Awareness

Death of Democracy II

Part 2

Last week we offered a link to Lee Drutman’s article “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” on Vox, September 5th, 2017.  This week, in Death of Democracy – Part 2 (an admittedly transitional post for the sake of relative brevity of Part 3) we consider some of the antecedents to the democracy we see melting all around us.

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Considering Parties

We often think of the United States as a bastion of democracy and democratic rule.  It might surprise you to learn that of all the countries in the world that rule (or profess to rule) democratically, the U.S. ranks below average with regard to its citizens’ opinion of their country’s governance.  This is to say that many people in the U.S. (as opposed to many folks from other nations) feel cheated by the government. These people feel as if they are being ignored, cast aside by politicians who are almost exclusively attending to the needs of corporations and the wealthy.  This accusation is lodged against both major political parties.  Both the mainstream Democratic and Republican parties have become, at least in the minds of many, complete failures with regard to their ability to actually represent the will of the People.  The last presidential election most likely, at least in part, represented a desperate plea on the part of some of us to break the pattern of a seemingly tone-deaf Congress.  However, such dissatisfaction does not suggest that the idea of political parties is at fault–or does it?

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Death of Democracy

Part 1

Before the [civil] war, it was said ‘the United States are’, grammatically it was spoken that way and was thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is’ as we say today without being self-conscious at all.

~ Shelby Foote, historian

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”   So begins the preamble to the Constitution of the United States.   “We the People…” began with the idea of banding together in the spirit of democracy, in order to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”  Oh, well! Could this period in which we now live represent the beginning of the death of the democratic experiment that was and is supposed to be the United States?

charlottesville.jpgCharlottesville, 2017  – image by Andalou Agency/Getty Images

As a second follow-up to Tim Snyder’s article On Tyranny, the post this week links to a lengthy article only briefly mentioned in last week’s post.  The article is called “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” (which appeared in Vox on September 5th, 2017).   The article, by Lee Drutman  is quite long, but well worth working your way through as it presents a series of issues we should all consider, including:

  • Our fundamental disagreement about what it means to be an “American”
  • The value of political parties
  • Reasons for why we maintain relatively intractable political positions and staunchly maintained polarization
  • How and why division in current U.S. politics is preventing democracy from functioning as it should
  • How the current political climate in the U.S. threatens to create a breaking point akin to the Civil War
  • That inequality and polarization have grown in tandem for the last few decades
  • That the intrusion of money into the electoral process is fueling voter discontent and the disjuncture between the public (actual constituents) and campaign donors (paying constituents)’.

As mentioned, the article is lengthy, not very sexy, but well worth the effort to understand what it presents.


Extending the Drutman article’s focus on political division, next week’s post– Death of Democracy – Part 2—frames this problem into a slightly more embedded historical context, reaching toward addressing our need not only for less division but toward more proactive socio-political solidarity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make Peace Every Step

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Social justice innovator Victor Narro, arms crossed, participates in a Creative Self-Care workshop at Teada Productions in Los Angeles. (Texas Isaiah)

We are working on a post involving the topic of nonviolence and its place within tense situations such as occurred in Charlottesville.  While researching the piece, we came across an article called “Power to the Peaceful” in an August 2017 post presented by truthdig!  Take a look.  You might find the article and the embedded video inspiring.

Have you thought about adopting a non-violent stance within the context of protests or, even better (and harder), in EveryDayLife?  While many of us talk about nonviolence from a theoretical point of view how often do we exercise it?  Many might suppose the issue does not arise in the flow of day to day occurrences?  No?  That troublesome neighbor, co-worker, spouse or friend can often present a perfect opportunity to see ourselves as true, often times sacrificial, peacemakers.  Consider these six ideas from Dr. Martin Luther King.

Six pillars of nonviolent resistance

  1. Do not mistake nonviolence for passivity or cowardice.
  2. Do not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.
  3. Remember that those who perpetrate violence are often victims themselves.
  4. Accept suffering, if necessary, without retaliation, because unearned suffering is redemptive and can educate and transform.
  5. Meet hate with love—not the sentimental kind, but an active love, of understanding and kindness, what the Greeks called agape—that restores community.
  6. Know that the universe is on the side of justice.

Coup d’Etat

As the first of potentially multiple follow-ups to a previous post about the book On Tyranny by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder, here is a link to an excerpted interview with Mr. Snyder you might find illuminating.

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In modern day America, we have largely settled into relative complacency regarding socio-political strife.   We have certainly seen an uptick in street demonstrations since the most recent presidential inaugurant settled into his new White House digs.  However, unless you are of a certain age, you have probably never experienced major violence nor upheaval associated with civil unrest leading to death in the United States.  Many twenty, thirty or even forty somethings are not old enough to know much about and certainly too young to have been present (as were some of us) for events such as the killing of two students at Jackson State in May 1970, the killing of four students at Kent State University (sometimes called the Kent State Massacre which occurred only eleven days prior to the Jackson State killings) or the Watts Riots (also known as the Watts Rebellion) in 1965, when thirty-four people died.  Most people cannot conceive of upheaval of such magnitude.  Perhaps this is partially why Charlottesville was so shocking.

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A Little Gratitude

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While a follow-up piece around Tim Snyder’s book On Tyranny was planned for this week, given the tragedy unfolding in the Houston area (and the general tragedy occurring in the U.S. in general), perhaps we should pause and give thanks for some instances of Good and the people who initiated them.

Jennifer-Hofmann (small)This week, on her weekly Action List, under the “Acts of Gratitude” section, Jen Hofmann posted the following entries (appearing here verbatim, but be sure to check out Jen’s list).

Acts of Gratitude
Get out your stamps, postcards, and sparkle markers for some gratitude mail.
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Us Helping Us

I am only one, but still I am one. 
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
~ Helen Keller

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Help! We Need Help!

Who is “We”? We is you, me, all of us. In particular, part of our community living in the Houston, Texas area is in need of assistance, now and in the near future. As of Tuesday, August 29, the hurricane might make land fall again on Wednesday in Louisiana. With heavy rain and possible tornadoes expected, more folks might be in need. Reach out and help create the community many of us want to believe in. Here are some opportunities.


Make a Donation to the Red Cross

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Some have balked at the notion of donating to the Red Cross, proposing that the organization is not up to the task of large-scale disaster relief or that they do not actually need the money.   Whether such claims are true or not, folks still need our help (here-now and in the near future).  Second, we need to express, if only to ourselves, that We are the those who will offer such assistance when anyone of us needs it.

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Beyond the Red Cross

The New York Times has put together a list of other places to help.  Take a look.

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More Motivation

ABC News (with commercials) offers this encouragement as well as other opportunities to help.

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In case you missed it, you can simply
text “HARVEY” to 90999 to make a $10 donation to the Red Cross.

Make a difference for US.

 

 

On Tyranny

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In a country fond of seeing itself as “the land of the free”, in the last couple decades, fear seems to have considerably tarnished this idealistic notion. We say we want freedom, but for whom? Too often, such notions suggest that we want freedom within the boundaries of what we idiosyncratically define as “US”—a term that has increasingly become more grounded in exclusivity than inclusion. This “US” comes to inform our socio-politically charged definition of freedom. In an attempt to stave off fear, our expectations are tinged by a new found xenophobia; we redefine a continually shrinking concept we used to refer to as “a free American”. In so doing, we open the door for those who would exploit our assumed sense of vulnerability. But when freedom does not apply to all, ultimately, it will fail to encompass any of us.

On Tyrrany“European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s… The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

So writes historian Timothy Snyder in his recently published book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. On Tyranny is a tiny book, 126 pages measuring only about 4×6 inches. Each of the twenty suggestions forms a chapter consisting of only two to five pages.

Mr. Snyder does express certain biases (such as casting a jaundiced eye toward the Internet). However, for the most part, the book is largely written from a non-partisan perspective, focusing on various means of preserving freedom and staving off tyrannical control. As the book is quite easy to read, you can probably finish it in an hour (although you will likely ruminate over its contents for much longer).

Some of Snyder’s suggestions are expected (such as #3 – Beware the One-party State). Others are either surprising or defined in a thought provoking manner. For example:

  • #  2 – Defend Institutions
  • #10 – Believe in Truth
  • #11 – Investigate

All address–directly or indirectly–some of the more hidden aspects of what is currently happening in the United States.

In a Washington Post review, Mr. Snyder’s book is described as “a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital.”  Some folks have been so taken with this little gem that they have bought multiple copies to distribute for free (a little over $6 on Amazon).

Requiem - Chomsky book coverOnce you have read through the Snyder book a couple times you might, on reflection, find yourself thinking a bit differently about the state of affairs in the United States. While the twenty suggestions Snyder offers are pointed and helpful, the brevity of the book prevents comprehensive treatment of any idea. As such, you might want to follow-up Snyder’s book and expand your understanding the mechanism of tyranny by tackling the more in depth descriptions of “reality” in the U.S. by reading Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky’s new book. Professor Chomsky addresses tyranny from the perspective of identifying various tactics of oppression such as reducing democracy, attacking solidarity and marginalizing the population—all of which have been happening and continue to occur as you read this. Like On Tyranny, Requiem is easy to read, although not quite so brief.

Finally if you are really committed to understanding tyranny and how it might have been the underlying mode of governance in the United States for decades, consider Sheldon Wolin’s more challenging and comprehensive book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.