Post #52 – The Dis-United States and the Withering of the American Model



American leaders of both parties have always prided themselves on the model democracy that they believe all other countries would benefit from adopting.  It’s part of our belief in exceptionalism: We don’t have periodic coups, fighting in the legislature, multiple parties and fractured politics.  We’re free, in short, of the chaos that accompanies political processes in so many countries.  Instead, our spirit of bipartisanship and tradition of shared power among three branches of government show how politics can be conducted with the assurance of stability from one party, and one generation, to the next.

But the midterm elections just concluded once again reveal just how bogus this model is.  The actual lessons are:

  •  Money talks more loudly than ever: By one count I heard, total spending by candidates in the midterm elections was $4 billion, and the approximate cost of winning a seat in the US Senate rose to around $100 million.  Thanks to Supreme Court decisions in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases, “outside” groups—i.e., nonparty, noncandidate—spent $1 billion in 2012 federal elections (Public Citizen News, September-October 2014).  We’ll soon find out how much more they spent in 2014.
  • Ideas don’t count; getting the other guys out of power is all that matters.
  • Negativity is always more potent than positivity.
  • For progressive policies to prevail, such as on the environment, guns, and human rights, the only real hope lies with voters in local elections and not in Washington.
  • Corporate-funded advertising and political contributions, unlimited under the law, are the biggest threat to the popular vote.
  • The corporate interest consistently trumps the public interest. Federal agencies charged with protecting the public—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Department of Justice (DoJ)—have all deferred to if not directly supported the largest corporations, financial institutions, and campaign funds on crucial public policy regulatory issues.  They have done so by failing to investigate, delaying rulings, suppressing or ignoring information, and voting against measures that favor ordinary citizens.
  • Divided government—the President belonging to one party, the two houses of Congress dominated by the other party—is a sure-fire recipe for gridlock because the so-called bipartisan spirit is a myth—except when it comes to military spending and war. Each side wants domination, not cooperation.
  • For a president to rule effectively with divided government, he must resort to executive directives rather than legislative approval—which is to say, to subterfuge rather than through established democratic processes.
  • The right to vote is not sacred after all. In states with conservative leadership, every trick will be tried to restrict the votes of minorities, and many restrictions will be upheld in conservative-dominated courts.

Is any credibility left in the American model?  Do people feel as embarrassed and angry as I feel about the depths to which US democracy has sunk?

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  1. I am thoroughly disgusted by a government that is obviously for sale. They aren’t even trying to pretend it isn’t that way anymore. We are on the path to a tyrannical police state ruled by corporations who have no regard for the well being of the land or the people. We need a revolution. Not the bloody kind though….i don’t care how many rednecks with guns we have, they cannot hold a candle to the mightiest military industrial complex in the world. I believe our best hope lies in acting locally, but that means we need to get off our lazy American asses and take responsibility for our communities and our destiny. CELDF offers training in real democracy and could be a good tool to help us organize. They have already helped several communities ban fracking or factory farming. Whether those bans are upheld and enforceable looks like it may be a long battle, but at least it seems like a possible middle road to take back our country, one community at a time.

    1. Well said, Carina. We all need to recommit to local-level action, where we still have a modicum of power, particularly over environmental issues and food. I also note how this last election has further distanced the “left coast” from the rest of the country. Look at the overwhelming Democratic victories in California, Oregon, and Washington. Cascadia, anyone?

      1. Cascadia seems totally do-able. We have resources (water is the new oil) and ports and comparatively intelligent and progressive populace.

  2. No. The ‘model’ hate been dysfunctional for several decades.

    In my lifetime we have re-elected, having had time to watch and judge them for one term, Nixon, Reagan, And G.W. Bush. I know some will want me to mention Mr Clinton and Mr. Obama, but I don’t agree either was a bad President. Mr. Clinton had an affair with a consenting adult woman who, initially at least, profited from her dalliance. (I’m tempted to quote Chris Rock on this subject, but, in the interest of preserving our assumed dignity, I refrain. An untypical reverence on my part for decorum’s sake. Oh hell, Mr. Obama came into office in the middle of a shit storm, and has enjoyed zero support or cooperation from Congress while he has been trying to find solutions. In addition, he has faced unprecedented, and extremely well financed, ad campaigns from corporate and foreign (read Israeli) interests.

    I think the fundamental presupposition of Democratic theory is ‘A people, properly informed, may govern itself.’ Without information and understanding, people may be manipulated in mass with ease. What would you think the percentage of ‘hopelessly under and misinformed individuals of voting age’ is among our fellow citizens? I put it well above 50%. You?

  3. You’ve asked big picture questions that come from a place of despair and loss.

    I don’t despair to such a degree because the outcome was predicted, although not so badly, as consistent with history.

    Money is and always has spoken in this country. And it is speaking louder now. With the loss of the middle class, and its innate optimism and at times generosity, we’re scrambling to find security and faith in the future. Local is a great, and ultimately only, place to start.

    Here’s what, in part, allows the Idiocracy to vote for candidates who do not further their own interests: The Dems are inept at defending – and promoting – their policies, many of which are supported by a majority of the population. Obama has sought solutions but he hasn’t communicated effectively. If you’re angry, focus on that ineptitude. The Dems can use the same marketing techniques, and long-term strategies to gerrymander districts – including groom law students, as the Reps did by establishing Federalist Societies on law school campuses – but they, the Dems, are flaccid.

    The bigger question that I think Dr. Mel is also asking is whether the Dems will or can do any better.

    I fear the return to the Gilded Age, with the Top Dogs controlling law and capital, the environment and poor be damned.

    Oh, heck, now I’m feeling despair! As my mother Beamie would say, “Oh nuts!”

  4. Personally I favor local action and a focus with Cascadia as a place of innovation and creation care.

    Guy Debord in his Society of the Spectacle forecast all of what is happening. I believe that politics follows economic forces. The five great threats to our future are:

    1. The hollowing out of the middle class through the centralization of capital allocation (money center banks etc.) and purchases (on-line purchases). Reallocation of capital to foreign investments is well underway and small businesses and big box stores are both under threat from on-line purchases, The latter is especially damaging as it puts a stake through the heart of craft, local businesses and even low wage jobs in suburban shopping centers. Large global companies now are even debating whether they need to be incorporated in the US. Capital is flowing away.
    2. Public bribery as campaign financing. With the middle class under pressure and capital flowing to the top one percent who can afford to finance the politics of destruction? There seems to be little interest in making the system transparent. The Ds could have done that right after the Supreme Court ruling.
    3. Corrosive media undermines community. This is at the heart of Guy Debord’s argument. We now have a system of programming the public to do two things — fear and consume. This combination is deadly as it takes all attention away from creating and maintaining local community and commerce.
    4. Education and crime are traded off against each other. Over the past two decades the American states have defunded education, especially higher education, and increased funding for prisons. Oklahoma and Kansas are both on paths to try to gut the public education systems. Prisons are now the preferred form of economic development in rural areas. Who needs thinkers or workers when products are sourced overseas? The private prison industry is even implicated in the housing of immigrant children!
    5. Climate Change, Science, and Energy Policy are intertwined. The current crop of Republicans seems to be willfully ignorant and even anti-science and anti-intellectual. This started with George W. Bush and has accellerated By holding to the old dirty energy system they are expressing the economic control of the old economy and their personal campaign financing.

    Of all of these threats I believe that the focus on fear is the most corrosive as it saps the strength of the body politic to see, hope, create, act, thrive. Read the papers, magazines, web sites — watch television, even public television, and we see a parade of degrading horrors that overwhelm the will to act and the will to power.

    Brothers and sisters to change of phrase of the great Rene Dubos — Think globally and act locally.

  5. Mel,
    the country is not so bad. What if the other 2/3’s of the electorate voted? Would that return us to a true Democracy? How can the Progressives energize those who don’t participate?

    With the trend to even greater concentration of wealth among the few, we become ripe for revolution by those who clamor for its redistribution. The revolutions need not be only bloody ones. Some argue that the two World wars of the 20th century forced wealth redistribution in the US, in form of GI Bill, Social Security, Medicare, and publicly funded R&D. Innovations in IT, medicine and agriculture gave wealth to new classes of players. Overseas the rebuilding of war crushed nations also gave rise to wealth redistribution. Similarly in the last 50 years economic transformations occurring in the third world gave rise to a new middle class. Might we see peaceful transformation and wealth redistribution again as our species adjusts to climate change, builds modern infrastructures, raises the quality of public education, and promotes science in public policy?

    1. Bob, all those positive things you mention are, in theory, possible. But are they politically likely? Why don’t the other 2/3 of the electorate vote? Why doesn’t the leadership that brought us Social Security and medicare exist anymore? Why is there so much resistance to climate change, respect for science, and a priority to public education? I think the overall answer to these questions has everything to do with the dramatic changes in the way politics is conducted in the US, the disproportionate influence on politics of wealth and stealth, and a public that is far more absorbed in consumerism and (for a great many) sheer survival than in paying attention to assaults on their intelligence.

  6. Corporations don’t have an adequate mechanism for elevating the stockholder ethics upward into the process to challenge the ‘1%’ wealth power. In order to be a stockholder, ethics must be given up or minimized. A ‘revolution’ (that is not initiated by a ‘natural disaster’) must pressure sense of stockholder ethic via a brilliant light directed there… problem is, that many of us might own just a bit of the stock (or our aging parents do, and a bright light might burn our skin. Maybe there is a non toxic sunscreen somewhere for that?

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