Thursday, November 1, 2018

American Democracy: Quick! Call A Priest!

American democracy has been in critical condition for at least twenty years now. (I'm being generous. Before that there was about half a chance in hell of turning the whole thing around.) The 2016 election precipitated a crisis, and the entire enterprise has been institutionalized and on life support since the spring of 2017. All life signs are very low at this point. There is a desperate hope that the approaching mid-term elections may provide some relief, but if (when) that hope fails we must prepare ourselves for the worst.

Day by day, no one would be surprised if all of the life-lines went flat and the body issued a death-rattle.

American Democracy had a difficult beginning. It was initially presented as a dream, based on a hoax, and all wrapped up in a joke.

The dream was equality and the rule of law, government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The hoax was that only the white, male, propertied interests would possess this equality and control the government.

The joke was slavery; forgive me this crude analogy. About eighty years of institutionalized, constitutional chattel slavery made a mockery of all of the pretty words in our founding documents. Everything that has happened to black Americans since the alleged abolition of slavery has only reinforced the joke.

The dream, against all odds, took on a life of its own and was nurtured in the hearts of common citizens over the decades. People who were not in on the hoax made great progress against great resistance. The greatest advances came under circumstances that will be familiar to any student of history. Periods of progress came on the heels of destructive societal catastrophes, like the economic upheavals of the 1830s, the 1890s, and the 1930s, and the Civil War and World War II. The period between the late 1940s and the 1970s was the Golden Age of equality and the closest approximation of cooperative, representative government in America's history. Even the descendants of the former slaves made great advances in that halcyon period. In those years, we achieved our lowest level of income insecurity, and common working people achieved the highest standard of living and the greatest security of any working class in history.

It's all gone now, of course, as democracy itself lies on its hospital bed, dying.

The hoax has consumed the dream by now, with the still largely white, male, propertied class sucking all of the financial air out of the room, leaving less and less for the rest of us. The dream continues to exist only as a lullaby that is sung to very young children. It also exists as an echo in the minds of older Americans who remember the good times and refuse to believe that it has all gone to hell.

The hoax was strengthened over the years by the invention of various business and financial structures, like banks and corporations (all of which have the Constitutional rights of people, yes, I know, it's stupid, but it's true). The propertied interests now get all of the new money and most of the old money too. Before long they'll have all of the money. The middle-class is a poor, dead thing, and most people are losing quality of life day by day and experiencing deepening insecurity in all categories.

Only the joke has thrived in the interim. After the abolition of slavery itself, America began a frantic search for mechanisms that would recreate the conditions of slavery while not technically violating the new laws. These would include voter suppression laws; share-cropping; Jim Crow laws; segregation; denial of education; the list would be longer if I were better informed or more academically minded. That was all in the early days of post-slavery.

More recently we have added mass-incarceration, falling predominantly on black Americans, which brings along with it the voter disenfranchisement of convicted felons. That's along with all of the creative new ways to deny the ballot to black Americans in general. These are not as obvious as the earlier efforts, but they are very effective.

Three-hundred-and-fifty years after the institution of slavery in the American colonies, and one-hundred-and-fifty years after the discontinuation of the practice, a black man still cannot get a break in the good old U.S. Of A., and is, in fact more at risk of losing his life by being shot on sight by a policeman than at any other time in our history.

We are so close to the post-democracy period of American history that we can clearly see the outlines:

*Debt slavery
*Lower levels of property ownership
*High levels of monetized incarceration
*Greater health insecurity
*Greater retirement insecurity
*Higher rents
*Higher taxes, fees, and fines on working people
*Lower international prestige and power
*More and militarized police presence
*More homelessness
*Reduced educational opportunities
*Continuing elections that mean less and less
*The criminalization of everything
*Less privacy
*Reduced access to courts
*Greater wealth inequality
*More shared housing
*Fewer food choices
*More politicians telling us how great it all is and how lucky we are

In other words, the current process of every good thing winding down and slowly disappearing will continue. In the midst of a great deal of prosperity for fewer and fewer Americans, the rest of us will sink into increasing squalor and filth.

We asked for it, and we got it.

What have you got to trade? Canned food? Cat oil? People with a good commercial sense can do well in a society based on barter.

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