Monday, January 16, 2006

What has happened to America?

Over the last 25 years, Republicans have gained control of most major American institutions. This kind of concentration of power has moved the country dangerously close to an authoritarian regime not unlike those of the countries over which we prevailed in two world wars and numerous other armed conflicts.

The nation founded on so many freedoms, to which tens of millions immigrants were drawn by the promise symbolized by the Statue of Liberty and memorialized in our Constitution, now careens towards a fascist state where ethically challenged leaders emboldened by their morally challenged lawyers assume powers not granted them. They impose limitless authority over their citizenry and demand unquestioned loyalty from all. America is now country in which opposing views are squelched, patriotism and loyalty are questioned and acts of dissent are labeled as treason.

Where truths were once held to be self-evident, they have become like shapeless sand constantly morphed by the blowing winds and shifting seas. The bewilderment of dogma trumps the logic of science. Tenets and principles upon which this nation was founded - such as Freedom of Speech, and the Separation of Church and State - are now subject to tortuous new interpretation. Laws, treaties and basic human rights - concepts that have governed us in peacetime and in wartime for over two-hundred years - are scrapped. Even new statutes designed to limit and constrain the unchecked authority of the government are shunted aside with the stroke of a pen on a Presidential Signing Statement.

Power is now controlled by a theocratic single-party monopoly that seeks as its stated objective permanent majority status in this country. To wit:

· In the United States government, Republicans now occupy the White House, command a significant majority in the House and Senate, and hold seven of nine seats on the Supreme Court. Redistricting schemes, election irregularities and lax campaign financing laws created and perpetuated by Republicans all conspire to thwart the candidacies of Democratic opponents.

· In the federal judiciary, Republican appointees far exceed Democrats by virtue of the GOP having won six of the last eight Presidential elections.

· In lobbying, special interest groups most likely to gain access to power are overwhelmingly Republican, due to the K Street project organized by Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay that virtually eliminated any Democrats from having influence in government affairs.

· In state government, Republicans control the majority of statehouses, legislatures, governor’s mansions and the offices of state Attorneys General.

· In the media, leading radio talk show hosts and pundits are overwhelmingly Republican. Ultra-conservative FOX News dominates the cable TV landscape with coverage that is unapologetically neither fair nor balanced. Major cities like New York and Washington have newspapers such as the NY Post and The Washington Times that have an unabashedly conservative bias. Conservative authors and publishers churn out factually-challenged non-fiction titles like “Slander”, “Treason”, “Women who Make the World Worse”, “The Truth About Hillary” and “100 People Who are Screwing Up America” that top the charts even after their lies, smears and character assassinations are debunked.

· In churches, Christian religious leaders now come down squarely in favor of Republicans, and those that have made the leap from the pulpit to the airwaves - most notably Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell - only further the far-right’s domination of the media.

· In business, corporate leaders and their advocacy groups overwhelmingly endorse conservative Republican candidates and the policy positions they espouse.

The net result of this imbalance of power has been as potent as it was predictable, for as it has been said, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The president maintains that in a time of war, there should be no limits on his authority, effectively granting him an imperial presidency. That twisted reasoning is what led to the prolonged imprisonment of “unlawful enemy combatants”, the abuses of detainees in foreign prisons, legalized torture policies, and the warrantless domestic spying program.

In addition, congressmen brazenly engage in the kind of conduct and expose themselves to the kind of dishonor that once led to removal from office but now barely merit an inquiry of their peers and colleagues. No wonder they are now considered among the least trustworthy and most corrupt of any group in society.

Powerful corporate special interests groups that act on behalf of gun manufacturers, oil companies, banks and investment firms now control the legislative agenda and people who don't have paid lobbyists like Jack Abramoff don't have a voice. Former lawmakers and other senior government officials routinely pass through the Washington revolving door and become advocates for commercial interests seeking to influence government. Upon leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft opened a lobbying practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology. Within than three months of registering as a lobbyist, Ashcroft banked at least $269,000 from just four companies hoping to benefit from the sometimes-controversial policies he promoted while in office.

Journalists, once typified by the inestimable Edward R. Murrow and the intrepid Woodward & Bernstein, have become models of how to abuse the public trust. Subjectivity has subverted objectivity. Demagoguery has trumped debate. Not long ago held in high regard for their impartiality, today’s media mavens now foist upon the American people the kind of regurgitated misinformation that would have made the editors of Tass and Pravda proud.

The scene of a religious leader exposed, humiliated and defrocked has become so common as to be caricature. As has the picture of a downfallen CEO – having amassed a fortune by manipulating his company’s stock price, limiting employee benefits, cutting retiree pensions, and shamelessly looting the company coffers to fuel an egregiously profligate lifestyle – doing the perp walk just before losing everything he ever owned.

Sadly but not surprisingly, all of this has meant a near complete erosion of public confidence in the institutions that make up the seams of the fabric our society. If this erosion continues unabated, it is not hard to envision an anarchic social order, a nation not of laws but of men. Men who would try to impose their strict constructionist vision of a morality system where the rights of the many - such as the poor and the weak - are sacrificed for the rights of the few, the wealthy and the privileged. We can not let that happen.

Lady Liberty’s light is strong and still shines brightly as a beacon to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But the freedoms for which she stands - freedoms that have long withstood the attack of despots from without - are now under assault by tyrants from within. As the New York Times stated in a recent editorial, “Nothing in the national consensus to combat terrorism after 9/11 envisioned the unilateral rewriting of more than 200 years of tradition and law by one president embarked on an ideological crusade.”

Our choice is clear: liberty or repression. Freedom or subjugation. The rule of law or the will of men. We must change the course of government and put and end to Republican totalitarianism before there is no country left to defend. If you don’t vote Democratic in the next election, you will get the government - and the America - you deserve.


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