As Nemesis, the Greek Goddess of Retribution stalks the Empire, the people yearn for democracy . . .
Plus je nois des représentations du people, j'aime me chiens.
(The more I see of the people's representatives, the more I like my dogs.)
- Comte Alfred d'Orsay, 1850
Mr Fish, (real name Dwayne Booth) the genius cartoonist who illustrated this post, called it a "spectacular summation of the questions we need to be asking and the answers we need to be demanding." That jolt of encouragement got the ball rolling to publish it to see if it resonated with anyone else out there in TV Land. The desire to write about the topic of democracy arose as I was reading Thomas Frank's beautifully written narrative about the history of populism in America, The People, NO, wherein the author states, "Today, both elite liberalism and right-wing demagoguery stand before us utterly discredited," and then proceeded to tell the story of the People's Pocket series, aka, the Little Blue Books, the populist brain child of Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius, who by the time he died in 1951, sold five hundred million editions of what he believed represented "a democracy of literature," a notion that resonated in my mind with Mr. Fish's current creative efforts to level the communications playing field. It seems to me that Fish's satirical retorts to the dominant discredited ideologies that have been ruining the country since the death of the liberal consensus are broadcast on the same frequency as Haldeman-Julius's literary effort to end "cultural, intellectual, economic and political subservience and inferiority," except in Fish's eloquently written take on the matter articulated in a recent Patreon post about the underground press, there are more Greek Goddess muses inspiring his "People's Movement built on socialized empathy, communized self-reliance, the intellectualized passions of the id and radical intolerance of the automatizing institutions that have given us a severe hundred years of grim and irrelevantly dung-colored tribalism."
Mr. Fish's impeccable art and his great book Nobody Left transcend the narrow corridors of partisan politics and the general confusion wrought by plutocratic governance, echoing what Thomas Frank says about Haldeman-Julius's retort to the "tyranny of bunk." "One of Haldeman-Julius's titles might have been the motto for his entire operation, The Dumbness of the Great, writes Frank."What made our Age of Enlightenment so wonderful, he argued, was that it promised to 'disseminate greatness among all the people.' Experts may insist on the incompetence of the layman, but this Kansan aimed for something more democratic." And so it is with Mr. Fish; what he has written and apparently intends to write in the future, resonates with the great populist themes explored by Haldeman-Julius in a powerful, evolutionary way, carrying the message about "the magnificent multiplicity of the human heart," as Haldeman-Julius puts it, forward into our current struggle with the vicissitudes of fraudulent Trumpian populism on the one hand, and the scolding elitism of the American plutocracy on the other.
When a Republican such as Florida governor Ron DeSantis, in concert with many other vaccine-resistant Republican lawmakers says, "I'm standing in your way," in response to president Biden's plea to "get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing," it's time for a new national message carried via unifying, FDR-style leadership, not the business-as-usual partisan gamesmanship of the Swamp. As Matt Taibbi says on his Substack blog TK News,"Covid-19's comeback is Exhibit A for why America needs sweeping changes in the way we organize our lives and politics. We have the worst and most useless political parties in the world." And since it's unlikely that the Democratic Party now in power is the solution, because as Taibbi points out, they "have spent the last five years so consumed with removing the scourge of Trumpism that they've become their own poisonous part of the story," it appears that only a popular uprising in the form of a third political party, a true "people's party," is the logical answer. "Is it possible to switch these people out for a party that just governs?" wonders Taibbi.
To answer that question it's necessary to think "outside the box" in earnest, a process that might also include getting our heads out of that electronic box with the big screen in the living room as well, the ubiquitous, addictive presence that's ruined the minds of at least two generations of Americans, and read books, especially those written by those intrepid artists and writers who successfully escaped the confines of the box and never got back in. Former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission Newton Norman Minow issued a warning about television
60 years ago, describing it as a "vast wasteland," but the point made little
impression on society at large. In 1978, Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television inspired me to toss my set in the dumpster and fill the information void with print media from the Underground Press. And instead of watching television, why not launch a citizen's website as suggested by Sam Smith's Great Political Repair Manual wherein he lays out strategies for resurrecting America's broken democracy. Just beware of the Internet's Black Holes in the form of what's known as Social Media, a phenomenon we now recognize as a more sinister disguise for the same old bullshit manufactured by the old legacy media, but with a new twist in the deal, "Your data for their bullshit," as Walter Kirn colorfully puts it, "Pious bullshit, unceasing." Kirn is one of those writers who refused to get back in the box, and his books mercifully illuminate another option, "which is to retreat to the anti-bullshit universe of alternative media sources."
Anyway, here's hoping we can answer Taibbi's question in the affirmative because things aren't looking good for representative democracy at the moment. Lewis Lapham, one of those rare journalists like Taibbi who does not speak with a forked tongue, says more than a third of the eligible voters in this country, about 100 million people, don't even bother to vote. Maybe they're disgusted by the legions of money-grubbing grifters who dominate the political arena and like the late Gore Vidal, refrain from voting so as not to "encourage them." But whatever the reasons, money in politics is nothing new; as Mr. Lapham reminds us, the nation was founded on the premise that, as our first Chief Justice John Jay quipped, "Those who own the country ought to govern it." Justice Jay, along with our second president John Adams and the other founding fathers, thought Plato was right in distrusting the very idea of democracy, contending that without elite, expert leadership it led to tyranny.
I cite Lapham on these matters because his understanding of democracy as it has evolved in America is in alignment with historical facts, a way of thinking based on the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment idea that inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Their guiding thesis was the crucial recognition of the importance of the rule of law and respect for the core premise of civilized life that the truth matters. "The historical record is mankind's most precious inheritance," writes Lapham in Money and Class in America,
"telling us that the story painted on the old walls and printed in the old books is also our own. It isn't with machines that mankind makes its immortality. We do so with what we've learned on our travels across the frontiers of the millennia salvaging from the sack of cities and the wreck of empires what we've found to be useful, beautiful or true." Lapham's voice is one we desperately need to hear today at this perilous juncture in America's evolution as the nation's political life drifts into chaos and confusion.
Quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Spring 2018 Rule of Law issue of his celebrated quarterly journal that "the rational study of law is still to a large extent the study of history," Lapham states his intention "To give up the idea of history as straight jacket, re-perceive it as life preserver." He makes it clear in his introduction that the nation's founders also knew from their reading of Plutarch's historical record, "That oligarchy was well-advised to furnish democracy with some measure of political power because the failure to do so was likely to lead to their being roasted on pitchforks."
Watching videos of the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol recently brought one of my favorite quotes pertinent to the crisis readily to mind.
Founding father James Madison writing in 1788 famously said, "To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea." Any legitimate, nuanced evaluation of the prospects for a healthy democracy in this country must proceed from Madison's point. Democracy, as defined by Madison and his colleagues is supposed to be about sharing power in the public interest, but the focus during the past fifty years or so has shifted to exploiting the structures of democratic government for the purpose of improving the bottom line for arms manufacturers, corporate CEOs and high rollers of the investor class. Reeling in the bitter aftermath of the virtue-challenged Trump presidency and engulfed in a neoliberal propaganda barrage manufactured by the Biden White House, it's hard to align reality with Madison's vision of a civilized society. Sadly, attempts on the part of the Republican Party to overthrow the very premise of democracy continue unabated, while president Biden seeks in vain to compose a credible narrative about the dysfunctional government now assembled in Washington as one that's founded on democratic principles.
President Biden refers to "our democracy" quite often in his speeches to the nation nowadays. Whose democracy is he referring to exactly? As Diane Francis accurately commented in a recent Substack post, "America is not a democracy with the rule of law." Period. And as the always forthright James Howard Kunstler declared on his blog clusterfucknation.com, "The country we live in now no longer observes the rule of law because it has become a security state like the former Soviet bloc states, with a rogue Intel 'Community' that has hijacked the truck that the wheels of justice run on." If America was a truly democratic nation governed by the sanctity of the rule of law, then George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and all their neocon associates would have been prosecuted as war criminals for their roles in the preemptive invasion of Iraq. What's more, the Wall Street criminals responsible for the 2008 financial crisis would have been prosecuted. Biden must be talking about a fictitious democracy he read about somewhere, a quixotic, wished-for paradigm of governance in which the majority of the people decide the fate of the nation, or perhaps he's experiencing a delusional perception of American government he shares with the rest of the criminal class running the show in Washington, an immoral cabal of monied corporate interests that includes Republicans as well as Democrats. What we have in America is not a democracy; it is a corporate-run plutocracy up for sale to the highest bidder, one that a fascist wannabe named Donald Trump attempted to steal out from under the oligarchs with the help of the Republican Party based on a big, boldfaced lie about the 2020 election.
"In American history, the attempt to overturn our election procedures for one man, based on a lie, is unprecedented," wrote Heather Cox Richardson on her Substack blog Letters From An American on July 7, 2021. "As a historian," she told Edward Luce in a July 2021 Financial Times profile, "I can tell you that at no point in America's history has one of the two main parties literally rejected the rules of the game."
When such a thing happens in other countries, dictatorship is the result when the attempt succeeds. The big question for America right now is, what are We, the People going to do about it? This is a watershed moment of reckoning; we either establish a true democracy once and for all, or we continue with business as usual governed by an authoritarian oligarchy with the nation's wealth and power concentrated in the hands of a few "rich white assholes," to borrow Mr. Fish's words, "but we can't have both," as Supreme Court Justice Brandeis famously said so long ago. The situation now is dire and "unprecedented" as Richardson says, because
the prospect of a fascist corporate state looms ominously as the Republican Party attempts to dismantle the very foundations of the Republic envisioned by the Framers. Now is not the time for disingenuous references to the democratic ideal and the president's conciliatory overtures for bipartisanship with a party that supports a former president who maintains, without evidence, that the 2020 election
was rigged in the other party's favor.
Fucked, with a chance of Fascism
On August 8, 2021, I posted the following comment on Heather Cox Richardson's Substack blog, Letters from an American:
In her August 9, 2021 article in The New Yorker about the rich conservatives funding former president Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election, Jane Mayer documents the myriad dirty tricks wealthy, anti-democratic forces such as the Bradley Foundation deploy in their attempts to overthrow what's left of representative democracy in America and maintain the oligarchy's hold on power. It's a grim account of the Trump Republicans' ongoing assault on voting rights and the lies they spread to distort the perceptions of ordinary Americans. "Since the 2020 election," Mayer writes, "this movement has evolved into a broader and more aggressive assault on democracy. According to some surveys, a third of Americans now believe that Biden was illegitimately elected, and nearly half of Trump supporters agree that Republican legislators should overturn the results in some states that Biden won. Jonathan Rauch, of the Brookings Institution, recently told The Economist, 'We need to regard what's happening now as epistemic warfare by some Americans on other Americans.'"
Mayer's valuable piece confirms that we are now indeed on a wartime
footing in our politics in this country, a war started by Trump and his band
of miscreant outliers. By identifying the players and exposing their deceits, including their attempts to falsely blame Biden's immigration policies
for the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, Mayer has performed a valuable service by making it clear who the enemies of democracy are, thus helping lay the groundwork for prosecutors as they work to hold these grifters accountable.
My post on the blog provoked some visceral comments from those who read Mayer's piece. "What a horror," wrote Peter Burnett, "the situation described in painful detail by this article of Jane Mayers's . . . It's vile. It's back to the Weimar Republic and the Nazi backers.(Remember that Nazi racism drew inspiration from Jim Crow America . . . )." Burnett also
called what's happening "a slow-burning coup," and Cathy(W.Michigan) referred to what's going on as a "Cold Civil War." There was also this from Andrea Haynes, who confessed that Mayer's article "was a visceral shock to my whole being: physical and mental. It presents the magnitude of the assault on American democracy paid for by hundreds of dark money organizations . . . all of which are tax exempt non-profits. I am literally shaking. American democracy is truly in danger from the Republican Party. I can now understand why Republican Senator Adam Kinzinger wept when he talked about his reason for joining Pelosi's Select Committee. I feel helpless and hopeless."
But Philip Diehl's mea culpa provided the best assessment of the failure, placing the blame where it truly belongs--on the democrats. "Mayer's article is excellent," he writes, "but the fact is that we, small d-democrats, should have seen the threat decades ago. Kim Philips-Fein's Invisible Hands lays out the foundational story of the anti-democratic movement that grew out of the reactionary response to the New Deal and led to the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, the hard-right politics of Barry Goldwater and to the election of Ronald Reagan. A bold line can then be drawn from Reaganism, to Ginrich, Cheney/Rumsfeld and to Trump. We Democrats, have been arrogant, naive and complacent while the storm gathered around us. Only now are mainstream voices finally recognizing the events of the past year as a coup attempt. It was not an insurrection. It was a multi-part coup attempt, much of it executed in plain sight. January 6th was just its climax."
On June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, Biden published a grandiose op-ed in The Washington Post in which he characterized the upcoming NATO conference as an opportunity for America to "safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of the peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law." It doesn't seem to matter to Biden's speech writers that we haven't yet realized these aspirations here at home. To reemphasize the point, what we have in this country is not a democracy, but more precisely what Lewis Lapham identifies as a "stupefied plutocracy" now led by one of the its most egregious enablers. Like Trump's Big Lie about the election, Biden's rhetorical flights of fantasy only exacerbate the stupefaction. The president's entire political career as a guy willing to play ball with the grifters running the corrupt two-party fiasco that has defined political life in America over the past half century is on the record for all to see, so the question arises, why do people believe the platitudes he incessantly utters about saving democracy and ensuring economic equality?
"For too long, we've allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester," Biden proclaimed recently, "the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there's only one winner. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine. And maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up." This phony presidential renunciation of the fundamental injustice perpetrated by the neoliberal political culture in Washington known as the Swamp, comes out of the mouth of the guy who voted for NAFTA when he was a senator. That betrayal of the working class and his reluctance to use the presidential bully pulpit to eliminate the arcane Senate filibuster rule which made it possible for Republicans to block the majority-backed proposal to launch a bipartisan probe of the January 6 Capitol assault, are actions that diminish the spirit of democracy, not facilitate it.
"Biden is the epitome of the empty, amoral creature produced by our system of legalized bribery," writes Chris Hedges in his May 3, 2021 Scheerpost column. "His long political career in Congress was defined by representing the interests of big business, especially the credit card companies based in Delaware. He was nicknamed Senator Credit Card.
He has always glibly told the public what it wants to hear and then sold them out. He was a prominent promoter and architect of a generation of federal 'tough on crime' laws that helped militarize the nation's police and more than doubled the population of the world's largest prison system with harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines and laws that put people in prison for life for nonviolent drug crimes, even as his son struggled with addiction. He was a principal author of the Patriot Act, which began the stripping away of our most basic civil liberties. And there has never been a weapons system, or a war, he did not support."
"Nothing substantial" will change under Biden, Hedges further reports, certainly not the prospect for a flourishing democracy like the one America experienced when FDR was president. The chance for that to happen went by the wayside when the Democratic National Committee refused to allow Bernie Sander's candidacy. In a political system funded by corporate money that threatens rather than encourages the equal participation of the people, democracy doesn't stand a chance. The corporate-owned media and bought-and-paid for politicians rant and rave about the good old days of the New Deal and Biden's vision to revive it, but it's a charade perpetuated by liars and thieves and the sooner the people realize it and rise up in righteous collective action, the better.
For it's not just democracy that's imperiled; the survival of the planet
we all live on is also at stake. Without cooperative democratic action that confronts the reality of corporate capitalism's threat to the health of the resource base that sustains all life, the end game could be played out in
a violent diaspora and ultimately lead to extinction. The time to re-perceive history as life preserver instead of straight jacket, as Lewis Lapham suggests, is now. What's required is a true democratic government, one elected by the majority of the people and run by men and women who honor their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution and tell the truth. It's also time to raise awareness about the history of the people's struggle for freedom and equality in this country which is now repressed by the forces of extreme partisanship and corporate control. In short, we must revive the spirit of citizen protest and stand in solidarity for "democratic governance," as Dennis Kucinich puts it. "I think there's another America waiting to be evoked," Kucinich said in a recent Useful Idiots Interview with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper, "and part of it is an America that is not partisan, that is not saying that the fount of all truth, love, and mercy rests in one political party or the other."
Kucinich's vision is antithetical to what we have in place now, which is governance by grift, conspiracy theory and political and media gaslighting. What's needed is law and policy making based on verifiable facts, which are not as Ronald Reagan once quipped, "stupid things." What we're dealing with now in the aftermath of the Trump administration is a legacy of denial that nearly destroyed the government. "Trumpism is "grievance, above all else," Naval Academy honors graduate and former Marine infantry platoon commander Gary Lawson told The New Yorker reporter Paige Williams in an article about Veterans for Responsible Leadership. "It's denial of rational, analytical thought such as seeking out evidence, vetting that evidence, and coming to rational conclusions. If we cannot get our arms around that, it's really hard to see how we can bring the country back again."
In the interview with Taibbi and Halper, Kucinich went on to say, quoting the famous Scripps Howard motto, "'Give light, and the people will find their way.' Well, our politics now is more about smoke and mirrors than light, and the people are left to develop their own sense about what's happening and there's a lot of confusion right now, but I think the Polestar of American politics is the ability of people to find a common ground about what their practical aspirations are."
It's doubtful that the narrow aspirations of the equestrian class to increase their already obscene levels of wealth would qualify as common ground for the majority of Americans. Global warming and the health of the planet would be more likely candidates given the fact that unbridled capitalism has turned the earth into a consumption gulag instead of a Garden of Eden. "Accepting of the fact that whereas democracy puts a premium on equality, a capitalist economy does not," writes Lewis Lapham," the founders designed a contrivance to accommodate the motions of the heart as well as the movements of a market. The constitution joined the life of our organism with the strength of a mechanism, offering a warranty of its worth the charter of men capable of caring for such a thing as a res publica, attentively benign landlords presumably relieved of the necessity to cheat and steal and lie."
But before we can create a new reality for ourselves after the trauma caused by Trumpian landlords who were not relieved of such necessities,
we have to grieve. Chris Hedges, another journalist who respects the truth, eloquently states the case in his Truthdig essay American Psychosis, in which he describes Trump's psychotic assault on reality as president. "To recover our mental balance," he writes in part,"we must respond to Trump the way victims of trauma respond to abuse. We must build communities where we can find understanding and solidarity. We must allow ourselves to mourn. We must name the psychosis that afflicts us. We must carry out acts of civil disobedience and steadfast defiance to re-empower others and ourselves."
The stakes are high. With an "undemocratic" Supreme Court stacked with conservatives, a Republican congressional faction that pays its obstructive fealty to the illegitimate Trump in its relentless assault on democracy, the Democratic Party has no path to legitimacy other than to abandon its complicity in plutocratic governance and take a stand for freedom and justice. When Mitch McConnell says "one hundred percent"of his Party's focus is on stopping the Biden administration dead in its tracks, the Democrats must put one hundred percent of their focus on upholding the rule of law, ensuring free elections, and perhaps in the process, becoming once again the Party of the People. Otherwise, we have a democracy in name only, without meaningful substance and the Republic that Ben Franklin challenged us to keep remains at risk of perishing in catastrophic ruin.
Representative John Lewis's famous clarion call for justice to "Find
a way to make a way of no way," appears to be impossible in the context
of America's two-party system as now assembled in Washington, D.C.,
a "Swamp" of corporate shills and racist factions led by corrupt power brokers more interested in enriching themselves than in promoting the common welfare, the mission they took a sacred oath to accomplish. The situation looks bleak, but fortunately Thomas Jefferson and the other framers offered a beacon fo light to help us navigate the sea of darkness and despair now threatening to engulf us--the Declaration of Independence, in which they articulated the very essence of what it means to be an American. It now appears to be the time to exercise some of those "Unalienable Rights" Jefferson wrote about and abolish the destructive, plutocratic form of government that has risen in America and to institute a new government that fulfills the promises of the Constitution--"to promote the general welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." If not now, in this perilous time of enslavement by corporatism and racist abuse, when?
If we had a functioning democracy in America these rallying calls wouldn't be necessary and we could start today and get Biden's "build-back-better" ball rolling for real by ending all of the Empire's "forever wars," not just the clusterfuck in Afghanistan, and putting the savings to work on getting our house in order right here at home. Real/Action.org co-founder Jeff Cohen spells out an initial action plan, that if implemented, would make a decisive difference. "On human rights," says Cohen on ScheerPost.com, "lets cut the U.S. military budget in half, and provide things that other advanced countries already have: universal healthcare and free or near-free higher education. Let's invest billions of dollars in poor and working-class communities, and end the horrors of mass incarceration. Let's cancel the student debt that burdens 45 million people--and, at long last, seriously tax U.S. oligarchs and corporations to pay for these investments (and perhaps worry less about sanctioning Russian oligarchs.)"
In her July 20, 2021 Substack blog Letters from an American, refuting TV pundit Brian Kilmeade's statement on Fox & Friends that it's not the government's job to protect the population from the pandemic, Heather Cox Richardson quoted the preamble to the Constitution, pointing out "It is, of course, literally the job of the government to protect us." She then went on to explain how today's conflict about the role of government in American society evolved from the days of FDR's New Deal through the Eisenhower years of "liberal consensus," to the period of reactionary Republican rejection of Constitutional democracy that's dominated national politics since the Reagan administration. Richardson makes the case that government is the answer, not the problem as Republicans proclaim, but it must be the right kind of government, namely an economic democracy, "of the People, by the People and for the People," which as Thomas Frank points out in The People, NO, "is the only real answer to plutocracy . . . a mass movement of ordinary working people, hailing from all different backgrounds, brought together by a common desire to dismantle the forces that make their toil so profitless and to figure out how they might gain control over their lives."
What president Franklin D. Roosevelt said in a speech at the Democratic convention in 1936, applies to the class war raging in America today. "It is not alone a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization." the president stated. "It is more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy. We are fighting to save a great and precious form of government for ourselves and for the world."
It was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, who said over a century ago that "The ballot is stronger than the bullet" and today the renegade Trump Republicans have taken the Great Emancipator's point to heart in their frantic efforts to suppress the vote and weaken the foundations of democracy and the rule of law with their gaslighting and manipulation of the structures of democratic power. It remains to be seen how history will judge their cowardly maneuvers, but they should be aware that if they fail, and I pray that they will, the consequences of their actions will be harsh. For it was Lincoln who also said, "We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."
POWER TO THE PEOPLE!