The United States is neither a free country nor a democracy. As we are reminded quadrennially, we elect our president not by popular vote but with the electoral college system. We pretend to vote for president while we are actually voting for a delegate who then votes – hopefully – on our behalf. Same with our governing system – we elect officials who theoretically act in the interest of the people they represent.
Unfortunately, our democracy has been lost. A recent Princeton/Northwestern study showed that the will of the people is reflected in public policy only when the wealthy happen to agree. A country whose laws are determined solely by the opinions of the wealthy is not a democracy but an oligarchy. As such, our laws are written – whether in the letter of the law or in practice – to protect those in power & defend the status quo.
We are loyal worker bees who sit patiently at red traffic lights at 3am when no traffic is present out of fear we’ll be caught and ticketed by law enforcement, yet those in power have little fear of legal woes. Poor folks are locked away in privatized debtors’ prisons, while the wealthy go scot-free. Prosecutors overcharge and threaten maximum sentences to coerce poor suspects into taking plea deals while the wealthy employ pricey lawyers to flout our unjust system of criminal justice.We celebrate Christopher Columbus – a guy who wrote with braggadocio about how easily he raped and murdered in the “New World.” We put a genocidal maniac (Andrew Jackson) on our twenty dollar bill. Not only did Richard Nixon go uncharged for his felonious role in the Watergate scandal – he should have been executed for high treason for negotiating to keep the Vietnam War going until he was president. Henry Kissinger & John Negroponte were never held accountable for death squads, genocide, and toppling governments. Oliver North went to jail for his role in Iran/CONTRA, but only as Ronald Reagan’s eager fall-guy.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colon Powell – all should have been jailed for lying us into an illegal war of unprovoked aggression in Iraq. Barack Obama, in explaining why he would not hold investigations of the Iraq War architects, argued that we should look forward – as though crimes are only committed in the future and past criminal activity should be forgiven on general principle.
Obama himself is hoping to not be investigated for the callous murder of civilians with our drone army. Rod Blagoyavich went to prison for trying to sell Obama’s vacated senate seat – yet no one is investigating Hillary Clinton for handing ambassadorships to political/foundation donors. No one is investigating Donald Trump for using his foundation to duck taxes and pay his legal fees, or using campaign funds to enrich his personal businesses.
Wall Street brought the entire world economy to its knees with their fraudulent activities; HSBC was caught laundering money for drug cartels. Yet the only person who went to jail was Bernie Madoff – a guy who made the grave mistake of scamming fellow rich people. Wells Fargo fired 5000 hourly-wage salespeople while multimillionaire executives escaped unblemished. We knowingly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital for an hour despite distress calls and we blamed low-level servicemen for “procedural” errors.
We live in a country where a black man (Eric Garner) can be choked to death for suspicion of selling loose cigarettes, yet a rich white kid is given probation for killing four stranded people (including a pastor) with a stolen car while drunkenly driving following a beer-run (affluenza teen Eric Couch). We lock people away for the victim-less crime of smoking cannabis while pharmaceutical companies are allowed to bribe doctors to push their drugs off-label, resulting in an epidemic of heroin overdoses among former opioid prescribees.
Our free country features a secretive government which uses executive privilege, white papers, and over-classification to shield public policy from public knowledge. Our free country features one quarter of the entire worlds’ prison population. Our free country institutionalizes racism in the form of our racial profiling, our racist drug war, racist stop & frisk, racist broken windows, racist mandatory minimums (crack/powder cocaine disparity).
Our Bill of Rights is an utter sham:
1st Amendment: Politicians brazenly flaunt their disregard for the separation of church/state. We explicitly promote Christianity on our money. We profile Muslims at our airports and deny them permits for houses of worship. We imprison journalists and whistle-blowers who expose government wrong-doing. We label protests unsanctioned by the government as “unlawful assemblies.”
4th Amendment: Our government spies on our communications without warrant – all of our emails, phone calls, text messages, social media, chat rooms… They use our webcams and video game consoles to watch and listen to us. The FBI writes National Security Letters to itself when it wants to violate the constitution. The NSA goes to a secretive FISA court to get classified rulings on mass surveillance.
5th & 6th Amendments: We suspended habeas corpus so we can lock people away without charge – people who are not allowed to face their accusers, let alone at a speedy trial before their peers.
8th Amendment: Not only do we torture prisoners of war, we torture our own people. Our government purposely murders its own citizens with lethal injection – sometimes with hellfire missile via drone strike (Samir Khan, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki, Jude Kenan Mohammad – sense a pattern?). We ravage the minds of our prisoners with solitary confinement. We thrust our prisoners into a gang culture where they are violently raped without recourse. Phone call costs are prohibitive. Pell Grants and all sorts of reading materials are banned. Prisoners often die from denied medical treatment. Cops kill unarmed citizens literally every single day without punishment. New York pays out millions every year in police brutality settlements; Chicago cops have a literal black site.
13th Amendment: We have private prisons with built-in factories paying pennies on the hour for the slave-labor of inmates.
14th Amendment: We refuse to provide equal protection to our LGBTQ communities (employment, housing, parental…), effectively rendering them second-class citizens.
15th Amendment: Voter suppression efforts run rampant across the nation, largely thanks to the SCOTUS’ gutting of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. We have voter purges (interstate crosscheck; felon bans), Voter ID laws, electioneers shuttering polling stations in minority communities, cutting early voting and the hours of operation on election day, giving false information to voters, threatening prosecution of voters, banning same-day registration, utilizing provisional ballots which go uncounted…
We live in an unjust and imperfect country. Although we live in a nation of self-governance we’ve fully ceded the power of the people to plutocrats who’ve created differing sets of rules for the wealthy and for the masses. We must wrest control of our nation by political means before the blinding capitalistic greed of our ruling oligarchic elites set us on a downward spiral from which we cannot recognizably emerge.