There is enormous focus these days on economic inequality, and for good reason. The gap between the top 1% and other Americans is growing, the middle class that built the country and ensured social stability is shrinking, and the likely consequences of those phenomena aren’t pretty.
In the United States, our Constitution guarantees us only equality before the law. Critics may quote Anatole France for the proposition that “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread,” but there is much to be said for a system that protects individual liberties against encroachments by the state. In such system, however, efforts to ameliorate material deprivations are statutory, not constitutional, and as we continue to be reminded, statutory entitlements are vulnerable to efforts to punish poor people for their misfortune.
Most public discourse around “equality” tends to focus on these issues of legal and economic equality and the relationship—or conflict—between the two. We rarely focus on a third kind of equality—democratic equality—despite the fact that it has a major influence on whether the country achieves the others.
Democratic equality simply means the equal right of each citizen to participate in the democratic process. It probably won’t come as a surprise to find that we aren’t doing terribly well on that front, either.
The influence of money in politics has grown exponentially since the Supreme Court’s ill-considered decision in Citizens United. (Actually, the problem started earlier, with the case of Buckley v. Valeo, when the Court first conflated money with speech) The result has been that those with money are able to “speak” much more loudly and effectively than the rest of us. When democracy becomes “pay to play,” there is no equality of participation.
It isn’t just money. In Indiana—which is unfortunately not an outlier— the legislature has used its power to make it more difficult to vote.
We have one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the nation—in order to cast a ballot, you must not only have a government-issued picture ID, that ID must have an expiration date. (This conveniently excludes the picture IDs issued by state universities.) Middle-class folks assume that it’s simple enough to obtain such identification, but for poorer people—particularly older black citizens who were born at home and lack a birth certificate—getting the necessary documentation can be both onerous and costly. (Despite pious rhetoric about deterring “voter fraud,” fraudulent in-person voting is virtually nonexistent.)
The Indiana legislature has also declined to enact other measures that encourage or facilitate voting by working-class Americans: keeping the polls open past six, establishing convenient voting centers, expanding early and absentee voting.
It’s bad enough that lawmakers see fit to erect barriers to voting rather than making it easier. But as I have previously posted, the most serious denial of democratic equality comes through partisan gerrymandering that produces an abundance of “safe” seats and eliminates voter choice.
Increasingly, especially at the state level, our legislators choose their voters—the voters don’t choose their representatives. So even when disadvantaged folks make it past the obstacles and manage to cast their ballots, they often find they are given no meaningful choice. A growing number of elections are uncontested.
As a result of democratic inequality, the people who would benefit most from the election of candidates willing to work for legal and/or economic equality have less access, less influence and less voice than their more privileged neighbors.
The system is broken.
15 thoughts on “Speaking of Inequality…”
As Sheila has said: “The system is broken.” It’s total.
It’s all about deception. Its turned out to be one big “con game” run by a small group of slick, billionaire con men who couldn’t stay in power except for the threat of their SLAPP lawsuits.
If that’s the case, then you have to create a new system. And I would strongly suggest that the first thing you do is to make sure that the new system is not going to be based on money but on ETHICS.
To be a little more specific: We have to create a new Pro-democracy Movement in America.
The old movement died with Bill Clinton’s STRATEGY OF TRIANGULATION. That ended any effective countervailing force against the Religious Right/Radical Right anti-democracy movement in the partisan politics political arena.
I increasingly believe that moderate Democrats, Independents and Republicans need to join together to take the political system back. That would mean Democrats voting in Republican primaries and Republicans voting in Democratic primaries to support candidates committed to reforming the redistricting process. The same computers now used to create “safe” districts could also be used to create competitive districts. Unrealistic? Maybe – but short of a major change at the Supreme Court I don’t see another path that has a chance to save our political system from control by the billionaires.
As Sheila points out there are many kinds on inequality. She mentions specifically democratic, economic, before the law. All important to consider. But there are others too. Our founders said so:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Consider as a thought experiment two people born simultaneously today. One,a white male Christian from northern Virginia with responsible caring hard working wealthy parents. The other a black female born of Muslim, irresponsible, lazy, uneducated, poor parents in Mississippi. Two newly minted souls, a gift to the world. Let’s say further that one is born with exceptional intelligence, the other, to be charitable, on the dull side of dull. The possibility of that being either one seems about 50/50 to me.
What would a smart society do to, selfishly, create the biggest benefit from these two resources? Is the reality of today close to the ideal stated in the Declaration an eye blink in human history ago? If we believe in the Declaration, what should be our plans?
The Declaration suggests revolution but that while that seemed the responsible plan then, today it seems too drastic given the military realities of modern states vs that of disorganized mobs as we have occasionally seen recently here.
Or should we do nothing and pay the opportunity lost price?
Which would you do? Are there other options perhaps less traumatic?
There is another path that’s been successful in the past. It’s called PROSECUTION. From past experiences that were successful, I can assure you that can be done without stepping into a courtroom.
To go further back in time, I’m sure most of the “Nazi Big Shots” never imagined that they would end up one day sitting in a Nuremberg courtroom.
@ John – as a Democrat I have voted in Republican primaries for the past 10 years. Unfortunately, over this period of time in my area there have been fewer and fewer contested positions. In the most recent primary (5 wks ago) there was no reason for me to even waste my time to vote. Absolutely no contested positions and they are all filled by Republicans that have held office for several years. It is the first time in my adult life that I have not voted.
@ Pete – I believe that a Revolution is the only chance we have to take back our government and country from this oligarchy.
@ Marv – Could you expand on your post about prosecution? Thank you.
To use the words of General Douglas MacArthur, “I SHALL RETURN, after lunch.”
Equality. Tough concept. The basis of freedom. A people are free when leaders and the lowly and everyone in between have the same freedoms. Democracy is when that is achieved by the leaders legislating and the lowly hiring and firing them.
The Declaration of Independence clearly states mankind’s right to democracy and responsibility to insist on it. Claim it at whatever the cost. And in the absence of democracy strong measures may be required.
We haven’t lost democracy, freedom, yet but it’s at risk. Time to fully employ the gift given to and maintained for us. Now.
We are all preaching to the choir here, but it must start somewhere…and HERE is as good as any place! The system, as Sheila said, is broken and badly. I believe that the State of WA votes online, or they at least have that availability. Some fraud, I suppose, but mighty easy to get it done. In my state, I can renew tags online. I believe I have to go to the nearest state patrol station for my photo/driver license. There are easier ways, as some have pointed out, to be able to exercise our rights to vote. “They” are slowly chipping and snipping away our rights to do so and it is all about control.
Not to mention who can afford to run for democratic office…
A portion of the Elite controls both the surface and the sub-surface in the political realm. The surface is like the tip of an iceberg where it generally encompasses about 1/8 of the total mass. The subsurface is the other 7/8. That’s where most DECEPTIVE AND OR CRIMINAL political activities are first generated before they reach the surface.
The subsurface area is not monitored by the NAACP, ADL, ACLU or any of the other supposedly defense organizations. That fact alone doesn’t preclude prosecution. They are not the only ones who have the power to expose the perfidy below the surface.
Take a look at the Battle of the Crater on google images. The profile depicting the subsurface tunnel with the surface battlefield is a good metaphor of what I’ve been trying to convey: CONTEXT.
Marv and Nancy. The courts and justice system are as upside down as the electoral system. No prosecution of Tony Bennett. I have a hard time accepting Democrat Terry Curry’s explanation of that one. There has to be other forces involved.
I agree with you about the trouble with the Courts. You prosecute them in public without the court system. You don’t have to have a license to prosecute to do that type of prosecution. You only need the advantage of a counter-deception intelligence capability which we had. That way you expose their plans, modus operandi, patterns, strategy and tactics. See”Myth of the State” by Ernst Cassirer.
That’s how the battle for one man, one vote was won in Dallas in 1991. We prepared a 30+ page Prosecution Report on the then Mayor Annette Strauss which included her brother-in-law Robert Strauss and President George Bush as co-conspirators. It was filed in the Chambers of the City Council of Dallas which was being monitored at the time by local TV. The Bush Administration backed away a few days later. That was a ?? factor in Bush losing his re-election.
In November of 2013, I used the same type of attack in Jacksonville and was successful again. You just have to be in a position to survive the retaliation. That’s not easy or fun.
You defeat the oligarchy indirectly, not directly. You weaken them by attacking the outer layers of their system of power. Once you successfully do that the system starts to fall apart.
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