Sleep Walking Away From Democracy

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public have little influence over the policies our government adopts. … America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened”, concludes a recent Princeton study. Threatened by the Supreme Court, by Congress, by wealth, but even worse by apathy and indifference.

“O sleep, O gentle sleep, … Nature’s soft nurse …” so said Shakespeare. Nature’s soft nurse indeed. For many sleep is the best way out.  Look the other way, be numb, don’t notice – don’t identify with what is being done to others. It’s always “others” – not me, not us but “them”, those “others” are the ones affected, it won’t happen to me . Martin Niemoller, a German pastor, witnessed the Nazi round-ups first of Jews, then Communists, then trade unionists, then social democrats.  Niemoller said nothing until: “When they came for me there was no one left to speak out.” Can’t happen here. Can’t happen to you. That’s what you need to believe. George Carlin once said: “The American Dream [is] so called because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

How do we describe much less understand people like the Governor of Oklahoma who signed a law banning cities in that state from setting minimum wage laws? Not far behind, in Louisiana lawmakers banned consensual same sex activity but left legal necrophilia. In Nevada a rancher who has for years been using government land to pasture his cattle without paying has declared, as far as he is concerned, the US government doesn’t exist. Paul Ryan, an Ayn Rand fan, whose college education was paid for by his father’s social security death benefits now denounces those benefits as “socialist”. Not to be outdone, our Supreme Court has gifted corporations and money with human status creating a veritable United States of Money. How to explain these challenges to common sense?

The definition is psychopathy a condition in which people do not experience remorse or empathy, qualities associated with fully functioning human beings. Callousness, pathological lying, and superficial charm are part of the package. There are certain professions which attract people with these qualities lawyering being one and politics another which may be why so many politicians are also lawyers. In the 113th Congress, there are 128 lawyers in the House and 45 in the Senate.

  Unless people make their voices heard, especially at the ballot box, a plutocracy where money speaks more loudly than working people is here to stay. Republicans understand this very well and this is why they are creating ever greater barriers to voting wherever they have a majority vote in state houses.  These politicians stoop even to prohibiting people from using toilet facilities while having to stand in hours long lines waiting their turn to vote. Republican state house legislators, like their counterparts at the national level, are agents in the destruction of democracy and they don’t care who knows it.

Truth today depends on who has the money and who is willing to take it. So long as there is relentless rent-seeking at all levels of the social ladder the powerful will always have minions to do their bidding. Just ask Sheldon Adelson who spent $93 million in the 2012 election or the Koch boys’ $28 million expenditure to undermine Social Security. This is how plutocracy works and how democracy fails. 

This is not a naturally a “just world” it takes paying attention, hard work, and participation to make and sustain social justice. You can’t sleep through it.

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2 Responses to “Sleep Walking Away From Democracy”


  1. 1 Steve Wilson April 29, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” ― Haile Selassie I

    The willful ignorance is the most inexcusable


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