An Appeal for an Alert and Knowledgeable Citizenry
If anyone is wondering why the youth of our nation are disillusioned, you need go no further than an examination of the actions of our politicians. It is very clear that most Republican politicians are only interested in satisfying the monetary needs of their rich supporters, whether they be on Wall Street or in the board rooms of major corporations. However, the Democrats are not much better. Many of them also have rich supporters. Even Barack Obama, on whom many youth pinned their hopes for a brighter future, has been a disappointment to many.
Let’s look at the current economic situation
Despite the Great Recession, which was the result of Wall Street greed, the opportunists on Wall Street have still not been brought under control and many of them are earning millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses each year. All this is going on while thousands of people have lost their jobs and their homes, and major cuts in education, health and human services are being made across the country. This is just wrong and the politicians in Washington and the states have not corrected the situation. The divide between the rich and the poor continues to grow and the middle class is disappearing. According to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, this will lead to more economic instability in the future (read Aftershock by Robert B. Reich1). I believe it will also lead to more social problems, crime and political instability (see The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett2).
What about taxes?
Many U.S. citizens are outraged when they hear that many large corporations and wealthy citizens pay little or no income taxes. The Republicans have always opposed taxes for the rich because the rich are their primary constituents. However, the Democrats have often been weak in pushing for more taxes for the wealthy. Could this be because many of them are rich themselves and are supported by rich corporations? It should be pointed out that that there is clear evidence that when the rich pay their fair share of taxes, based on the benefits they have enjoyed as a result of living and working in this nation, the nation does better economically and everyone benefits.
Another major development, which bodes poorly for the future of the country, is the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. This decision, decided by a right-leaning court, will allow corporations to inject unlimited money into political elections. In essence, corporations are replacing the citizens of the United States in deciding who will be our representatives in the White House and in Congress. However, the citizens of the United States should decide who will represent them in the government, not the people on Wall Street or in the corporate boardrooms. Our system of democracy will always be compromised unless we get corporate money out of the elections. However, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats appear to have the will to make this change and the nation suffers as a result.
It should be noted that the Citizens United decision also applies to unions. However, with the weakened condition of the unions of the nation, and Republican efforts to weaken them even more as described below, it is unlikely that the Citizens United decision will benefit unions in the same way that corporations will benefit.
What about health care?
When Obama and the Democrats were elected in 2008, many people were hoping that some type of universal health care system would be implemented so that all people, regardless of income or health status, could have access to quality health care. However, due to resistance by the Republicans and the weakness of the Democrats, this did not occur. Although improvements were made, the large insurance companies are still getting rich off the backs of the middle class families of the nation.
The unions in this country are very weak compared to what they were a half century ago. One reason for the decline is the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs through offshoring, a phenomena that both Republicans and Democrats have stood by and watched and/or enabled. At this time, it is clear that the Republicans, backed by rich corporations, are trying to destroy what is left of the unions of this nation. Unions were instrumental in bringing us unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, occupational safety and health regulations and unpaid leave for mothers to care for newborn children. If the Republicans destroy the unions, they will have a clear financial advantage over the Democrats, especially when one considers the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is unfortunate that the Obama Administration and the Democratic politicians at the national level have not stood up stronger for the unions of the nation.
What about the military budget and the
never-ending wars that the U.S. is involved in?
The U.S. military budget has continued to expand dramatically despite the end of the Cold War. The war against communism has morphed into the war against terrorism. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have drained billions of dollars from the U.S. economy that should have been spent to create jobs and improve the nation’s educational system, infrastructure, health care system and human services. The nation’s military-industrial complex continues to triumph over human needs with the support of both Republicans and Democrats. This means, among other things, that the rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class of the nation continues to dwindle.
Many people, including the writer, believe that the response to 9/11 should have been a police action, not a military action. After all, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were crimes. If the U.S. and the international community had responded to these crimes with police intelligence work rather than invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, we would have saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars, and probably been more effective in countering terrorism. After all, the location of Osama bin Laden was discovered through intelligence work.
What about the immigrants, Muslims and the poor?
Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have been under attack in the United States for many years. Racial profiling by the police has often been documented. Thousands of undocumented immigrants have been deported with the result that many families have been broken apart. The attacks on immigrants have come primarily from right-wing Republicans, but the Democrats have not been blameless. Deportations were high under the Bush Administration, but have increased under the Obama Administration. It would be both wise and humane to halt all detentions and deportations until comprehensive immigration reform is enacted at the federal level.
The Muslim Community in the United States has also been under attack since 9/11. However, most Muslims who live in the U.S. and throughout the world are fine, nonviolent people of faith who are trying to live normal lives and have no interest in harming the U.S. 9/11 was caused by a handful of radical extremists. The Islamic faith should not be demonized because of the actions of a handful of extremists.
We have millions of people, including millions of children, who live in poverty in the United States. Thousands of children grow up in neglectful and abusive family situations and end up going to prison when they are older. Over 2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S., one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Something is obviously wrong, and yet politicians from both parties do not seem to be very concerned about this problem, despite the huge cost to the nation that it entails.
How do we dig ourselves out of this hole?
One thing seems obvious – we need public financing of political campaigns. Until this is done, democracy will just be a hollow word. The wisdom of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt should be considered here:
The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. This, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by another controlling private power.
Secondly, we need to understand how wealth has shifted from the middle class to the wealthy class in recent years and the meaning of that shift to the future of this nation. Will we continue to give large tax breaks to the rich and powerful while our education system deteriorates and the poor and middle class struggle each day just to survive?
Thirdly, we need to better understand ourhistory and national character. Are we not a nation of citizens, rather than corporations? Have not unions been essential to the development of a strong middle class in our nation? And are we not a nation of immigrants and a nation that understands and embraces the value of diversity - religious, racial, ethnic and otherwise? Or are we a fearful nation, clinging to our insecurities and demonizing people who are not just like us?
Finally, we need to review the impact of the military-industrial complex on our nation. Should the U.S. continue play the role of the world’s policeman? Should we continue to pour billions of dollars into the military- industrial machinery while our domestic needs go unmet? Here again, we should recall the wise words of a former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…..We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
I agree with Eisenhower: an alert and knowledgeable citizenry is needed if the United States is to prosper in the future. A bit of compassion would also be helpful.
David Atwood, President
Houston Peace and Justice Center
Reich, Robert B., Aftershock
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)
Wilkinson, Richard and Pickett, Kate, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Society Safer
(Bloomsbury Press, 2009)