I got into an argument about democracy with a co-worker the other day. He said that our form of government was always and necessarily better than any other devised by mankind. I said that I was not sure that this had to be true. That was either sacrilege or heresy to him, I don't know which, but he thought it very bad of me.
I argued that he was arguing about form and not about substance. He argued that representative democracy was the only hope of mankind. I countered that a representative democracy that was for sale to the highest bidder owed allegiance to neither liberty nor justice and in fact would inevitably dissolve into tyranny the equal of any despot. In order to be free and to be at liberty, people need choices. What choices does the average American have? There is such a thing as political oppression and there is such a thing as economic oppression. In this country about a third of the people can't afford to take their sick child to the hospital, while another 10 percent of the people can afford just about any kind of catastrophic health expense - this is oppression. Almost half of the American people are a couple of paychecks from being homeless, while 10 percent of the people have more homes than they can ever use - this is oppression. People on the bottom of the economy are five times more likely to spend a significant amount of their adult life in jail, guilty or not, while people on the top can do practically anything with impunity - this is not justice.
When the United States went into Iraq and Afghanistan, they were no different than the Germans going into Czechoslovakia and Poland at the start of WWII. We're a representative democracy, and so was Germany until the Reichstag burned. Some would argue that 9/11 was our Reichstag - certainly we have as few guaranteed human rights as any ordinary citizen in Hitler's Germany. There is no cleansing effect of democracy on crimes against humanity. When you kill a few hundred thousand people to advance your national goals, history has a perfect right to judge you harshly, regardless of the form of government you adopt. What we did in Central America during the Reagan administration was a campaign of terror that was very similar to the campaign of terror perpetrated by the Nazis in Hungary and Romania. The fact that Ronald Reagan was a kindly old gent who smiled a lot and behaved well before the cameras did nothing to improve the infamous deeds of the men in his employ who murdered Archbishop Romero.
A nation, a people who believe in democracy and self-determination sincerely do not support tyrants because they do what we tell them to do, nor do they support the overthrow of disobedient tyrants because they can make a huge profit on the deal. People who believe in freedom and liberty want it as much for other people as they want it for themselves. And they work to make it happen - they don't just talk about it with good sounding rhetoric as they keep on cashing the checks.
We have proved more or less conclusively that in our allegedly representative government there is no such thing as accountability - people like Bush and Cheney can commit all manner of crimes without a hint of any threat of a consequence. That being said, what's the difference between an appointed despot and an elected one, especially when there are so many prudent reasons to doubt the integrity of our electoral process? The only benefit seems to me that you get a different bunch of thieves in power every now and again.
In truth, I suppose that our government is only a reflection of our society, so I should not be surprised when it displays every sin and perversion of our globally sick and suicidal society. If our leaders are crap, it's just because that is the only thing that floats to the top of such a mess - which is a pity, because we could do so much better with people of true vision and conviction at the helm. It would be great if we could all take an oar to the ship of state, but I fear this ship has way too much ballast and is sailing far too close to the rocks. We showed great promise. It's a shame we turned into a pale reflection of the glory that was Rome - just another empire of denial.
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