Curtain Raiser

That’s How Democracy Dies, Colltalers

Hyperbole kills the power of a sentence. So used to say an old teacher. But when Noam Chomsky, renowned linguist, scientist, and engaging thinker, said last April that the American Republican Party is ‘the most dangerous organization in human history,’ well, it grants examination.
This is relevant as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross plans to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Decennial Census. In the context of the GOP’s steady stream of antidemocratic policies, last week’s announcement is indeed dangerous to our electoral system of representation.
It’s also sent scores of Americans on a fiery search for ‘WTH is the Census,’ according to Google. Some were not even expecting their lives to be affected by the answer. For the constitutionally-mandated biennial counting of residents has deep implications to how the U.S. is run.
The number of Representative seats in Congress, billions in federal funds allocation to communities nationwide, decisions related to health care, education, employment and many more, are all determined by how many people live here or there. And as services and resources are used by anyone living or even visiting any particular place, planning must include everybody, not just legal citizens. See where we’re going?
If one considers the three arguably most important developments affecting the way people vote in recent years – the Supreme Court’s rulings equating funding with free speech, known as Citizen United ruling, and its hacking of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, letting southern states to again change laws without federal approval; and widespread gerrymandering, they all made it harder for poor voters to exercise their rights.
By allowing unlimited so-called dark money into campaigns, the court unwittingly switched politics’ main priority, from representing people to get to public office by way of fundraising. As a result, the elected literally owes more to sponsors and lobbyists than to his or her voters.
The same way, when in 2013, Chief John Roberts declared, straight-faced, that ‘blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare,’ he was endorsing the return of old racist practices of some states that historically made voting by racial and class minorities more difficult.
And finally, the undignified art of redrawing legislative maps, so to turn traditionally diversified districts into one-party areas, although not necessarily a Republican invention, is one

that truly benefits the party. That’s because minorities have leaned Democratic since the 1960s.
Before going any further, let’s be clear that two of these deleterious developments in American democracy, circa the 2000s, benefit both parties. Thus, Washington’s current crop of extremely wealthy, extremely unresponsive politicians, unaware that many plan to vote them out.
But as a consequence of these three distortions of the democratic process, the income gap has exploded, while social mobility became all but fiction. The less than 1% of Americans who have become obscenely wealthy in this century, make some 30% living in extreme poverty look like citizens of the poorest nations in the world, not the richest and most powerful. Planned cuts in social programs will make it all worst.
The introduction of the citizenship question into a questionnaire designed to determined administrative and representation policies is likely to scare the huge contingent of undocumented residents. Already facing the administration’s Gestapo-like enforcement of draconian rules, harassment, and summary deportations, most will simply not respond, or recede further into hiding, which is exactly Ross’ intended effect.
As for the Commerce Secretary, he’s one of the billionaires who’s shown no remorse taking advantage of Trump’s tax cuts and discretionary policies, and now steps to the front line of the administration’s campaign to criminalize immigration. But the plan will hurt all Americans, regardless of legal status. After all, any cuts in healthcare, education, and/or public services available, will affect those who depend on them.
Professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky is no stranger to controversy, but not for this statement of his made a year ago. After all, the GOP has been relentless dismantling long-term social policies, undermining support from allies, and isolating the U.S. on issues crucial to the planet’s survival, such as climate change and the need to preserve and enforce nuclear peace agreements.
It’s up to discussion whether the Democrats can retake from Republicans one of the two Congressional houses in November. Many point to the fact that the mobilization that has rocked the U.S. lately happened regardless, and in some cases, despite the party’s inaction. Cue the emergent youth for gun control, and a revitalized women’s movement, both addressing issues the Democratic leadership’s been all but M.I.A.
But it shouldn’t be hard to characterize the ‘former’ party of Abraham Lincoln as now the champion of the rich and the powerful, in the light, for instance, of the recent tax cuts to high-incomers and corporations. Given that, the biggest foe of Democrats may actual be themselves.
When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, 50 years ago this Wednesday, there were so much to be done about not only the racial issue in this country, but also about civil rights for all Americans. Even as some would say, they didn’t murder the ideal, only the man, it’s clear now that the man is still badly needed. And so are others different or just like him, also assassinated by a coward’s bullets.
When the unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot eight times on his back in Sacramento, March 18, he reenacted, as involuntarily thousands and thousands have since that sad day in 1968, the endless massacre of young black men in America, a tragedy Dr. King couldn’t foresee in its brutality, senselessness, and body count. So, if you’re mourning with fellow Americans for this new loss, a gentle warning.
April 4 will hold the dutifully remembrance, reflection, and emotional rhetoric due to any irreparable death of a fearless leader. But be ready also for the hypocrisy, the attempts at cash in on his death, and the likely appropriation of Dr. King’s sacrifice. And make sure the assassin’s credo, but not his name, is mentioned as well. For white supremacy and racial hatred is still alive and bloody today as they were then.
Yes, we need reconciliation, we need to get along, and we need to pursue common goals of peace and prosperity. But we won’t achieve any of that without confronting the monsters the last presidential election awoke to shameless relevance once again. We can’t forget and we can’t give up, for, as in the famous I Have Dream speech, ‘it would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.‘ Free at last. WC


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