Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Answer to American Troubles - By Kirkpatrick Sale

Now that we see that Donald Trump is going to abandon the platform on which he won his election, and return the Republican Party to its establishmentarian—globalist, neo-conservative—ways, we are once again given proof of the fundamental loss of citizenship in this nation.
The people, the supposed citizens—even those who vote—have no real influence over the candidates they put in office.  It is for certain that they elected Trump with the idea that he would keep us out of foreign wars, maybe even out of NATO and Japan,  that he would get rid of Obamacare (and no one said he had to fix it), that he would abolish the Ex-Im Bank, that he would in short undo the longstanding  establishmentarian power that was so hated in the land.  But now it seems he is dropping these sorts of things that Steve Bannon was directing him to—and maybe Bannon himself—and instead following the conventional dictates of the 3M’s—McMaster, Mattis, and Mnuchin—and his Democrat son-in-law Jared Kushner.  Take that, voters!
And  they always do.  Obama was going to usher in a post-racial America and instead provided us with more racial confrontation and tension than any time since the 1960s.  And he took countless actions for which he had no mandate, acting on his own whim and egged on by the left-liberal crowd he assembled around  him.  He continued our futile, and expensive, involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan that the vast majority of people wanted done with, and he got us into catastrophic wars in Libya, Yemen, and Somalia all on his own without the required Congressional acts of war.  He eve took to sending drone strikes around the world, without any authorization, even murdering by drone an American citizen never accused or convicted of a crime–without seeking any authorization by us or our representatives.
Robert Paul Wolff, a political philosopher most recently at the University of Massachusetts, analyzed it this way a few years ago:
Since World War II, governments have increasingly divorced them­selves from anything which could be called the will of the people. The complexity of the issues, the necessity of technical knowledge, and most important, the secrecy of everything having to do with national security, have conspired to attenuate the representative function of elected officials until a point has been reached which might be called political stewardship, or, after Plato, “elective guardianship.” . . .
Men cannot meaningfully be called free if their representatives vote independently of their wishes, or when laws are passed concerning issues which they are not able to understand. Nor can men be called free who are subject to secret decisions, based on secret data, having unannounced consequences for their well-being and their very lives.
The simple fact is that in a system as large as ours it is essential that the individual not have a regular voice in political affairs. To allow each of 325 million people, or even the 235 million over 18, to participate in politics in a serious way would simply be too unwieldy, too chaotic; not even the wildest of technofix schemes of telephone voting and computer tallying could solve the sheer logistical problems if every person were to behave as, for example the Greek citizen of Periclean Athens, demand­ing to know the issues of the day, judging them, debating them, determining which were capable of being effected and when and how and by whom.
But not being able to participate has its terrible price. No wonder we feel so apathetic about voting: we cannot much change the affairs of the nation, so the meager act of voting hardly carries much weight. The percentage of voters in the U.S. is the smallest in the industrial world,  only rarely above 50 per cent of eligible citizens and then only in presidential elections. Since 1972 turnout has never been above 57 per cent in presidential elections and averages about 53 per cent, and in off-year elections never above 37 per cent and averages about 35.
The fact is we do not understand ourselves publicly, as public beings, as real citizens, nor could we be permitted to; we do not have public duties and public rights and public responsibilities of any meaning; there is nothing in our extended system that binds us as individuals to the public weal as there is in truly democratic societies.
We have sacrificed our citizenship to bigness, slowly over the decades—more rapidly in the last half-century but still slowly enough so that we have hardly been aware that it is gone—so it is not surprising that we do not have the interests, the attitudes, of citizens. Thus we do not  pay taxes voluntarily—individuals evade an estimated $500 billion and some $2 trillion income goes unreported (I.R.S. 2008 figures). We do not always support our government in time of war, and in the most recent wars not for very many years. We do not obey its laws by habit but by force, and a great many of the most highly placed people both in government and business, including even our Presidents and our representatives and the executives of the largest firms, are regularly and increasingly seen to be disobeying these laws.
It is the loss of citizenship, a malaise that is poisoning our society.  I do not think that any nation has long survived under such conditions.
There is an alternative, of course.  Scrap the nation and devolve power to the states where, in the minds of the founding fathers, it was supposed to be. Then we could be citizens again.
Kirkpatrick Sale [send him mail] is the author of 12 books of political and ecological themes, including Students for a Democratic Society (1972). He lives in South Carolina.
Copyright © 2017 Kirkpatrick Sale
Previous article by Kirkpatrick Sale: Bull in the China Shop