There is little doubt that the greatest casualty of the sustained assault on our democracy over the last thirty years or so has been the American middle class. Suffering through a sustained period of attrition as membership has been pushed both down and out by the relentless efficiency gains and rent seeking imposed by the owners of capital and production, to still find oneself situated between the poor and the rich has darkened from dream to nightmare. But this itself is a mere symptom of an even greater tragedy: the abject loss of faith in the social institutions and rule of law necessary for a healthy representative government.
With the exception of a few blogs and marginalized protest groups, it is nearly impossible to find an august institution of social significance that has not been subverted and converted by the relentless pull of money and power. Whether the unabashedly open revolving door between business and government, the writing of laws by special interest groups behind closed doors, the capture of regulating agencies by the industries they oversee, the covert funding of supposedly independent research institutions by industries profiting from the results, the ownership of the “free” media by corporate conglomerates and billionaires, the perversion of the legal system by special interests, and the undemocratic gerrymandering of the permanent ownership of governing seats by our political parties, it is easy to understand why the masses are losing faith in the system. Yet, such is the resilience of our democracy that even now, the people can still voice their concerns, and be heard.
That voice, though, has become increasingly hoarse and ineffectual as of late. When a government based on a representative democracy allows millions of its citizens to struggle in hopeless poverty while enforcing the rights of the wealthy few, when it confers to cold money the same power as warm beings the right to select the country’s leadership, when it allows the open and recorded theft of trillions from the public treasury while punishing those most harmed by it, when it openly spies on the people in the name of terror – mostly in the service of self-preservation – without regard to the chilling effect on free speech, indeed, when it seeks to clandestinely infiltrate legal congregations of political protest in the name of antiterrorism, when it harshly punishes those (and those close to them) who seek to expose to the people what is being done in their name both for and against them, and when it can do all of these things and more without fear of retribution from the masses, then whose voice is really being heard?
It is the subject of some fascination how the moneyed few have been able to turn a government expressly by the people and for the people to their own narrow ends. America was arguably at its best when it serviced the needs of a robust middle class. After all, even the wealthy benefitted from an economy derived from the meritorious advancement of those born to a lower social class. That our new rulers were successfully able to convince the people to continually vote for so long and so deeply against their own interests is a wonder of the modern bloodless coup.
One can almost certainly lay the blame for this at the feet of our somewhat strictly enforced two-party political system. For in this, as in many other things, America is a divided nation: the Liberals and the Conservatives; the Doves and the Hawks; the Secular and the Devout; the Tolerant and the Intolerant; the Governed and the Ruled; all of which are loosely grouped into the Left and the Right, or what one might call the politization of the darkest and most dangerous undercurrents of polarized tribalism most notably recognized as us vs. them.
What better way to guide the results of the electoral process than to couple us vs. them with the ability to gerrymander the permanent ownership of governing seats such that we will always win instead of them, even if we are the minority? What better way to ensure control than to insert candidates specially groomed to look more like us than them, even if they serve another master, because we will always vote for us over them? What better way for our aristocracy-in-all-but-name to enshrine themselves in the cloak of validity than to be that other master? It would appear that even in a representative democracy, Machiavelli has the last laugh.
Is it such a mystery, then, how a country of some 300 million can be controlled by so few without fear of retribution? Is it such a mystery why the focus of our elected government is so seemingly out of alignment with the wishes of the vast majority? Is it such a mystery why the engaged citizens upon which representative government depends are walking away in disenfranchised disgust? Is it such a mystery to determine who the government now openly represents, and how it became this way?
Thus lies exposed the existential crossroads of this America Your America; for if this is to be your America, then it has to be our America: beyond race, beyond class, beyond creed, beyond faith, beyond fear, beyond tribalism, beyond patriotism, beyond the principled adherence to dogma, beyond us, and beyond them. Beyond America Your America, and into America Our America; perhaps still in God we trust, but more importantly, a return to out of many, one.