This Is Democracy?
Over the past few years, there have been some disturbing trends in the functioning of our government. The Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened up campaign financing to unlimited large sums of “dark money” via anonymous contributors to political action committees that are supposedly not aligned with any individual candidate’s campaign. Corporations are deemed to have the rights of people and money deemed speech protected by the First Amendment. Rather than “one person, one vote” politics have become more a case of “one dollar, one vote”, as corporations and the wealthy are now much more able to make their voices heard during the campaign season. All previous attempts at reigning in campaign spending have been rendered meaningless and now often the amount of money a person can spend or raise becomes more significant than the ideas and policy positions individual candidates seek to bring forth.
More and more activity is taking place at the state, local and federal levels to disenfranchise voters. There seems to be a definite trend to reduce, rather than increase, the number of people with an effective voice in the politics which shape all of our lives as Americans. The Supreme Court chimed in once again earlier this year by striking down an important section in the Voting Rights Act that has led to increasing attempts by legislatures in many states to further restrict eligible voters by requiring voter ID’s, for instance. Much of the resistance to immigration reform is aimed at preventing millions of people living and working in this country from ever gaining citizenship because that would enable them to vote and have a voice in the selection of those writing the laws under which they live. Exploiting the labor of these people, many of whom are paid substandard wages because they cannot complain of mistreatment for fear of deportation, runs contrary to our sense of fairness. Denying them full political participation in the government to which they pay taxes and under which they have lived for years or even decades, is immoral and undemocratic, in my view.
Political gamesmanship aimed only at retaining power for a small minority in this country seems to have become the main aim of many in government. The US House of Representatives does not represent the US citizenry by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t even represent the will of the electorate as expressed in the 2012 election. A recent poll showed a Congressional public approval rating of 12% – an all-time low. Only extreme legislative redistricting by Republicans elected in the 2010 elections enabled them to retain a majority in the House despite receiving far fewer votes nationwide in Congressional elections in 2012. With the increasing attempts to restrict voting by people opposed to their policies, they hope to continue their obstruction of any agenda, progressive or otherwise, until they can regain the Presidency, gain a majority in the Senate or both. Then they could pursue their anti-democratic (note the small d) agenda without the obstacles which losing the Presidency in 2008 presented. Similarly, The US Senate, despite having a Democratic majority, has been largely controlled by the GOP minority, which has delayed most Presidential nominations, some by years, and delayed the effective regulatory work of government agencies such as the NLRB and CFPB.
In the realm of secrecy, our government has become much more secretive since the terror attacks of 9/11. Spying, both abroad and at home, has increased dramatically since then. Much of this activity is kept secret from the vast majority of the population in the interests of “national security”. Anyone raising doubts about the necessity for such secrecy or any abuses of human or civil rights in the conduct of surveillance is at risk of prosecution as a result. The most prominent protagonists in this effort are Bradley Manning, suspected of being responsible for many of the leaks to Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden, responsible for recently making public the scope and depth of NSA spying, both domestically and abroad. The need for some secrecy in regard to such activities is not questioned by many, but the degree to which the surveillance has infringed upon our privacy and the extent of the information gathering has caused many to wonder if the oversight necessary to prevent abuse is sufficiently present. This is increasingly true even among the members of Congress tasked with providing the oversight and voting on legislation authorizing and funding it.
Secrecy is also importantly present in another aspect of our government that shows little regard for the interests of us as members of a democratic society – that of International Free Trade Agreements. .There have been several of these negotiated and signed by the governments involved and with Senate ratification. Negotiations of late include the TPP in the Pacific and TAFTA with Europe. These negotiations have been extremely secretive, with only a small group of Congress members having any access to them. Most of the negotiating is done by and on behalf of the multinational corporations and business interests involved most directly in the trade. Minimal representation is allowed labor, local or national regulatory or environmental groups.that will ultimately be affected by the outcome. The hope by the negotiating parties is to fast-track Senate ratification of the treaties by presenting them with a finished product. This would minimize debate and prevent the introduction of amendments watering down the treaty and swiftly obtaining the necessary two-thirds Senate majority required by the Constitution. In effect, the whole process is designed to force the agreement to be approved without much debate as to what the ultimate consequences the treaties will hold for the all of the people they represent.
Even Congress is increasingly getting into the act of secretive deliberations. It was recently revealed that Senators involved in proposing new reforms to the tax code could count on their suggestions being kept secret for 50 years, or until long after most are dead and gone. Talk about a total loss of accountability of elected officials to those they supposedly represent. What kinds of legislation would be produced if such anonymity became even more rampant. Isn’t it bad enough that a single senator can now hold up important business anonymously? These people need to be accountable to us.
This lack of transparency at so many levels of our government, along with the increasing attempts to suppress the vote as well as public discussion of matters that affect us all, makes us less of a democracy than ever. Democracy and equality go hand in hand for responsible government. Our government becomes less responsive the more it negates divergent opinions and runs roughshod over the rights and needs of ever-growing percentages of the population. To the extent that it operates in secret and without regard for the welfare or interests of vast numbers of the people living within its borders, a government fails the smell test of true democracy. Allowing all voices to be heard and effectively expressed is essential to proper functioning of a democratic government. Properly informing the people of what they are doing in domestic and foreign affairs and how their decisions are affecting others enables them to direct future actions of their government most effectively, both in domestic policy and foreign affairs.
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