Sundin column: Our endangered democracy
As I See It
A month ago we celebrated the 244th anniversary of the founding of our nation. We are fortunate that the intelligentsia of the American colonies at the time (who made up a major portion of the Constitutional Convention) were admirers of Greek and Roman history, government and literature. Many of them mastered enough Greek and Latin to be able to read about them in the original. They were particularly impressed with Greek Democracy and the Roman Republic, which heavily influenced them in the drafting of our Constitution in 1787.
Greek Democracy was a true democracy, in which laws were made by popular vote of the qualified citizenry (primarily land-owning men). The Roman Republic was governed by a Senate of elected representatives who elected two of its members to preside over its law-making proceedings. The major Greek Democracy of Athens was extinguished by Sparta in wars between the two states, which had been allies fending off conquest attempts by the Persians. The Roman Republic disappeared in the takeover by emperors, of whom Caesar was the first. Democratic government vanished for nearly 1,800 years.
The American experiment in democratic government had its skeptics. Even James Madison feared it might not last more than a century. Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who spent several months in the U.S. in 1831 and wrote a treatise on “Democracy in America” which was a sensation in Europe, clairvoyantly was concerned about the emergence of a tyranny of the minority. What is the current status of democracy in America?
We are now confronted with the most dangerous challenges to the free government of our country since the Civil War, including the power of wealth, manipulation of elections, demeaning of the press, hyperpartisanship of Congress and too many Americans, and disrespect for the law.
The massive concentration of wealth in the hands of a powerful minority is incompatible with democracy. The crowning blow was the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision that corporations are people and therefore have the same “freedom-of-speech right,” allowing them to buy elections with unlimited amounts of money.
Another example of the power of wealth is the amount of money devoted to lobbying Congress. An array of former members of Congress, compensated with million-dollar salaries, gets their cronies in Congress (who drool over the prospect of doing the same) to appropriate hundreds of billions of dollars to businesses they represent, the largest example of which is the military-industrial complex about which President Eisenhower warned the country.
The attack on free elections by restricting access of those who might not vote “right” is rampant. Gerrymandering, redrawing election districts to favor the “right” party, is a standard practice in many states. The number of polling places in districts which might not vote “right” are drastically reduced to discourage participation. Mail-in balloting is resisted with the utterly false claim of one party that it would result in “massive voter fraud.”
Voting should be an inalienable right of all Americans, which mail-in balloting and also declaring Election Day a paid holiday (also opposed by the same party) would promote. The Republican Party, in its desperate attempt to hang on to power in a changing demographic, is resorting to all of these tricks. Instead, it should revise its policies to be more in line with what the majority of the public wants instead of catering to the demands of the wealthy.
The decline of the press is a serious threat to our democracy to be able to sort out fact from fiction, supplying the public with a primarily unbiased source of information, and ferret out and report corruption. All too many Americans are getting their news from the internet and social media (and Fox News) where anything goes.
Too many people are only looking for a source that reinforces their prejudices instead of seeking facts; like the ridiculous claim that Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography shop out of a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. Thomas Jefferson advised that an independent, well-informed and engaged citizenry was essential to the success of a democracy.
We are living in a time when reporting the truth is labeled “fake news” and fake news is the “truth.” The new “truth” is whatever pops into the President’s head and out of his mouth or his tweets, serving his purpose. Congress also needs to relearn the art of the compromise, and rise above the current “winner-take-all” attitude that stands in the way of their obligation to serve the American public.
“As I See It” appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at email@example.com
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