Of Faux Democracy, Petty Tyrants, and Painful Realities
by Jason Miller
“The ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly self-administered by its victims. The most perfect slaves are, therefore, those which blissfully and unawaredly enslave themselves.”
—attributed to Dresden James
A caricature of a man who has wrought havoc in virtually every endeavor throughout his miserable existence has found his calling. Exuding false bravado and contrived machismo, he has swaggered his way into the deepest recesses of America’s collective psyche, fulfilling the inculcated need for a “manly” patriarch. Chest thumping, bullying, and ultimately unleashing the Hell of the Pentagon’s death machine upon those brazen enough to resist conversion to the American Way, King George IV has succeeded the tyrant American Revolutionaries toppled over 200 years ago.
While the tyrant may be intellectually challenged, his court is filled with cunning Artful Dodgers like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. Conscienceless people for whom guile, deceit, and exploitation are ways of being write his scripts and pull his strings. But ultimately it is George Bush, a morally bankrupt cur of a man, who gleefully issues proclamations and decrees that victimize the working class and the poor of the world. Bullies take such delight in plying their craft. Yet as vigorously as they have striven to realize the dream of the US aristocracy and reestablish an overt tyranny, Bush and his handlers have devoted equal volumes of sweat to maintaining the illusion that America is a “democracy”.
Buoyed by a virtually omnipresent corporate media equally dedicated to spiritually and intellectually enslaving the poor and working class, sacrificing them as cogs in the corporate machine and as cannon fodder, and relieving them of their hard-earned dollars via irresistible lures of immediate gratification and an increasingly regressive system of taxation, a privileged class comprised of the wealthy, intellectual elites, and well-connected has become the “power behind the throne” in an oligarchy disingenuously portrayed as a democracy.
In November of 2003, George Bush assured his constituency that:
It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world’s most influential nation was itself a democracy.
Serving up an even bigger “Whopper” to a nation of people conditioned to be addicted to fast food and clever sound bites, Bush proudly proclaimed in September of 2004:
Because we believe in human dignity, peaceful nations must stand for the advance of democracy. No other system of government has done more to protect minorities, to secure the rights of labor, to raise the status of women, or to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace.
As is true with most concepts, there is no universally accepted or simple way to capture the meaning of democracy. However, Wikipedia offers concise definitions of the four fundamental types of democracy:
Direct democracy is a political system where the citizens vote on all major policy decisions. It is called direct because, in the classical forms, there are no intermediaries or representatives.
Representative democracy is so named because the people select representatives to a governing body. Representatives may be chosen by the electorate as a whole (as in many proportional systems) or represent a particular district or constituency), with some systems using a combination of the two. Some representative democracies also incorporate some elements of direct democracy, such as referenda.
Liberal democracy is a representative democracy (with free and fair elections) along with the protection of minorities, the rule of law, a separation of powers, and protection of liberties (thus the name liberal) of speech, assembly, religion, and property.
Conversely, an illiberal democracy is one where the protections that form a liberal democracy are either nonexistent, or not enforced. The experience in some post-Soviet states drew attention to the phenomenon, although it is not of recent origin. Napoleon for example used plebiscites to ratify his imperial decisions.
At best, the United States is an illiberal democracy. Which really is not too surprising. While the Founding Fathers forged a Constitutional Republic that incorporated many of the values of the Age of Enlightenment, the government they crafted was largely representative of a patriarchal society dominated by White male land-owners. Women had no right to vote, chattel slavery remained legal, the indigenous population was excluded, and the Bill of Rights was an afterthought that many of the Founders initially opposed.
George Bush and propagandists who have been intellectually assaulting US Americans for years would have us believe that the oligarchs masquerading as democratic leaders have blessed “the masses” of humanity in the United States and beyond with unprecedented advances for human rights and social justice.
Are their claims grounded in reality? Let’s put them to the test.
We believe in human dignity. Abu Ghraib certainly reflects the commitment of the United States government to human dignity. What could be more dignified than abject humiliation and torture? And to further reinforce the United States’ resolve to preserve human dignity, the Bush Regime and the “representatives of the people” in Congress recently negated Article Three of the Third Geneva Convention, Article VI of the US Constitution, and the Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights by legalizing torture.
And let’s not forget the “dignity” of state-sanctioned murder. The United States is one of the very few “democracies” that has not abolished the death penalty. In 2003, China, Vietnam, Iran and the United States accounted for 84% of the world’s executions.(1) If one accepts the corporate media spin on China, Iran and Vietnam, the “leading democracy” is hanging out with the wrong crowd. Or is there just the tiniest of possibilities that the United States government engages in oppressive policies too?
Would the US “democracy’s” government’s protection of minorities include the perpetuation of slavery, the execution of abolitionist John Brown, Jim Crow laws facilitated by Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Native American genocide, the Japanese Internment, racist drug laws, and lack of response to Katrina?
What would best exemplify the US government’s efforts to secure the rights of labor? The state-sanctioned murders of Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel? How about the 26 workers killed (and 172 arrested) by the National Guard at the Ludlow mining colony? Or the government’s rush to enforce George Pullman “right” to exploit his workforce? Would the Taft-Hartley Act be a shining example? Perhaps the pompadoured darling of the US aristocracy and his firing of striking PATCO workers? Maybe it would be the sub poverty level minimum wage stagnated since 1997? Or the 46 million Americans without health insurance? Perchance could it be the NLRB’s recent decision which will prevent 8 million workers from unionizing? With such a dizzying array of choices, one can hardly settle on just one.
And how has the world’s “shining beacon of democracy” acted to raise the status of women? Women Suffragists battled long and hard to amend the Constitution so that women could vote. It only took 130 years of tireless effort by the people to overcome government obstructions (i.e. the Supreme Court’s Minor vs. Happersett ruling that enabled states to limit suffrage to men in spite of the Fourteenth Amendment). The Equal Rights Amendment was conceived in 1923 and is still not incorporated into the US Constitution. Hiding behind the claim that it would threaten national sovereignty, the US “democracy” has refused to ratify the international women’s bill of rights called CEDAW (since 1980). In 2002, the nation which has done so much to “raise the status of women” accounted for 70% of women murder victims amongst industrialized countries.(2) While women have outnumbered men throughout most of its history, the United States is one of the few developed nations where a woman has not served as head of state and currently only 15.1% of the US Congress is female.(3)
According to Bush and his script-writers, the nation from which democracy bubbles forth like pure water from the mouth of a spring has done more to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace than any other system of government. Given the magnitude of that deception, Orwell would probably have identified it as Quadruplespeak. With 5% of the Earth’s human population, the United States accounts for half of the world’s war expenditures. Over 100 countries are subjected to the “benign” presence of US military bases. The US is home to the world’s largest stockpile of WMD’s and is the only nation to have unleashed nuclear weapons on civilian populations. American military intervention led to the slaughter of anywhere from 250,000 to one million Filipino civilians(4) and an estimated four million Vietnamese.(5) 200,000 Central Americans died thanks to the “pursuit of peace” by the Reagan Regime.(6) Over one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians are dead thanks to the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. Positing the United States as a champion of peace is akin to praising Jeff Skilling’s selfless concern for Enron employees and shareholders.
No abundance here
Obviously, democracy is in very short supply in the United States. And it has been from the nation’s birth. Even the Constitutional Republic which the Founding Fathers intended has steadily frayed over time. But why stop with these examples of the rapidly approaching extinction of the populist visions of the more enlightened Founding Fathers when there are so many more?
How democratic is the United States’ income tax system? Using the oppressive threat of the nearly omnipotent IRS, the federal government extorts money and spends it according to the whims of a president placed in office by the Electoral College (or Katherine Harris and Diebold) and a Congress rife with members so beholden to corporations that they don’t dare cross their patrons by truly representing voters’ interests. Riddled with loopholes, tax laws too complex for a Cray supercomputer to decipher enable corporations and the wealthy to shelter their income from taxation in a multitude of ways. And the federal tax burden is increasingly shifting onto the backs of working class people. Between 1977 and 2003, the percentage of tax revenues collected from corporations fell from 14.4% to 7.7% while the percentage derived from payroll taxes rose from 29.9% to 40%.(7)
Ironically, the world’s “leading democracy” has the highest rate of incarceration. As of April of 2005, there were 2.1 million US Americans under the supervision of the penal system, an increase of 2.3% from the previous year.(8) China, a nation with four times the population of the United States and a frequent target of critics of human rights violators, jails fewer people than the “paragon of democracy”.
Sixty percent of US Americans now oppose the war in Iraq.(9) As of October 8, 2006, George Bush had a 41% job approval rating(10), an April Washington Post poll showed that 33% of Americans wanted George Bush impeached and removed from office(11), and the shocking violations of domestic and international law by the Bush Regime leave Nixon and Clinton looking like little leaguers.(12) Yet in the “great democracy”, Bush and company continue to commit mass murder and grand larceny with impunity as they implement an agenda which favors their aristocratic “base” and exploits most of those they “represent”.
Oppressive legislation advanced by the Bush Cabal and timorously rubber-stamped by Congress has finally relieved the US plutocracy of the onerous burden of the Bill of Rights. The Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act of 2006 effectively torpedo most of the US citizenry’s Constitutional protections from the tyranny of its “democratic government”.
Certainly the United States ruling elite can truthfully credit themselves for allowing a high degree of free speech. In fact, when their democratic nature is attacked, their tolerance of free expression by dissidents is usually their first line of defense. Yet in a nation in which 90% of the media market is controlled by just six major corporations(13) and where a majority of the inhabitants are bribed and conditioned to reflexively reject challenges to the “American Way” as products of irrational minds, godless Communists, spoiled whiners, or terrorists, how much does “free speech” actually contribute to true democracy? While dissenting messages do win some hearts and minds, they are usually drowned out by a blaring chorus of mind-numbing corporate media reassurances that the United States is God’s gift to humanity that is incapable of wrong-doing.
Yes, democracy in the United States is but a pleasant fiction that never existed. And with the passage of time, it has become more of an unattainable fantasy than a dream to be realized.
What to do?
It is unlikely that a significant number of people in the United States will find the motivation to pierce the simulacrum until they have experienced severe hardship or pain. Many US Americans are not even aware that their enslaved psyches condemn them to an existential hell of spiritual vacuousness, blind loyalty to a ruthless empire, and obsessive devotion to a predatory economic system. And many of those who do become aware don’t care as long as they can continue to relish heaping portions of fat-laden addictive repasts from the ubiquitous Golden Arches, to intellectually gorge themselves with the brain candy eagerly proffered by the corporate media as propagandistic seeds sown into the rich soil of otherwise fallow minds, to make Faustian bargains with Visa to adorn their walls with plasma televisions of elephantine proportions , and to drive urban assault vehicles capable of transporting small armies and ensuring that they will dominate the road.
Given humankind’s United States-led pursuit of self-destruction, an economic, ecological, or humanitarian cataclysm is virtually inevitable at some point. However, there is a silver lining. The survivors who rise from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix will be blessed with a second chance. And let’s hope those Founding Parents will have the wisdom to remake civilization according to truly democratic, just, and humane principles.
(5) Vietnam War
(6) Consortium News
(8) BBC News
(10) Rasmussen Reports
(11) Washington Post
(12) Tom Dispatch
Jason Miller is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He writes prolifically, his essays have appeared widely on the Internet, and he volunteers at a homeless shelter. He welcomes constructive correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his blog, Thomas Paine’s Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.