As we crash into the Independence Day weekend this year with a feeling that the doom that was at the door last year is no longer quite beating the door down, our thoughts can go beyond merely surviving to once more trying to achieve the ideals that our country was founded on.
The gap, sometimes a chasm, between our ideals and reality is always a source of tension in this country. The concept that all humans deserve freedom and the very opposite condition of slavery have existed in this country from the beginning until the Civil War. Following the Civil War up to today, the lingering effects slavery continue to haunt us.
The concept of religious freedom and the concept that religion has no place in our secular government runs into those who demand that their religious beliefs be written into laws at all levels.
Even democracy itself, the idea that all citizens of adult age should have the ability to vote and help make the decisions of society runs into the constant push by the right to restrict voting to only those who meet specific criteria. Thus voters don’t pick their representatives, instead representatives are picking their voters.
Many of us can remember when our representatives would try to compromise to come up with solutions that while not ending the tensions would at least take some of the edge off. Since the election of Ronald Reagan the concept of compromise has taken a beating.
With the creation of their democracy, the founders felt that they had conceived a way to put monster of royalty and oligarchy behind them. With a democracy, even a democracy as limited as they conceived, they thought would be enough to keep the oligarchs at bay. Unfortunately, the founders were human. While they anticipated the possibility of oligarchs working to gain control, they felt that there were enough safeguards built in.
They believed that men (at the time) would put the good of the country above all else when voting. That simply didn’t last long. Within a short time he idea of the good of all broke down into a ‘my interests first’ thinking. Parties became the vehicles for promoting one’s interests over others.
The parties have had very colorful existences. Some have come and gone. One thing that has been mostly true in our existence is that one party has tended to represent lower classes and one party has tended to represent wealth and standing.
While who represents who has been fluid over the decades, parties have generally settled into the pattern of the Democratic Party representing the lower classes and workers with the Republicans representing those of wealth and standing. This has been one of the longest standing tensions in our country. In what is supposedly a classless society, there are definite classes.
In the past twenty years the Republican Party has given up on governing and pretty much focused its energy on reengineering our government and political system to give them large advantages in elections and in making and interpreting laws. Gerrymandering is the norm in America today with the tilt in favor of Republicans.
Mitch McConnell’s main focus since 2000 has been to make the judiciary favorable to the right. Most Americans were aghast as McConnell and henchman Chuck Grassley simply refused to fill an empty SCOTUS seat during Barack Obama’s presidency. Despite being totally against the grain of fair play that most Americans subscribe to, it was technically not illegal.
The use of the filibuster and use of nearly any procedural moves to block legislation that is good for the country as a whole has become normal behavior for the Republicans as their whole focus is on creating an environment that greatly favors the wealthy and their corporations. We have all heard recently of wealthy and corporations that not only do not pay taxes but get money from our government. All the time their publicity machines and media properties tell us that this is good for society.
Thus we come to the biggest tension in our democratic government – the role of money in our politics. Any one who has paid attention for the past 40 years knows that the candidate with more money can buy more media time. They can also hire top notch advertising companies and those who can manipulate folks on the internet. For those who watch elections closely, watching the money race between candidates becomes one of the most critical pieces of the campaign to with.
Thanks to the SCOTUS decision known as Citizen’s United limits on contributions to a campaign have pretty much been lifted. Between campaigns and political action committees there are no limits. Therefore a person of wealth can use their money to help their candidate to buy more ad time and better ads. In short they can almost buy the election.
So when the candidate with the most wealthy donors become a part of the government can we expect them to address the biggest problem in our political system – money in politics? Of course not. Nor can we expect them to address any question that will impinge on the candidate’s desire to get more contributions.
Therefore we get laws that tilt the election playing field and we stop laws that are good for the whole. Even with the EXISTENTIAL crisis that the climate crisis is, any attempt to address it will be stifled because some wealthy make huge money by destroying our climate. Same with health care. Some wealthy make huge money by setting up a system where the poor die needlessly.
So over nearly 250 years, our founders dreams of a democracy where free persons had input into their governance has slowly returned to a government of oligarchs. How can we expect those who benefit by the current system to ever do anything to fix it?