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Bernie Sanders and the Fundamental Crisis of U.S. Democracy

Only one presidential candidate remaining in the field promises to attempt to do what must be done, argues Atcheson. (Photo: Rev Dills/flickr/cc)

Think of a problem or challenge facing us, and then trace it back to its roots.  If you’re honest, you’ll arrive at the role of money and its undue influence in politics and on the media.

Gun control? 

There is no chance for sensible laws ending the genocide without first reducing the NRA’s influence on elections. None. Clinton and her supporters say only a “realistic” approach involving negotiations with right wing lunatics like Mc Connell will work. Really? Oh, we might get a ban on the civilian use of bazookas or tanks or some such meaningless measure with that approach. Remember, after Sandy Hook, over 90% of the public favored background checks but Congress wouldn’t even pass that.  

The only way we solve the national slaughter-for-profit policy of the NRA and the gun manufacturers is to get their money out of campaigns, their lobbyists out of our legislatures and their political ads off of our airwaves and out of our media. Period.

There’s only one candidate who has publicly vowed to attempt do that—Bernie Sanders.

Endless wars the public opposes? 

Eisenhower said it best, nearly sixty years ago:

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.

In an age where stateless terrorists are our major threat, we are still spending trillions on cold war weaponry designed to fight wars against other states, and we wage such wars despite all the evidence showing it does not work.  Indeed, we are pursuing strategies that compromise our long term security and increase the number of terrorists, in the name of reducing the terrorist threat. 

It gets worse. Today, the US has troops in over 150 nations; it has over 70 bases overseas; and its defense budget exceeds half a trillion dollars. There is no clear articulation of how—or whether—any of this makes us safer, and a great deal of evidence suggesting it makes us less safe.

Indeed, the fact that we had to establish a new Homeland Security Department after 911 is prima-facia evidence that the Defense Department and the trillions we’d spent on it, hadn’t done a good job of actually defending us.  In fact, it would be more accurate to call it the Department of Offense, because its bloated budget supported a bloated mission that centered on “projecting power and winning,” rather than on actually defending us here at home. 

Exactly against whom this power needed to be projected and why has never been adequately addressed and the justification has shifted over time, although protecting access to Mideast oil was frequently cited.  Even now that Mideast oil is less important to us than it has been since the 50’s, the Mideast plays a disproportionate role in our national security policy. And then of course, there are those convenient bogeymen, Russia and China, who together spend less than half of what we spend on defense.  

Meanwhile, Congress routinely funds weapons even the Defense Department says it doesn’t want, and we continue to pass budgets that are completely out of line with the rest of the world and with our own security needs.  Justifying it has become a cottage industry based on fear and manufactured and inflated threats.


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Again, the root of this problem is the role of money and influence.  The Pentagon budget has become a kind of white-collar welfare – a way for Congress to spread federal largess to their districts, and Defense contractors are major contributors to both political parties and they routinely invest well over $100 million more in lobbying.

Both Trump and Clinton subscribe to the basic tenets of the fundamentally flawed and economically motivated neocon foreign policy that shovels money into the military industrial complex, making us less safe. 

Again, only one candidate has a track record of and calling for a more rational—and affordable—national security policy: Bernie Sanders.

Erosion of our democracy? 

Even as we spent tens of trillions in the name of protecting our freedom, we quietly relinquished it—not to an invasion from without, but to a silent coup by the rich and powerful from within. Here’s what Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found after examining the role of elites, interest groups and average citizens in effecting US policy and law:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

They went on to note that “… the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes."

Consider this for a moment.  Deeply.  We the people have no say and almost zero influence in our governance.  Forget about the land of the free and the home of the brave – we’ve become the land of the duped and the home of the indentured. 

The system which enabled this coup is the pay-to-play politics that both Trump and Clinton subscribe to. 

This is why we can’t enact meaningful gun control legislation when the vast majority favor it; this is why we can’t enact effective climate change policies when majorities in both parties say the want to; this is why we let the people founder but bailed out the banks when they crashed the economy in 2008; this is why politicians from both Parties still favor job-wrecking trade agreements when most citizens from both Parties are against them; this is why we can’t enact meaningful reforms on Wall Street when 70% of Americans want it; this is why we can’t break up the too-big-to-fail banks or reinstall Glass-Steagall or pass a tax on securities trading, again, even though the majority of Americans favor all of these measures. This is why we are engaged in never ending wars nobody wants.

The fact is, the people and institutions we used to rely on to constrain the power of the uber rich and corporations are now owned by them.  Whether it’s the media, public interest groups and unions, or our political parties and political candidates, they no longer represent you. 

Trump is a product of the elite and uber wealthy class that has created our problems. And despite a skillfull exploitation of hate, greed, jingoism and fear, when you strip away his policies they leave the elite in charge.

Ms. Clinton—who’s been a conventional middle of the road politician who engaged in the play-to-pay politics of the political mainstream—claims she’s a progressive now. She claims she isn’t—and won’t be—influenced by the PAC money and the many financial favors Wall Street has done for her and her family.  It’s conceivable—although highly unlikely—that there is no expectation of a quid pro quo, or that she won’t deliver if there is. But that’s still a far cry from attacking the root cause of most of our major problems.

Only one candidate promises to attempt to do that:  Bernie Sanders. And that’s why we need to back him all the way to November, come what may.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a CA car accident in January 2020.

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