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Opiate of the Masses: Democracy

Special To Topanga Journal

By Lance Simmens

Statue of Liberty

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”(Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, p. 574).

“Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Winston Churchill

Democracy is still in its experimental phase, although begun in Athens over 2,500 years ago. It is now being tested unlike any time since the eruption of two world wars. Certainly the 20th century was punctuated by a great struggle between authoritarian/dictatorial rule and modern democratic governance. As we muddle our way through a contemporary world where political systems and politicians wrestle with efficiency and power versus civil liberties, freedom, and equality in a seemingly endless battle to gain advantage over both adversaries and allies alike, it appears as though economic considerations may supplant traditional core social values like the rule of law and justice.

The current battlefield is littered with skeletons of what used to be vibrant civil liberties callously abandoned in favor of consolidated wealth. No clearer illustration of such a dismal landscape is evident than what is currently underway in the United States where the blinding light of freedom and liberty is dimming under the weight of Trumpism. Power is increasingly associated with wealth and strength is being measured in military prowess, while science, empathy, tolerance and diversity fall victim to a resurgent Age of Greed.

I attended a conference last week sponsored by The Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles entitled The Struggle For Democracy ( where German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier implored those participating to value diversity and immigration as key building blocks for sustaining democracy. Contrast that with the zero tolerance prescription currently being toyed with on the Mexican border and the Supreme Court decision to allow the President unfettered constitutional permission to pursue virtually any policy couched in terms of national security and a disturbing transformation in what we view as democracy here in the United States starts to emerge.

A cursory review of literature on the definition of a democracy is replete with concepts such as rule of law, judicial independence, separation of powers, judicial review, due process, full and free voter participation, and checks and balances, just to highlight a few. The damage of Republican congressional efforts to effectively hijack the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016 were in full view in the 5-4 decision to essentially validate Trump’s Muslim ban. That such chicanery was successfully carried out in full view with not even a hint of embarrassment or shame should serve as a clarion call for reconsideration of our traditional commitment to democratic principles. We are currently traversing dangerously narrow mountain trails without guardrails and democracy is precariously perched upon rugged cliffs while the driver of this bus is seemingly oblivious to either the map or the brake.

Gerrymandering and the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision stipulating the designation of corporations as people have greatly aided the one-party domination that is now a part of a democratic process to deny fair representation to the electorate. Active voter suppression legislation throughout the states deny fair and full voter participation, another dagger to the heart of democratic process. Our long tainted history with literacy tests and poll taxes have given way to blatant purges of voter registration lists by the very judicial body that once served as an enlightened arbiter of democratic principles.

When the levers of government; executive, legislative, and judicial are all skewed towards one political party the only remaining check against oligarchic power is a vibrant free press, and as we have seen with this administration attacks against the First Amendment not only signal a populist purge against religious belief if you are a Muslim but also against the Fourth Estate if you happen to find yourself on the side of the so-called Fake News. The President’s disdain for leaders of the Western alliance and embrace of dictatorial regimes in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and even recently North Korea raise serious questions for the perpetuation of democracies in Europe and North America. Flattery is the currency that opens the door to corruption and renders strategic long-term thinking meaningless. Charismatic leadership is simply not a sufficient antidote to procedural dysfunction. No matter how skilled the driver, a bus without brakes heading down a mountainside is a prescription for disaster.

Democracy in the United States is under severe pressure right now and a concerted effort to obfuscate, obstruct, confuse, and depress the truth, also known as facts, is undermining confidence in institutions and leadership. The overwhelming degree of outright lying is so blatantly destructive to the national psyche that there is a weakening desire to even participate in a system so incompetent, dysfunctional and corrupt. The dangers of such a diabolical scheme to defraud the American people carry with it potential disruption of a world order that has so persistently been nurtured since the end of World War II that global conflict once thought of as a thing of the past is now seen as threatening.

I am not one willing to chuck democracy overboard. It is an imperfect system to be sure but if advanced in a spirit of compassion and humanitarianism can achieve positive results not only within this nation but throughout the world. America has led in the past and can again lead in the future, but we are straying from our core convictions, those so deliberately laid out in the constitution, where unalienable rights, liberty and justice for all, all men are created equal, and all are afforded due process and the right to participate in our government, must serve as the rallying cry for a more peaceful and productive world.

Trade wars, economic advantage, and greed will only fuel greater inequality and conflict in a world already under siege from our withdrawal from trade agreements, climate change, and strategic alliances. We are foregoing our moral authority and headed in the wrong direction and we must trust our faith in representative democracy in order to salvage leadership throughout the globe. Bombastic narcissism is now the opiate of an increasing percentage of the masses and democracy offers a cure. We the voters must restore an effective check on tyranny through the ballot box. It is all up to us now.


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Lance Simmens spent nearly four decades in senior level policy, political, and government positions, serving two Presidents, two US Senators, two Governors, and the US Conference of Mayors. He has also worked for the Screen Actors’ Guild, taught at Santa Monica College, served as President of the Malibu Adamson House Foundation, and is currently Vice-President of the Malibu Democratic Club. He has written political commentary for the Huffington Post and many major newspapers and is a frequent contributor to LA Progressive magazine.

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