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Has the US Effectively Lost Representative Democracy?
Or if it is not lost, are we presently losing it?
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them; and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, and fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the ground” Genesis 1:27-28.
Sometimes this has been called “The Cultural Mandate.” I am a part of a tradition which refers to it as “the creation mandate,” the only directive which we have, given to us humans before our rebellion and fall from glory. Later on in the story of God, these marching orders were restated as “bless all the families/nations of the earth,” and later as, ‘influence all the other peoples by keeping this law, thereby showing yourselves to be a “wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4:5-9) and as, ‘all the peoples of the earth will come up to you with tribute, Jerusalem, to seek the wisdom of God’ (Isaiah 2:2-5; Micah 4:1-4) and as, “I will also make you [Jacob/Israel] a light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Later King Jesus restated the creation mandate as, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19.
And why does God want his people to so influence all the peoples of the earth? Because sin is living apart from God and thus apart from just/righteous life. Observing what God has commanded is how Jesus expects the peoples from all tribes and nations and languages to outwardly – with their strength – demonstrate their inner circumcised hearts and redeemed souls.
Which all makes it crucial that as a people we Christians maintain and utilize the gifts which God has given to us. Those gifts include the many disciplines which the Christian community has frittered away over the centuries [see posts on Richard Foster]. We also need to preserve our ability to shape public justice through God-given self-rule wherever the redemption of creation has been worked out to the point that we have gained such powers. We Christians in the western representative democracies must not allow our self-rule to be lost, to be bought off by a new threat from international corporate elites. That has been happening, I believe and I believe we Christians need to stop it if God will give us insight and strength.
I am a Bible teacher and I do not forget that in matters such as this I am an amateur. Then again, if a representative democratic society is to be successful, it requires a large, strong, responsive community of alert, engaged, amateurs who hold their government accountable. Here is my two cents.
Just as I believe there are two issues at the root of our troubles there are two great goals for which we can work. The first has to do with the restoration of electoral accountability to the electorate; the second, with restoring the middle class itself.
Some Perspective on “Middle Class”
Historically, strong middle classes have been somewhat accidental. As Thom Hartmann points out, one of the first occurred in Europe in the late middle ages as a result of the Black Death. So many people had died in the plague that workers were few and therefore labor was a scarce commodity, resulting in much higher wages for the limited work force. However, once the population rebounded from the catastrophe, the demand for labor “normalized” and laborers were once again powerless and poor.
In the US colonial period, a society of energetic middle-class people, mostly British and Dutch, found themselves overborne by a mercantilist British monarchy and a monopolistic corporation, the British East India Company.
Rather than come under the thumb of that collusion between business and government, a largely middle-class society in thirteen of the English colonies declared themselves a free nation. That middle class persisted for several generations but eventually, farming, by far the dominant occupation of most people, ceased to provide an adequate income. A good decade before the stock market crash of 1929, farm income fell to such levels that as many as half those on the farm ceased to be able to support themselves from the land. The story of poverty and despair in the 1920s and ’30s with as many as 35% of people out of work used to be taught in schools. Is it still?
The middle class of the 1950s on was in some ways an intentional and artificial creation. The introduction of worker’s unions forced wages up from the rock bottom, allowing skilled and semi-skilled laborers to garner living wages for the first time in many decades. Moreover, numerous actions by a pro-worker Congress meant the creation of many policies and programs which enriched the lives and opportunities of a growing, strengthening middle-class: the G. I. Bill funneled a generation of men and women into the burgeoning land-grant college system, a powerful university community first established during Abraham Lincoln’s first term. Social Security, farm subsidies, the Interstate Highway System, improved railroads and a growing network of national and state parks all contributed to a virtuous circle of upward middle-class mobility. Can a new virtuous circle be established?
Restoring the Founders’ Vision
In order to build again the kind of middle class that this nation built in the 1940s and 1950s we must, I believe, regain control of our industries and our democratic institutions. The first step toward that goal is a concerted national movement to get all money out of politics and to get corporate influence out of government. Never in a million thoughts did the nation’s founders conceive of a government where companies and the über-wealthy had a virtual lock on what can and cannot become law in our nation. James Madison, in fact, worried that the greatest weakness he could see in the Constitution which he and others had adopted was that a moneyed class might get in between the people and their representatives, thereby destroying the link between the legislators and their “employers.”
That fear has been realized today and Christians, as people who care about justice, must stand in the gap for the nations God wants us to reach.
Given the damage the present US Supreme Court has done to even a pretended separation of business and government, a constitutional amendment is needed. Two corrupt assertions by the Court must be reversed by the people. The idea that money is a form of speech must be quashed and the perverse notion that a corporation is a person, as defined by the Constitution, must be reversed.
We need to understand. A very small but powerful class of people have been working tirelessly for the last fifty to eighty years to get to the place where they can easily and conveniently buy elections. They have largely succeeded. That elite will fight back with everything they have against such an effort. (The senator who submitted a “money is not speech; corporations are not people” amendment in this Congress is being opposed by over forty million dollars in this election cycle (he is still ahead in the polls!). We need a movement of, by and for the 99% of people to put into the founding documents of our government that people are people, not corporations and that only human speech is protected as speech. It will not be easy but it must be done.
Once those principles are reestablished, then federal and state governments can again freely regulate money in elections, eventually establishing full public financing, perhaps based on something like the good law in Arizona which this Supreme Court struck down. This would be a beginning but much more is needed.
Rebuilding What We Hold in Common
Everything possible must be done to stimulate the creation of new industries, of new manufacturing sectors to re-employ those who, through no fault of their own have lost their futures. Public/private partnerships are needed, big-time, to rebuild and transform the physical infrastructure of the US. Low-cost loans and grants are needed to make post-secondary education much more available and affordable to everyone. In the last great US middle class, you could succeed if you were a white, male European. This time, everyone must be seated at the table.
Am I talking about redemptive activity, about Christian good works, about building from the garden of delight to the city of God? I believe so. Moreover, if St. Paul believed the Christian communities of the Roman Empire could “bring to nothing the things that are,” in their time then we can move our culture in the right direction with powers we have which those good folks could not have imagined. …that some might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
Any other ideas on the problem; on solutions? Have at it!
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1 Back to Post Several ideas in this “perspectives” section are drawn from Hartmann’s Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What You Can Do About It, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2006, 238 pages.
2 Back to Post The question with which I began this post, “Has the US Effectively Lost Representative Democracy?” may be answered by whether we can break the grip which the major banks and corporations have on Congress. If we manage to get Congress out of the clutches of their present paymasters we will learn that matters were grim beforehand but not beyond our control. Personally, I am extremely doubtful that anything can be done but I know it is my duty to be a part of the solution whether anything can be done to restore actual democracy or not.