Episode 23 – The Three Greatest Threats to American Democracy

Welcome Friends, Neighbors and people everywhere. This is your host, Michael Nunes.

Welcome to the Twenty-Third episode of my podcast, The Power of Three. I want to help show you how harnessing the Power of Three can lead to a more fulfilling life, a life that celebrates our differences and our similarities, and accepts that we are part of the great web of life.

In this episode, I will discuss the greatest current threats to American democracy. There are so many current threats to democracy. It sometimes appears as though the entire system is under sustained attack from within and outside the country. People believe that many different threats are important. I believe that they can be broadly grouped into three areas; Firstly, corruption of the political process, Secondly, attacks on democratic institutions and finally apathy. I will discuss each in turn.

I believe that the corruption of the political process has a powerful effect on the people. Citizens United was a ruling that allowed unrestricted funds to flow into political coffers. This was done in the name of free speech. The consequences of this action resulted in a strong censorship of free speech. Allowing money to flow into politics at this rate allows the wealthy to manipulate the political process by buying power. It bears some resemblance to the buying of indulgences in the Catholic Church a few centuries ago. It corrupts the political process.

Calling it free speech is to twist the term. It is paid speech, speech that the average person cannot afford. Even if people were to band together, there is far more collective wealth among the wealthy than in the rest of the nation combined. This creates an effective barrier to entry that violates the democratic spirit. The relative power of any single person in a democracy ought to be the same, regardless of wealth. The average individual cannot afford to place advertising in support of a candidate. This allows corporations and wealthy individuals to dominate politics. The hair-splitting argument that some use, that they only support candidates with a given position is spurious. The net result is the same whether they pay a politician for influence or select politicians based on their views.

If as much money were flowing into elections in developing countries, we would call it corruption. It is no different here. Clearly, with the financing of elections comes an obligation to donors. There is no other reason for financing elections.

Allied to corruption is the increase in gerrymandering of voting districts. This allows politicians to choose their voters and ensures that they remain in office. Electoral districts should be drawn by independent, non-profit, non-partisan organizations. Any interference ought to be punished under law.

Militarism is another form of corruption. Politicians pour money into military projects that have little to do with protecting or defending the nation. Corporations make enormous profits from questionable expenditures. We are not at war, despite what some politicians say. Terrorism is not an existential threat. There is no justification for massive expenditures.

The second threat to democracy is the attacking of democratic institutions. The current president does this with total disregard for the traditions of democracy.

For instance, the unwarranted attacks on the media undermine one of the pillars of democracy. The fact that media is critical is no reason to attack it. Some parts of the press are doing precisely what they should be doing, which is holding those in power to account. The press is there to ensure transparency. Every dictator starts by shutting down the voice of the people. In Trump’s case, he casts enough doubt on the press that people lose trust in what they read.

The president has characterized the press as the enemy of the people. He uses words like fake, or dishonest. Many people come to see the press as the enemy. At some point, this may lead to violence against reporters. A free press is not a choice in a functioning democracy. At least 44% of Americans now believe that the press prints false stories about the president. He is accelerating the process of distrust in democratic institutions.

The attacks to the First Amendment go much further than this. The denigration of the press may well lead to censorship at some point. An attack on the right to protest is also under threat. Some states want to make protest a crime. Some states have even gone so far as to say that drivers of vehicles that kill protesters are exempt from prosecution. It is true that some protesters may be violent. The majority of protesters are only expressing their right to free speech and are not intent on harm.

Another threat to democratic institutions is the attack on voting rights. Many states cut back on voting hours and the number of polling stations. They insist on using IDs to vote, which for many people are not attainable. They exclude certain people from the vote, often people who do have a vested interest in the outcome. Anyone contributing to and participating in society ought to have the right to vote. We ought to be extending the vote, not discouraging it. In Australia, voting is mandatory for all citizens. As a result, more than 70% of eligible voters do vote.

The idea that four hundred thousand potential voters in Alaska should have the same weight as the 40 million potential voters in California is likewise a travesty of democratic norms. Even with the constitutionality of each state having two senators, the he disparity deprives the majority of people in one state of any effective representation. This is profoundly undemocratic and amounts to a dictatorship of the minority.

Another threat to the political process is the propensity of the President to lie. He twists the facts to whatever he believes they should be. He believes, too, that as president he has unlimited to power to enact any executive order he pleases. This effectively bypasses Congress. While a president may issue such directives, the country cannot be run entirely in this way. Then it becomes a dictatorship.

Encouraging distrust in democratic institutions ultimately undermines democracy. This creates national instability. The result is that it becomes increasingly easy for a dictator to gain power, or for the nation to splinter into warring factions. In that case, the rise of warlords could well be the result.

Another way that institutions are undermined is the lack of support for international treaties. When the global community decides that there ought to be rights for children, discrimination against women, rights against torture, and environmental protection, we are honor bound to participate in that process. Four percent of the world does not have the right to hold up the process of repairing environmental damage. That is fundamentally undemocratic. We need to cooperate with the entire global community. This planet does not belong to one nation.

The current president seems to have no commitment to the rule of law. The founders were clear about such things as the Separation of Powers. Yet, the clear partisan collusion between the White House, Congress and the Judiciary is undermining that clarity. The current president’s firing of the director investigating claims against him is a fundamental violation of the independence of law enforcement. There is also a clear erosion of civil liberties in a society in which law enforcement take lives without any accountability.

The current president indulges in nepotism by staffing the White House with members of his family, and with close friends. This is corruption of the first order. In addition, the president refuses to relinquish control of his business interests, a clear conflict of interests. His first priority must always be the American people, not his personal interests. His attacks against the intelligence community represents another way that he is undermining the democratic process by undermining faith in the system.

The U.S. Congress is also destroying the foundations of democratic government. They indulge in destructive behaviors by shutting down government when they do not get their way. They obstructed the nomination of dozens of Obama nominees without just cause. Their only defense was that they wanted to install their own nominee, a violation of the Constitution. The deliberate refusal even to hold hearings on nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland was a brazen attack on the institution of democracy. In addition, the governing party tolerates the presidents violations of democratic norms to advance their own agenda. In this way, we see a steady erosion of the system.

The final threat to democracy comes from the people themselves. It is apathy, a reluctance to participate in their own democracy. A despondence and lack of faith in the institutions of democracy infests the people. The reason is that they no longer believe that they have any impact on the levers of power. This belief is fostered by the gridlock they see in Congress and the White House. Nothing constructive is done for them and their lives. Congress takes away from the poor and hands more and more to the wealthy and powerful. Corporations now have more rights than the people. The people see their productivity rise as they are forced to work more and more, but they do not benefit from their labors. Only the wealthy and powerful benefit.

This all creates disillusion in democracy. There is no economic democracy, just collusion between government and wealth. People are told to distrust one another. They blame each other for their economic woes, or pin the blame on immigrants or disadvantaged communities. They should unite to point the finger of blame at the rich and powerful instead of each other.

The electorate is divided by partisanship, by class warfare and a lack of social cohesion. We see the growth of intolerant communities who splinter into groups identifying with sexual identity, religion, or nativism. The two parties gather their adherents and act like two groups at war with one another. They should instead see one another as brothers in arms. They should demand a fair shake instead of seeing one another as the enemy.

For many, the president defines what we have lost, not that we can solve societies problems together. They hanker after a past that is gone instead of looking to a bright future. We don’t need to make the nation great again. It is already great. We can work together to create an even better nation. Instead of being angry with one another, we can see one another as people in a difficult position and reach for the future together.

We need to get back to being a nation that values liberty, access to justice and one man, one vote. Perhaps there are other more compelling threats to democracy, but we need to recognize these threats and take action to become a nation that can talk to one another, a nation that does not see one another as enemies, but as friends with many common goals.

I encourage you to continue to enhance your life with the Power of Three and search for the best possible life to live.

Until next time, go well my friends.

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