The Threat to American Democracy

Democracy is a very delicate political system that is extremely rare in human history. As an experiment in social engineering, it has only successfully been used twice on a large-scale. The first successful use of the political system was in Ancient Greece, but not all of Greece, just in a few city states bordering the Aegean Sea, including Athens, Corinth and Syracuse.

The golden age of Athens lasted a few hundred years at best, from around 550BC to 322BC when it was suppressed by Alexander the Great. In Athens, democracy, or rule by the people was restricted to a small number of citizens, all free men. No women were allowed to vote, no foreigners, or the large number of slaves that outnumbered the eligible men.

The Romans had limited voting for certain citizens, mostly wealthy and powerful people, and there was no universal franchise at all. The universal franchise was only extended to most adult men in the nineteenth century, with women having to wait for the franchise until the early twentieth century.

Through most of history, cities and states were ruled by kings, or emperors, dukes or warlords, or in extreme cases, some areas remained without centralised governance of any sort. Anarchic political systems can exist for a time in isolated areas, but inevitably, a strongman, despot warlord or some combination will emerge to rule.

The United States has had two hundred years of democracy, although for most of that time, only white adult men were able to vote, and even that was tenuous at best. African-Americans were supposed to receive the vote in 1870, while women only achieved the franchise in 1920. African-Americans were for the most part denied the vote in most areas of America until the civil rights era of the 1960’s.

During the election season in 2012, voting rights again came under attack from Republicans in red states. Through a process of shortening voting hours, closing voting stations, placing voter id laws on the books, intimidation through advertising and gerrymandering districts, many voters were denied their constitutional right to vote.

Much of this is old news that I am just revisiting to set the stage for a more important commentary. Democracy is not a natural state for most people, who want to do things their own way. They cloak this desire in terms of liberty, or their right to do as they please without government intervention.

This is just a pretense through which they present themselves as legitimate defenders of freedom and the rights of the individual. Once they achieve power, even on a limited basis, they use that power with all that they are worth to advance their agenda, which usually includes taking money, land, and democratic rights from the poor, and the powerless.

Conservatives love power, and to be in power. When they are forced from power through the ballot box, their outrage at being denied quickly becomes vindictive. During President Carters presidency, they did what they could to make his life impossible, succeeding in holding him to a single term in office.

Bill Clinton, despite his two years in office had an incessant cloud of conservatives clinging to him to preclude his attaining any part of his agenda. The Monica Lewinsky scandal was just the kind of red herring conservatives love to latch onto. They dragged the president through two years of worthless hearings that prevented any work from getting done.

President Obama is the embodiment of pure evil for conservatives. They cannot believe that their most reviled group, African-Americans, could successfully pick from among their number, a man clearly superior to the mass of Republicans, educated, well-spoken, intelligent, successful.

For hundreds of years, the conservative monotone has been that Africans, or any race other than Europeans, were capable of anything significant other than cleaning up after Europeans, or picking their crops, working their factories. When a success arises from within that community, they want him stopped by any means.

Martin Luther King was assassinated, conveniently, as was Medger Evers and Malcolm X. Successful musicians like Louis Armstrong were mostly allowed to ply their trade in colored barrooms and music halls. Writers like du Bois were read only surreptitiously.

Conservatives love the myth that other races are incapable of any innovation, despite the enormous successes of black musicians, who invented whole genres of music from jazz to blues, hip-hop, reggae and a host of others.

The single man that today represents everything that white, conservative America detests is encapsulated in the person of Barack Obama, a President that easily stands with FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln and others as the greatest political men this land has to offer.

When the President was inaugurated in 2008, sales of firearms soared. Shares of companies leapt, with Smith and Wesson rising from $2 to over $8. Conservatives believed that Obama was a threat to their liberties, especially the right to bear arms, elucidated in the Second Amendment.

The massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut reignited a debate that is well needed in this country surrounding the ownership of guns. The NRA has long maintained that there should be no impediments on gun ownership whatsoever. As a result, conservative judges installed on the various circuit courts around the country routinely rule in favor of gun rights, as does the Supreme Court.

State houses around the country enact increasingly lenient gun laws allowing almost anyone that can draw breath to buy revolvers, shotguns, rifles, semi-automatic Kalashnikovs, and weapons like the Bushmaster that can spew six rounds a second.

The President today proposed common sense gun ownership rules that would change this dynamic, and begin to restrict the universal ownership of guns. He is doing this by means that would pass muster in every developed nation on Earth, and not a few underdeveloped ones.

Before the President spoke, conservatives from talk radio, Fox News on TV, Republican Representatives and the NRA were ramping up their rhetoric. Somehow, overnight, from being President, the leader of the free world had become a tyrant, the new Stalin arrived to take people’s guns away,to steal their Constitutional rights to blow away anything that moved.

Some Republicans were threatening impeachment if Obama used Presidential orders to tighten gun standards by allowing such outrages as background checks.

The NRA issued an advert in which they questioned whether, since the Presidents daughters are protected by law enforcement officers, that same protection should not be given to other people’s children in schools. It is well-known that Presidents and their families are given Secret Service protection for good reason – people try and kill Presidents and members of their families.

In the environment of incendiary rhetoric, it is even more important that the Presidents daughters be protected from gun owners. Rush Limbaugh on talk radio made fun of children that had written to the President asking that he make them safe from guns.

The vitriolic speech coming from Republicans appears to be getting worse, with new lows in the debate reached each day.

The danger to Democracy is quite clear from my stand point. Firstly, you have a totally unregulated gun market, with hundreds of thousands of weapons flooding the streets every year. Millions of rounds of ammunition are purchased by Americans along with their guns.

There are 310m guns in America, owned by 60m gun owners. That is an average of five guns per person. Since most people probably only own one or two, there must be many people that own a great deal more weaponry. There was one case recently of someone with more than forty guns. Ammunition is also unregulated, with many people having tens of thousands of rounds.

This represents an enormous danger to social stability. The police do not know who owns guns, or even which guns people own. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) can only inspect gun shops once a year, and their funding is restricted to 2500 agents. In practise they inspect shops every seventeen years.

If the kind of instability that infested Europe during the 1920’s/30’s were to occur here, as it did in Germany with the Brownshirts, there would be no-one to stop it. The local security forces are hopelessly outgunned. The US army consists of 1.45m personnel. The police forces number about 794,000 personnel.

Compare that to the 60m gun owners in the US and the army and police forces together would not stand a chance. If organised gun violence were to break out in this country, it would be a bloodbath. Consider that many people now own assault weapons, and the army would be defenseless.

Yes, the army, navy and airforce do have aircraft, tanks, and battleships, but it would be disastrous trying to root out all those armed with guns. Since most of those guns are owned by young men, the disaster would be even worse.

It is imperative for the security of this nation, that the private ownership of guns be severely curtailed. The history of Europe, and especially Italy and Germany is sobering. The army in Germany was unable to do anything to stop the onslaught of the Brownshirts who numbered over a million men, compared to the armies 100,000 as dictated by the Treaty of Versailles.

Considering the angry outbursts by Republicans over the need to curtail guns, and the strident, remorseless NRA, the situation could become a lot worse than it is. It needs to be stopped now, before a disaster happens here. Sanity needs to prevail soon before it is too late for this increasingly fragile democracy.

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