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American democracy is our country’s best kept secret. It's the rose that grew out of political oppression and economic greed.
Most Americans don't know that and, mistakenly, hold it in contempt.
American democracy since its birth threatened to restrict the exorbitant political and economic power some people craved. So there was a plot to bamboozle unwitting individuals into thinking that American democracy is responsible for all the corruption we see in our country.
To the contrary, American democracy is the last thing corrupt politicians and demagogues, military-industrial complexes, or wealthy CEOs and big corporations want everyday Americans to get their hands on. Their strategy is simple. Keep people away from the polls. If that fails, influence who people will vote for, by pouring money into campaigns to either work for or against certain political actors. Yes, my fellow American citizens, American democracy is your best friend.
What is American Democracy?
American democracy is a Great Idea. And, it is also a great work in progress. The project officially started when the drafting of the Declaration of Independence commenced. The Declaration stated some of the most commendable standards of human civilization.
Two key principles underscore the noble standards in the Declaration and the emergence of American democracy.
The first is, all human beings should have the basic political and economic conditions necessary for an equal opportunity to pursue the good life, or better a happy life! And the second principle is, the purpose of government is to secure and protect such conditions, within a society. There is an extra point to add about government. It should consist of and be administered by the people it governs. All of this is expressed in the second paragraph of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .”
In short, the founding scripture of American democracy insists that people should be free and guaranteed the political liberty to do as they please, as long as their actions don’t harm or deprive others. (This was also the foundation for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.)
As a result, in the 19C, the United States of America became the country that was known for honoring, above all countries, individual political and economic rights. One would think that means all individuals would have the right to influence and participate in the politics and economic processes of their society; and that people should have the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to participate hold a position in government. And let’s not forget the right to partake in the market of public goods and services, in which individuals would be hired and receive the same pay for the same work, regardless of color, gender, or ethnicity, or religion.
Are these rights available to every American citizen right now? Not really. Some of them were fought for over a couple of centuries are still contested.
Obviously, the intention of the Declaration’s rhetoric was skewed. The late American philosopher and educator Mortimer J. Adler, who loved his American country dearly had to confessed as late as 1977: “In most cases—most notably, perhaps, in the United States—the discrepancy between democracy on paper and democracy in practice was vast at the beginning and has nowhere yet become negligible.” (Haves Without Have-Nots)
What went wrong?
Were the venerable words in the Declaration ignored or misread? Not at all. They were doubled-crossed.
Someone exploited the Declaration and the other chapters of the American Testament to serve his own purposes. Whoever he was, and we know it was a “he,” stripped the universality of “all men” to mean only white men—not even “white” women or black “men.” That is part of what many regard as America’s original sins. Sins against what? Against American democracy. Please note racism, bigotry and sexism are not the only sins. Another is the monopoly of capital and labor. (I will return to these in a future post.)
Here, I want to call your attention to a critical distinction that we must remember to make.
There’s a difference between American democracy and the sins committed in its name—what Malcolm X considers an American hypocrisy. When Malcolm X said, “in America, democracy is an hypocrisy,” he was saying the people who professed to be democratic American citizens were behaving in a manner consistent with the meaning of the term “democracy.” In other words, many Americans were not being “true” to the avowed democratic ideals of the Declaration. So as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “all we say to America, be true to what you said on paper.”
The words on the “paper”—the Declaration of Independence—are in fact the measure of American democracy. Therefore, the problem is not American democracy. The problem is that we don’t really have American democracy.
What’s in the way of American Democracy? And, what needs to be done?
Most of the problems plaguing the USA come from the neglect of American democracy basic principles.
In his litany of the injustices the people of the United States experienced--A People’s History of the United States—the late historian Howard Zinn explains how America has been exploited. For Zinn, America is a system. Not just any system it “is the most ingenious system of control in world history.” Zinn also describes America is a conniving a scheme—a bag of tricks that allow the few to exploit the many by keeping fusing with each other and cajoling the middle class with respectable and powerful career opportunities and financial incentives to maintain the status quo of the capitalist, acquisitive society that serves the 1%.
Zinn explained: “There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, lee-ways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media—none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty."
Interestingly, Zinn also acknowledged that the so-called American scheme he observed is not foolproof. He writes: “The scheme never worked perfectly. The Revolution and the Constitution, trying to bring stability by containing the class angers of the colonial period—while enslaving blacks, annihilating or displacing Indians—did not quite succeed, judging by the tenant uprisings, the slave revolts, the abolitionist agitation, the feminist upsurge, the Indian guerrilla warfare of the pre-Civil War years."
Indeed, even one of the most censorious critics of America admitted that the political and economic cons in America have been unsuccessful maintaining a firm grip.
Like Zinn, I see that the American scheme cannot beguile and oppress Americans for too long. I see more people recognizing and protecting the great ideals and great principles of freedom, equality, respect and compassion. I see relentless roses of American democracy growing from a concrete of wealth and chicanery.
What are these roses of American democracy telling Americans?
In spite of all the political shenanigans, economic collusion, and the various ideological, religious and cultural skirmishes we witness on a daily basis, the political and economic DNA of the United States is actually wired to provide her citizens with “liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness.” But her development is stymied.
Let's put it like this: American democracy reflects the better nature of our humanity and is under constant pressure from our selfish natures. It needs our help to develop more fully in order to provide the society we deserve. Our challenge is to not confuse American schemes for American democracy. That is, don't confuse government with certain individuals who exploit their positions.
Although not perfect, there are many hard-working and honorable citizens in our government strengthening American democracy. Look for them, encourage them, and vote for them.
Don't sell American democracy short.
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This post was last edited on 3/22/2017.
All Rights Reserved Copyright 2018 Kasaun E. Henry