These are dark times we live in. Intractable political polarization that prevents inherently messy democratic institutions and processes from functioning, elections of leaders seemingly at risk of massive manipulation and systemic corruption, and an international order fraying at the seams under the weight of globalization, immigration, and an increasingly fragile environment incapable of absorbing an expanding population.
The chasm between rich and poor is exponentially expanding while countries, tribes, religious sects, and cultural differences threaten to destabilize an already tenuous balance under withering assault from planetary climate change, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and changing alliances.
Juxtapose this with the pathetic state of affairs within the United States and it is enough to wonder why we get out of bed in the morning. We have a President who is singularly incapable of handling the complexities that come with running the most powerful government in the world, and is so steeped in existential and potential conflicts of interest, both financial and political, that it is severely testing the democratic fiber that has held the country together for two and a half centuries.
We have a populace that is so genuinely frustrated and angry with the pace and direction of change that has thrust itself upon a virtual island of self-sufficiency and so wary of the response its leaders and institutions have offered to cope with such change that it is reacting with irrationality that borders upon self destruction. The nonstop soap opera that is a Republican monopoly over the legislative and executive branches unable to get out of its own way only adds fuel to the fire, while at the same time exacerbating further anger and frustration.
Whether you believe the Russian investigation into interference with our electoral system and/or possible collusion by the Trump campaign in such interference and/or a growing cover-up of illegalities through obstruction of justice is either real or an illusion, there can be little doubt that it has taken focus away from any concrete remedies to a system in hopeless dysfunction. Yet we now stand poised to widen the gulf that separates hope from despair.
Let me focus upon three items that are current which should give us some real pause for concern:
First, we have just endured the most expensive Congressional election in American history in Georgia. The special election to fill a Republican seat in the deep south saw a young upstart Democrat, 30-year old Jon Ossoff, take on a former Republican Secretary of State in a district that went for the previous Republican by 24 points. The staggering cost of the Democratic challenge will approach $25 million, yet Ossoff lost last night by 4 points. Some would argue this is a significant sign that there is dissatisfaction with the Trump agenda that could play out in the upcoming Congressional elections next year. Others would argue that it is a move in the right direction but a loss nevertheless. If this were a referendum on Trump then Trump won. If this is a sign that the country is slowly turning away from Trump then the pace at which that is happening will surely render considerable damage in the meantime.
Investigative reporter Greg Palast, who is currently touring the documentary The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, and has just returned from the Georgia district argues that a systemic voter suppression effort that has taken hold in a majority of states preordains that races such as this one are hopeless regardless of the amount of money raised and spent. Until we address this issue we are merely spinning our wheels when it comes to representing the true will of the voters, all the voters. This also goes a long way to explaining the upset victory which handed the keys to the store to the real estate magnate last November. Quite simply, we as a society must come to grips with the notion of whether or not we want to encourage or discourage mass participation of legal voters. As of this writing, voter suppression is alive and well in many states.
Second, we are on the precipice of seeing massive health care reform that will essentially remove in excess of 20 million people from the ranks of the insured. It will also put into place a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class citizens to the most outrageously wealthy among us. This travesty is being shepherded through the United States Senate without the benefit of hearings or any degree of transparency that will educate either the people or their elected officials as to the dramatic consequences it will visit upon them. People will most assuredly lose coverage, pay more, and to be blunt simply die because of this unconscionable policy heist. Worse yet, it is being pushed by an Administration that has little or no concern for the specifics of the policy changes being proposed. In a blatantly political calculation their primary concerns are to simultaneously gut Obama’s signature policy accomplishment and pave the way for a massive transfer of wealth to the wealthiest Americans.The intense level of secrecy under which this distorted process is proceeding is not the way our government was either conceived of working or has worked in practice. We are virtually prepared to sacrifice Constitutional process for the sake of political expediency. Political party trumps patriotism.
Third, we continue to witness excessive force used by law enforcement with little or no consequence for justice. The recent killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota for the crime of driving while black is caught on tape, and in excruciating detail he is executed in front of his girlfriend and a five year old child because the officer basically lost his cool. Mr. Castile did everything the way he was supposed to do it. He told the officer there was a weapon in the automobile, he was respectful, he reached for his wallet and was shot to death in the seat of his car. The officer was acquitted. My simple plea is for someone to watch the tape and tell me exactly what in the world was the victim supposed to have done? Either the jury was guilty of institutional racism or the law is significantly flawed, either way justice was not served. Too many incidents over the past several years bear witness to the fact that blacks are being murdered merely because of their skin color. Racism continues to be the stubborn thorn in the side of our criminal justice, incarceration, education, and economic systems well into the 21st century.
These are dark times indeed, and the systemic dysfunction built into our government, legislative, and legal systems is in need of a massive reevaluation and overhaul. Unless there are elected officials willing to tackle the systematic inadequacies of our democracy we are destined to lose our standing within the international community as a beacon of justice and freedom. But more importantly we will continue to see a populace so disenchanted with our own collective sense of justice and freedom that we will continue a downward slide into irrelevancy as the leader of the free world. That path leads us into unknown and uncharted territory which I fear has already begun.
Who is willing to stand up and be heard? Who will tackle these larger issues? Time is running short.