Near the end of his new documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore describes America as an aspirational democracy. Our founding fathers had some nice ideas, but as Colson Whitehead phrased it in his novel The Underground Railroad, our country in truth was built on a foundation of “stolen bodies working stolen land.”
During the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, we approached actual representational democracy, as first women and then African Americans (in the real, not just on paper, sense) got the vote. During the 21st Century, we’ve headed in the opposite direction. This started most egregiously with the 2000 election of George W. Bush, decided by Florida’s partisan Secretary of State and then a partisan Supreme Court. This has only worsened, with the Electoral College continuing to make a joke of presidential elections, gerrymandered deck-stacking against Democrats, and local district policies that exclude black votes.
All of this is now coming to a head. In the White House we have an unpopularly elected president, whose pseudo-victory was likely decisively influenced by Russian interference. In Congress, we have a Republican majority who refused to even vote on Obama’s appointment to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. So, now with yesterday’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the far right will have sway over the third branch of our government for many years to come.
With such a crisis in all three branches, where our politicians in power are so clearly out of touch with the majority of Americans on every hot button issue, I think it’s time for us to start saying out loud that we no longer have a government that represents the will of the people. And we need to go even further: it’s time to say out loud that we don’t recognize the legitimacy of the American government as it now stands.The “government of the people, by the people, for the people” that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in his Gettysburg Address is farther out of reach than it was 50 years ago. We now have a government that is of the far right, by the old white men, and for the evangelicals and uber-rich.
As I recall from childhood Saturday mornings watching Schoolhouse Rock!, “taxation without representation” was a key rallying cry in the American colonies in the 1770s. We are there once again, and I suspect that only a major turnaround in the next month’s midterms will stop us from passing a point of no return for American democracy. So get out and vote in November!
If our November votes fail to make the necessary realignments in Congress – because of Russian hacking, Republican voter suppression, or voter apathy – then I’m not sure what the next step should be. As I ponder our options, I despair over the lasting effects of protest, given the failure of the vocal and broad-segmented outcry against the appointment of a drunkard, perjurer, and repeat sex offender to the Supreme Court. I question whether American workers have the collective will and organizing power at present to stand effectively against the current ruling class. And I do not believe mass violence would be either moral or constructive.
Obviously I don’t have the answers here, beyond the ballot box. As a distressed citizen bearing witness to the collapse of our state, I’m open to all ideas for productive resistance. But, to use an analogy familiar to me as a physician, we cannot offer an accurate prognosis and treatment until we speak truthfully about the diagnosis. So let’s start by being honest, and publicly call American governance in October 2018 what it currently is: illegitimate, non-representative oligarchy.
Photo attribution: public domain
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