to the role of money in politics, and a presidential election in Afghanistan, which has come to a peaceful close.
It’s indeed surprising that the first-ever democratic transfer of power, in a country where the American-led 13-year long ‘war on terror’ has turned into one of the most violent places on Earth, has concluded with virtually no incidents of violence, despite a seven-million-voter turnout.
And there’s no shortage of irony either, considering that the court’s ruling, which effectively eliminates limits to the total amount of dollars donors can give to candidates, parties and political groups, happens in the land that aims at being a bastion of democracy and of the will of the common people.
We’re, of course, paraphrasing with abandon constitutional notions about representative power and a self-attributed role of guardian of democratic principles, which have both served us well when it comes to reprimand and discipline countries that, in our view, are threatening to stray from them.
That’s our new, self-inflicted moral vulnerability, though, acquired as recently as a decade or so ago, when we engaged in the unjustified Iraq war. And it’s been only the most visible tip of the iceberg, as critics and U.S. haters, most of them of our own manufacturing, won’t stop pointing it out.
But there was one thing America used to do well, despite all contradictions of its foreign policy, racial divisiveness, obsession with power, and the ingrained self-assurance that some rules didn’t apply to itself: its nurturing of a political process that did work as an equalizer for over a century. Among great U.S. presidents and political leaders, there were also many ‘John Does,’ who rose to power by the sheer power of the popular vote. And guess what? while many faded to obscurity, some actually remained relevant, and others became actual standard bearers of citizen excellence. We take exception here to name at least one, still living and still increasing his stature as a world class statesman: James Earl Carter, Jr.
Mentioning Jimmy Carter is never out of context, given the role the U.S. now seems unsure how to play, for he’s the only president not to deploy American troops anywhere, and whose Nobel Peace Prize years after leaving office is as relevant now as President Obama’s was far too premature.
What the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission rule, which some have called a Citizen United 2, has just determined is that the wealthier
the donors, the more they can inject into the political process, by explicitly ‘investing’ in as many candidates as they’d like to see in office.
Since political donations, by definition, imply an exchange of cash for work – by the politician and/or party on legislation that favors the donor – this means that whatever time a legislator spends in Congress, he or she’ll be working for the donors’ interests, and not for the voters.
Ah, yes, and then there’s the Voting Rights Act, which in another decision last June, the Supreme Court also decided that was time to be depleted of some of its crucial tenets, which included eliminating measures that directly protected and guaranteed the vote of minorities and the poor.
Or that was the end result, anyway. We’re not wasting time in the serendipitous ways, and startling perverse rationale, behind recent decisions by the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts. He and his four minions have proved once again to be below the role the nation has entrusted them.
The nuanced approach to the increased role that money has been playing on every level of the political process, and its deleterious impact on the U.S. democracy, however, is that no single court decision is entirely responsible for it, and no party is exempt of its own role in this debacle.
A January report by the Open Secrets found out that more than half of the 534 current members of Congress had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, which makes up their overall median net worth to reach over a million. No wonder jobless protection laws are so hard to pass.
That figure also compares terribly with the Census figures for those they’re supposed to be representing while elected: the average household income in the U.S. in 2011, for instance, household meaning a minimum of two people but usually more than that, was only $52,000.
In the meantime, although voting was almost violence-free in the land of the ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’ where over 2,300 American troops, and hundreds of thousands of Afghans, have died, no one expects that to remain so in the six weeks or so that it may take for results to come out.
And money did play a prominent role there too, as it has during President Hamid Karzai’s entire two terms. Despite scrambling, and failing, to find an ally to support in power, his prospects, and those of his broken country, remain dire after the U.S. occupational forces leave at the end of the year.
On the other hand, results for the hemorrhage of billions of dollars wasted both in tragically misguided armed adventures on far corners of the world, and on political campaigns for those formerly known as representatives of the people, may be even more nefarious than the war in Afghanistan.
Ascendancy to power of community organizers, grassroots activists, civil rights advocates, and any sort of idealistic ground-up progressive effort, is now more than ever dependent, not on their gift to galvanize supporters and gather enough votes to join in the process, but on their ability to ‘sell’ ideas, and ‘advertise’ goals to as many wealthy ‘investors’ as possible, which obviously implies compromising the very principles they may represent.
This crooked concept of ‘sponsored’ democracy has clearly caused the shameful disconnect between what the majority of Americans support, about income equality, jobs, gun control, social investments, reproductive rights, and, yes, health care, and what’s actually being waged on Capitol Hill.
That widening gap is becoming our greatest moral stain, superseding obsolete notions of a classless society and delusions about a nation that tends to its own with equanimity. What’s not surprising about the rise of money in politics is how it cheapens our sense of what a true democracy should be.
As the Supreme Court continues to perform an insulting disservice to the U.S. and what it should stand for, is is fair to expect that society will rise up to reaffirm principles most of us would like to believe this nation was founded upon? Hoping you can answer that better than we’d ever could, we must leave at that. Have a peaceful week. WC