Tag Archive | "‘Democracy’"

Democracy Is Not a Choice

Book Excerpt

People hold banners during a protest in response to violence erupting at the white supremacist rally those organized by racist and nationalist groups in Charlottesville, at Federal Plaza Square in New York, United States on August 14, 2017.

People hold banners during a protest in response to violence erupting at the white supremacist rally those organized by racist and nationalist groups in Charlottesville, at Federal Plaza Square in New York City on August 14, 2017. (Photo: Selcuk Acar / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

As we enter 2018, one thing is clear: just as we need it most, Americans’ commitment to democracy seems to be fading. Frightened by President Trump’s lies about the prevalence of voter fraud, a majority of Republicans say they’re open to the idea of postponing the 2020 election. Even more disturbing, one in six of us now say we’d settle for military rule.

It’s time American patriots face a hard but liberating truth: Democracy — governance accountable and responsive to the people — is not a choice; it’s the only pathway to protect life on Earth as we’ve inherited it and to realize humanity’s potential. The reason is simple. Only democracy can call forth the best in us, while keeping our worst in check.

We need only look at what history has shown time and again to elicit the worst. It is democracy’s opposite, showing up in three conditions.

First, concentrated power. From Nazi Germany to Stalinist Russia to Maoist China, when power moves into the hands of a few, decent people commit unspeakable acts. Moreover, concentrated economic power itself saps the life out of a society, document UK social epidemiologists, as it correlates with a vast range of social and physical ills, from homicide to mental illness. Tightly held economic power also typically translates into political power, leading to the oxymoron “privately-held government.” In ours, a fraction of 1 percent of Americans gain vast influence by footing most of the billions our elections now cost.

Second, secrecy. Before the 2008 financial collapse, bankers were feverishly pushing risky financial “products,” and among their creators a favorite slogan was IBG, YBG: “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.” The traders knew they would be out the door before their schemes went south. Wall Street bankers are human, after all, and when we believe no one’s watching, we’re vastly more likely to behave badly. Thus, the danger in the Trump administration’s penchant for secrecy, from the president’s failure to disclose taxes to the GOP’s unwillingness to make proposed legislation available for open debate.

Third, a culture of blame. Finger-pointing is a tool favored by authoritarians and self-serving politicians and community leaders everywhere, and unfortunately we humans are highly vulnerable to its allure. A proclivity to prefer those like us and to distance ourselves from those perceived as different shows up even in infancy. It brings real harm for those directly excluded, but also for whole societies deprived of the contributions of those blocked from their full flourishing.

Humanity doesn’t have to stay stuck in the dreadful grip of these three negatives, for democracy embodies their opposites: the dispersion of power, transparency in public affairs and a culture assuming mutual accountability for outcomes instead of playing the blame game.

On this last point, we acknowledge that humans may not be able to eliminate “othering” entirely. Only democracy, however, can defend the voices of all as well as foster an understanding that welcoming diversity is not just a matter of basic fairness and avoiding harm. It also enhances human creativity, innovation, and our problem-solving capacities.

And there’s more.

Besides keeping harmful human proclivities in check, these three positive conditions defining democracy are essential to meet humanity’s emotional requirements for thriving: our need for connection with each other and the earth, for meaning in our lives beyond our own survival, and for a sense of personal power — what philosopher Erich Fromm called our need to “make a dent.”

Preventing many Americans from even imagining real democracy is a belief that humans are capable only of self-interest. But even Adam Smith, often used to justify narrow self-interest, wrote that humans feel “in a peculiar manner tied, bound and obliged to the observation of justice.” And, as the most social of primates, our deep sensitivity to fairness is accompanied by strong capacities for cooperation. Researchers observing the brain activity of subjects competing and cooperating find that cooperation stimulates the brain’s reward-processing center in ways comparable to eating chocolate and other great pleasures. Indeed, Homo sapiens are unique in our capacity for “shared intentionality” — forming goals together and cooperating to achieve them.

Finally, we can resist another misconception dimming our confidence in democracy: the oft-repeated refrain that we are a “divided people.” Hardly. Consider our widely shared sense of betrayal about a “rigged system.” Eighty-four percent of us believe that money has too much influence in our elections. Despite our real differences, a 388-question study comparing views of people living in red versus blue congressional districts or states found “no statistical differences” in two out of three cases.

So we can resist anti-democratic demagoguery dividing us as we reinforce the truth that democracy is essential to fulfilling our deepest human needs and potential. We therefore reject Winston Churchill’s snarky comment that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

No. Democracy is noble. And today, in the actions of millions stepping out, many for the first time, to save and advance our democracy — whether by resisting voter suppression efforts or by pushing positively for public financing of elections — we hear a clear message: Democracy is not a choice. It is an essential calling, one worthy of our devotion and sacrifice.

This is an adapted excerpt from the book Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want by Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

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America’s Lynch Mob ‘Democracy’

Image result for Mob ‘Democracy’ CARTOON

The dark, infamous days of American lynch-mob rule and burning witches at stakes are back as never before. But not in backwater enclaves of benighted bigotry. Oh no, the modern lynch mobs are running amok in Washington’s seat of government, across prime TV and on the editorial pages of its supposed finest newspapers.

It is the effete, self-regarding ruling US elite who are acting like a murderous rabble. The hate-figures are Russian leader Vladimir Putin and incoming president Donald Trump. Both are being lined up to be lynched, one as a foreign enemy, the other as a traitor.

Lynch mob blood-lust is a mere finger pointed, the baying of deranged crowds and the stringing up of some unfortunate from the nearest tree without pause for a fair trial. «Guilty!» shouted with red-faced thunder is all that’s needed. And anyone who dares to question the madding crowd is liable to meet the same grim fate.

Public opinion in the US is being stampeded to accept as unquestioned fact that Russia «attacked American democracy» as Senators like John McCain are claiming on prime time television. Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused of being the mastermind behind the alleged cyber attacks, which supposedly subverted the US presidential election in favor of Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Incumbent President Barack Obama, the US «intelligence community» and a consensus of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are all asserting without a flicker of doubt that Russian state-sponsored hackers interfered in the November election. The US mainstream media have abdicated any pretense of independence or journalistic standard by rowing in behind the assertions, stating what are fundamentally tendentious claims as if they are fact. The word «alleged» before the words «Russian hacking» has been shorn from headlines and commentaries. The American lynch mob has decreed Russia as guilty. No due process, no skepticism, no verifiable proof, just stampeding group-think let loose.

Never mind that Moscow has repeatedly rejected the vapid claims, and has demanded verifiable evidence to be presented. Never mind that Washington has failed to provide any verifiable evidence to support its accusations. Never mind that several respected former US intelligence experts, such as William Binney formerly of the NSA, have come forward to dismiss the claims of Russian hacking as preposterous.

The inherent lack of credibility in Washington’s narrative was given a seeming fix when Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats last week. The intention of the sanctions was to brand the word «scumbag» over the Kremlin in the eyes of the world, a US cyber security expert told Reuters. This is more of the same demonization-mentality that resulted in African-Americans being dangled from branches or suspected sorcerers being torched alive by self-righteous American christians.

A second seeming fix to the attenuated «Russian hacker» story came with reports of an alleged attempt to disable the US power grid. The CIA-linked Washington Post broke the story of an electric company in Vermont finding «Russian malware» on a laptop. The report can be quickly parsed as fake, but it seemingly gave substance to claims that the US was «under attack from Russia». Right on cue.

Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to be baited by Obama’s expulsion of diplomats by declining to reciprocate similar measures against US officials in Moscow. Wisely too. For such a response would tend to only lend credibility to what are otherwise baseless American claims.

More insanity to back up Russophobia is expected this week when shadowy «US intelligence officials» give «briefings» to President-elect Trump and members of Congress. The latter will inevitably be «wowed» by more of the same anti-Russian claims that the CIA has already inculcated the American mass media with.

Trump, however, is not such an easy pushover. He appears to remain skeptical about «intelligence» impugning Russia. Trump previously lampooned CIA claims as «ridiculous». Again this week he referred to the «disaster of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction» when false US intelligence led to a decade-long war in the Middle East country, the death of over a million people and the unleashing of jihadist terrorism across the globe.

To browbeat Trump into joining the lynch mob to hang Putin and Russia, the US media are blatantly setting him as a «traitor» if he doesn’t comply.

Referring to his forthcoming presidential inauguration, the New York Times editorial board demanded: «In less than a month, Mr Trump will have to decide whether he stands with his democratic allies on Capitol Hill or his authoritarian friend in the Kremlin».

The editors at the Washington Post continued the treason theme, making the reckless claim that Russia had perpetrated a «Cyber Pearl Harbor» on the US. The newspaper then went on to note Trump’s «odd behavior in the face of a clear threat from Russia». The Post insinuated that Trump was putting alleged personal business interests with Russia ahead of patriotic duty.

Another report in the New York Times quoted various pundits claiming that Trump is undermining national security by being friendly towards Russia and expressing his skepticism towards US intelligence.

One senior lawmaker, Democrat Representative Adam Schiff called on Trump «to stop denigrating» US secret services.

Moreover, if veteran Republican Senator John McCain is allowed to assert on CNN that Russian cyber attacks are an «act of war» – then, it follows according to this warped logic, that Trump is in bed with the enemy.

This embodies lynch mob rule rolled into burning witches at Salem along with McCarthyite Red Scaremongering.

Trump is effectively being noosed with claims that he is a Russian stooge and a traitor to his country. Claims that are in turn based on unfounded, hysterical allegations that Russia has «attacked our nation». All that’s missing here are effigies of Putin and Trump being set alight on Capitol Hill.

What this represents is a profound degeneration in American democracy. Rumor, speculation and propaganda have become the currency of US public discourse, ranging from the supposedly highest office of the White House to the legislative branch of government – and all reinforced by a supine media.

Anyone who shows the slightest dissent from the stampeding mentality to lynch Russia is also liable to be lynched. The fate of Donald Trump is in the balance.

The irony in all this is that it is not some external enemy who is eroding American democracy. It is its own political establishment that is throttling the supposed pillars of democracy.

Whenever two of its purported leading newspapers are openly accusing the next president of «treason» – based on fabricated accusations – then it is a clear sign that American democracy has indeed become condemned.

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