Wednesday, July 03, 2013

can the pretense of american democracy survive disclosure of the extent of its betrayal by the establishment?


aljazeera | what exists now in the US is a perfect storm of disempowerment of Americans by all three branches of their government when it comes to the most basic rights citizens can possess. For three presidential terms the Executive Branch has been firmly the hands of presidents and officials who believe that the government can contravene the most basic rights of any person - citizen or foreigners - as long as they can justify such actions in the guise of "protecting the American people" and other raisons d'Etat.

Congress, which in theory should have checked such untrammeled Executive Power, most recently revealed by Edward Snowden's leaking of NSA and other Executive Branch surveillance and spying policies. But what the Snowden affair reaffirms instead is the reality that Congress has little will to oppose such policies and indeed by and large supports the military-industrial-intelligence behemoth that so threatens the rights of all. Given the corporate control of the Congress and the political process more broadly, there is little incentive for legislators to draft and/or support any kind of legislation that would protect and enhance the rights of individual citizens at the expense of state power or its corporate sponsors.

And finally there is the Supreme Court. Here three cases in particular have enabled unprecedented constriction of the power of ordinary people vis-a-vis the political and economic elites who govern--better, rule--over them. The first is the Citizens United decision of 2010, which declared any restrictions on independent corporate campaign spending unconstitutional, thereby giving corporations equal rights and far more power than ordinary citizens. Next was the Clapper v. Amnesty decision this past February, in which the Court ruled in a case involving the surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden that human rights activists and journalists do not have the right to challenge secret FISA wiretaps that might collect their data, since they couldn't prove they were a target (an impossible standard since by definition the authorisations to collect data are secret). This ruling "jettisoned the bedrock requirement of the Fourth Amendment," in the words of Georgetown University Constitutional Law professor David Cole, by allowing the surveillance of individuals without any indication they were involved in wrongdoing. Finally, there is the effective overturning of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, decided last week, which will by most accounts ensure that Republican-controlled states pass legislation whose only result - whatever the putative intent - will be to make it much more difficult if not impossible for millions of citizens to carry out their most important democratic obligation. Some may argue that the Court's ruling that bans on same sex marriage are unconstitutional reveals a high degree of ambivalence in the Court's position on fundamental rights. But as important is the victory on marriage equality it is of a fundamentally different order than the stakes involved in the voting rights, which impacts a far broader spectrum of citizens and constitutional principles--namely the ability of government actively to subvert the enfranchisement of its poor and minority citizens. It is far more closely tied to the most basic historical structures of inequality in the United States than were the dynamics behind the uconstitutional prohibition against gay mariage.

The question remains as to what Americans will do in response to this tripartite aggression against them by their government. Almost 36 months ago the tactics and bravery of the early Arab uprisings helped inspire the Occupy movement globally, and particularly in the US. But however powerful the initial outburst, the movement has lost much if not most of its political and cultural momentum. Today protests sweeping across countries as diverse as Turkey and Brazil serve as another reminder of the power, and at times, obligation, of "the people" to take to the streets in order to force their governments take their core needs and concerns into consideration as part of the normal practice of governance.

With no where to turn politically, and an economic system that despite all the scandals and damage of the last half decade still remains firmly in the grips of the hyper-corporate forces that led the country into the "Great Recession," Americans have no one but themselves to rely on to reassert control over a political system that was designed precisely to ensure this kind of stacking of the deck against citizens by their government wouldn't happen. Occupying public or virtual spaces will not solve their problems unless it is done on a far greater scale and level of intensity and perseverance than were exhibited by the first incarnation of the Occupy movement. Even the civil rights revolution offers too narrow a model of protest and strategy for the present situation.

It's hard to know how Americans can actually "take back their government," as Republicans and Democrats routinely urge them without a hint of irony, utilising any of the political and cultural tools presently available to them. But at least with the events of the last few weeks they can no longer say they didn't understand the full spectrum of forces arrayed against them. If that doesn't generate enough urgency to produce the kind of conversations and grass roots practices that can lead to new political models emerging, then the death knell of democracy as most Americans have for generations understood it has most definitely sounded.

3 comments:

arnach said...

Edward Snowden’s father compares son to Paul Revere

Ed Dunn said...

Edward Snowden can only be compared to Edward Snowden..who runs off to China, then Russia and then after all of that, realize they should have taken their butt to Latin America in the first place? Who does that?


Second, Snowden didn't give up anything worth knowing - people who leak stories about Afghanistan to the Washington Post, they give up something worth knowing...this Snowden guy is a putz wannabee....

CNu said...

My command of Paul Revere's historical role is at about a 4th grade level, so I don't know whether or not to agree with that characterization. However, there's definitely nothing in that letter with which I disagree.

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