Use It or Lose It

Most people, whether they are religious or not, believe in a power outside themselves that influences our existence and over which we have no or at best limited control. Call that power what you will, we understand that it is beyond any one individual’s needs, or desires, or imagination. 

Our founders knew this and sought to create a governmental power greater than one individual person, a power which we as a people might control. They strove to establish a model for governance that took everyone’s needs into account while giving us structure to accomplish it. They did not succeed.

They were imperfect, as are we all, and thus their creation was imperfect. But it shone with light, enough light to guide a people toward a new way of looking at and organizing government. It was a grand experiment that men of learning and toiling alike felt in their souls to be the best way they could imagine to “form a more perfect union”.

‘The people must rule’ was their mantra. But they knew when individual people themselves chose what they should do, for their benefit only, as individuals, there would be anarchy. After intense discussion they fashioned a heretofore unknown system, the American Democratic Republic. It featured representatives from a number of sovereign states, working together under a federal umbrella of common purpose.

Federally, its foundation was three distinct branches of government. Each branch tempered the power of the other branches and each had exclusive power over certain procedures, creating a system of checks and balances. No one branch would dominate. Returning to their original premise, they gave the people the ultimate power of choosing those of us who would represent the people in that government. They gave all citizens the right and responsibility of voting for those representatives.

State governments had a significant amount of freedom to govern in whatever fashion their voters chose. They retained control over many of their governmental functions. The people also democratically elected their state representatives as well as local and regional government officials, each having their own jurisdictions. 

To put this agreement in writing, after intense deliberation they forged a document, a Constitution, which codified federal law as the ultimate arbiter of how power should be wielded in these united states to provide both liberty and protection to the people of the union. It also addressed which aspects of government the states retained. This document, the Constitution, is the definitive law of the land to this day. Americans in power, and those they serve, accept this Constitution as the benchmark against which all American law is measured. When the elected representatives of the people’s power are sworn in they take a vow to protect and defend that Constitution.

The Constitution has held up as our organizing document for nearly 250 years. It is the true source of the unique American way of life, of both our freedoms and our limitations. It is the real thing all Americans should revere, not symbols or institutions. Symbols, like our flag and institutions like our military help us remember what is good about America, but the constitution itself is what we are to uphold and treasure. Our freedoms originate in the Constitution, not in the flag or the national anthem. These symbols simply remind us of how to honor our unique American experiment. There is no one way to honor the Constitution. That right to choose is protected by the words of the first amendment.

Americans are called, as are their representatives, to honor and respect the Constitution. The symbols of America, the flag, the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance, exist to focus our hearts and minds on the promise enshrined in the Constitution. The institution of the military, protectors of the people’s power, do so to uphold America against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, as is directed by the Constitution. There is no one way to honor those who volunteer to protect American interests around the globe. This right is also constitutionally protected.

It is our founding document, our Constitution, which deserves our reverence. The symbols, the flag and anthem, as well as the uniforms of our cherished military protectors, are to be honored only in so much as they reflect the people’s power as written in the Constitution. They are not the people’s power itself. They are not America. The Constitution is America. The people are America. Those other things are symbols, signs and signals that point us alway, to the real idea of the rule of the people. They are institutions, means created in the Constitution to serve the people. They are worthy of our respect but nowhere in the Constitution is that respect demanded. We give it freely through our liberty. The symbols’ and institutions’ value is given to them by the Constitution and not the other way around.

The founders’ means of balancing power was unique in its wisdom. There were formed three branches of government, each separate but equal contributors. The Legislative branch, Congress, is elected to represent the people, measured by population, the House of Representatives, and also by the equal representation of each sovereign state, the Senate. Its purpose is to create laws based on the designs of the Constitution. The Executive branch is headed by the President, who is elected and appoints an administration of leaders for the primary departments of government, his Cabinet. This branch’s vitally and necessary function is to execute those laws. The Judicial branch consists of the federal legal system, federal judges, appellate judges, and the Supreme Court. They act act as arbiters of the law. They determine a law’s relevance to the Constitution. They are not elected but appointed by the President, who is given advice by and with the consent of the Senate. It is the Senate that holds this specific power because of its equal representation from each united state. The purpose of the court is to determine if the laws created and passed by Congress and signed into law by the President follow the Constitution’s edicts.

The judiciary is specifically designed to not be elected, so as not to be subjected to the whims and desires of politics. We elect the President and Senate to appoint judges for us. The founders were insistent that the court not be politicized. The reason for the Court’s impartiality is significant. The Judicial branch exists as a check on the people. Even the people’s power must be balanced and regulated. The people or their representatives can sometimes make laws that do not clearly follow the Constitution, out of neglect or by design. The Supreme Court protects us from this “tyranny of the majority” through impartially adjudicating conflicts between a law and the Constitution. This requires impartial justices. 

For most of our history an unwritten law was honored by our elected officials that justices should be chosen and appointed only through an appraisal of their suitability for this incredible honor and responsibility. Their knowledge of the law and their non partisan dedication to the Constitution were to be the only considerations used to select them for nomination. Over time this honor has deteriorated. A flaw exists in the process of appointing judges, in particular Supreme Court justices, and is now being exploited more than ever.

Justices are meant to be non partisan, impartial, using only the Constitution as their guide, and not a political ideology. Presidents, who nominate Federal judges and Supreme Court justices for appointment, slowly began to appoint them using the criterion that a justice must practice a political philosophy in line with the president who nominated them.

Application of this partisan plan relies on there being one political party which controls both the Presidency and the Senate. In this situation a Supreme Court justice, who is appointed for life, becomes not a politically neutral advocate of the law but a tool of that party, giving that party a better chance of seeing Constitutional law decisions on cases that come before the court determined from a partisan political standpoint. Their standpoint.

This politicization has slowly deteriorated the Judicial branch’s ability to check and balance the power of lawmakers and the executive from a non partisan position. One political party could ‘stack’ the court with justices who have a political bias toward interpreting the constitution. By appointing comparatively young justices, that party’s philosophy could dominate the Court’s decisions for a generation or more, even after those politicians lose the elected power of their offices. 

Perhaps the primary partisan division of judicial interpretation rests in the competing philosophies of perceiving the document as ‘living’ versus ‘dead’. A more liberal interpretation of the Constitution says the document was wisely designed to account for the inevitable changes in the evolution of society and continued advancements in technology and knowledge of the world. The document is living. The meaning of its words can change with the times. 

For example, the addition of the Bill of Rights and the opportunity for the people to amend the document gave us the power to reflect in the Constitution changes in the will of society such as ending slavery and giving women the right to vote. This more liberal philosophy also allows for new interpretations of the language of the original document as it pertains to modern times and the evolution of our citizens.  

Conversely, a more conservative bias sees the document as being strictly interpreted, literal and rigid, unchanging. These literalist constructionists see the Constitution as, in essence, dead. It can only be interpreted using what they consider to be the original intent of the founders. But who is to determine what was their original intent? That is still interpretation.

Interestingly enough we see a similar division in interpretation of religious law between conservative, fundamentalist Christians and more progressive denominations. Thankfully, it is no longer legal to stone to death an adulterer or force a widow to marry her husband’s brother. Human values change with time. Regardless, the Constitution will be interpreted according to the philosophy of Constitutional jurisprudence of a predominance of justices.

The politicization of the Supreme court is, in my estimation, the most significant factor in the slow but substantial movement of American government toward a place that looks less like a democracy and more like an authoritarian state. The grooming of vulnerable Americans by advocates for the theft of power from the people into the hands of moneyed interests, has been facilitated by their hand picked, bought and sold politicians. Mesmerized  Americans, like the frog in the boiling pot, have given away their power and freedoms, slowly, over time, almost invisibly. It has been accomplished through psychologically powerful propaganda, pandering to our most selfish interests. This deliberate erosion of our power through the efforts of these same moneyed oligarchs serves their ultimate goal, retaining their power at all costs.

It is interesting to me that as in physics the two opposing ends of the political continuum have come, in the eyes of their most radical liberal and ultra conservative factions, to the same conclusion. They posit that the country is being dominated by a somewhat secret and financially powerful cabal. The only difference being each side blames a different complex of culprits. It’s as though the strategies and tactics behind the goals of both sides are exactly the same and only the names have been changed.

In all of this it is easy for the individual common citizen to despair of having any power at all, unable to exert any influence over the decisions that critically affect their lives. But despite the machinations of those who think their vast wealth gives them license to run roughshod over the people, we still have one, and only one, power remaining to us which we can use to regain the ruling power granted to us by our founding document. That is the power of the vote. 

For any of us who think that our vote doesn’t count, or that all politicians are crooks and liars, or that both parties are the same, or that certain of our particular pet policies and issues are more important than the failing health of our democratic republic, I have this to say. Those are all illusions dreamt up in the backrooms of think tanks and the secret meetings of powerful white men designed to disillusion us and trick us into giving up our power, begrudgingly or willingly. They know our power, as given to us clearly in our sacred founding document, is the poison that can bring them, choking, to their knees, foiling their corrupt, degenerate plans for dominance. They will do anything, illegal and immoral, to diminish the real power of the American citizen that they fear. 

Our only remaining power lies in the accumulated will of our individual votes, in concert with what we know to be good for all peoples and not for only those few white men, rich in wealth but poor in spirit, desperate to hold on to their last gasp of dominance in a changing, evolving world.

Our only remaining power is in our vote. If we abrogate our responsibility to govern, a responsibility the founders intended we wield, we will deserve the dire fate we will so clearly suffer. One of my great fears is to know that many of my fellows stayed home, feeling proud of upholding their principles and not voting for either of the “corrupt corporate parties” they despise only to find out that one party IS actually worse, and has won, and is taking away their freedoms daily, one by one. Their pride lasted only until they realized the American experiment, the government they are privileged to live under, is being destroyed before their eyes, and they can do nothing to stop it. 

This fate can be diverted if only we can gather with single minded courage to ‘citizen’ and defeat those we know in our hearts to be the destroyers. It is said that the destroyers come to destroy that which is rotted and create a space in time for new ideas to flourish and new grown to thrive. That may be so. But I am not ready to give up American Democracy to rot.  To ‘citizen’ is a verb. (Thanks Aric) It means taking one’s civic responsibilities seriously. It means taking action, taking one for the the team, the team being the real idea of the America envisioned by the founders, through that still viable tool of the Constitution, our right to vote. It means doing absolutely everything we can to save our democracy, including dragging our friends, family and neighbors to the polls if we must. 

We don’t need to ’unite’. It is a sad and myopic concept. There are too many and diverse factions extant to come together singing Kumbaya. But we all have single minded purpose. We can go our separate ways and do our hard work after we have removed the cancer from the body politic; the rot that threatens us existentially. Only if we, all of us, citizen, will we fulfill that clear and true vision of our founders.

Know your power. Feel your power. Use your power.

It’s all we have.

Grouchy Rant But Sore

This is an email I wrote to a colleague that was inspired by a gradual, nagging essential injury, one that doesn’t keep you out of the starting lineup but progresses to limit one’s effectiveness. This morning was the bra that stroked the camel’s back and it just poured out of me like a beer chugged out of a pitcher at a fraternity party. That crappy analogy has been the extent of my typical sarca-cynicism on this topic. This is important and I’m angry.

I have copied the entire email here. There’s a bit of personal and a little profane, but I feel it’s germane.

Dear XXXXX,

Dad is hanging in there but shows negative change nearly every day. I am beginning to lose the spiritual strength to help him. I am quite sure the fact that he watches cable news 24/7 has fatally poisoned me.

My weariness also stems from the fact that I get about 75 emails a day asking for money. They explain, in many different carefully vetted and crafted ways, how that money will defeat the trolls and goblins of the “other” party. They tell us if we don’t give and give all we have our brains will explode and the moon will slam into Philadelphia. They call us out by name and ridicule and demean us for not giving. They never meet their quotas.

I told XXX X. and XXXXXX yesterday that we should stop having elections and have each candidate, on a specific date, just show an appointed panel of jurists their campaign bank accounts and then choose our elected officials that way, by who is richest. And we know it’s inhuman for nearly all candidates to be so intentionally cruel and duplicitous in their campaign ads. What have we become anyway? We prevaricate and slander each other without batting an eye.

I would prefer an open, honest and clear authoritarian government made up from the real oligocrats (my word) instead of the shadow, hidden government we now have. We should be fully aware of how f**ked we really are and how none of us will ever get anywhere without their approval. We should be made aware of our true state and true fate so we can work on accepting it.

The result of this ruse is that we spend obscene amounts of money getting these puppets elected then are unable to spend adequate money on the people’s welfare. We cut, cut, cut our bureaus’ budgets drastically and then scream bloody murder when we are incapable of doing our bureaucratic jobs, especially those that most affect our welfare, which are numerous. We politicize everything, especially things that should never ever be politicized, which are legion. We have no respect for nor confidence in any of the three branches of government. In our foreign policy our actions are damned when we do and damned when we don’t. A majority of our citizens have become sheeple, easily frightened and even easier to manipulate.

It is getting harder and harder for me to be active in electoral politics. I feel it may be more important to prepare young people to be able to attempt surviving the coming collapse of the economy and accompanying panic, chaos, and uncontrollable barbarism. I need to do this especially for my daughter, who deserves better and to whom I am ashamed to bequeath such a f^^ked up world.

People who think ISIS and Ebola are serious existential threats to our way of life are delusional. We actually have the resources and possibly the will to reduce their ability to harm us to an acceptable number of fatalities, similar to the Vietnam war. The coming crises will be much worse, so bad that the media will be unable to make them appear worse. They will be forced to actually report them honestly, for as long as they are able to report them. We will be so arrogant and ignorant and f##king stupid that we will have no chance to oppose the real “Outbreaks” and “Epidemics” and “Acts of God” and “Terrorism” and “Collapses” and “Perpetual War” and “Renegades” and “Slaughter” and “Hunger” and “Famine” etc. that will overwhelm the media and petrify the nation. The government will be sequestered in underground bunkers, neutered and emasculated, but modestly civilized. The people will not have that luxury.

I’d almost rather be in a real life Zombie film, where at least I would be able to have an impact on the world, even after I am dead. We are a strange species, so productive while at the same time so destructive. Frankly, we no longer deserve to be at the top of the food chain. We have both abdicated hope, abrogated our legislative responsibilities, arrogated our planet’s resources and the fruits of our labor and given over the legal structure that maintains civil society to partisanship. We worship and gather massive wealth yet are bankrupt in wisdom.

Can you tell I woke up in a bad mood?

Me