Everywhere is up from here...
When it comes to living up to our own ideal as a nation, we've just about hit rock bottom. We kidnap and torture suspected terrorists, we owe nine trillion dollars to everybody and our soldiers are dying in a country we invaded "by mistake". How low is that?
We weren't all that great a country in the first place – not when right from the start, in the Land of the Free, white men could own black people and women couldn't even vote. But whatever greatness America ever achieved it owes to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, documents that describe an ideal still valid after more than two centuries. We've been at our best whenever we've honestly tried to live up to those ideals in the real world.
We aren't even trying anymore. Every level of government hides behind layers of secrecy while legislators mock the law with decisions that favor the interests of corporations over the rights of the citizenry. The occupation of Iraq has made us a debtor nation and the value of a US dollar has dropped until it's worth less than a Canadian loonie.
For a political junkie, one of the most interesting things about Hawai‘i is its political transparency. Malfeasance is usually done right in the open in the islands, with the current Superferry mess offering a perfect example of why American government sucks most of the time.
The ferry owners used loans cosigned by the federal government to build two ferryboats and start a business in Hawai‘i. Legislators committed public money for harbor improvements to accommodate the ferries and told the owners that environmental laws didn't apply to them. Citizens on Maui believed otherwise; they hired an attorney and sued for compliance.
When the state Supreme Court ruled that the laws must be followed, Gov. Lingle called a special legislative session to create a new law that allows the Superferry to operate while it conducts an environmental review.
That's not exactly democracy in action. In a true Republic that could never happen, but that form of bias and repression is now common all over our country.
It's certainly alive in the Aloha State. When people took to the water and blockaded the ferry from entering Nawiliwili Harbor, Lingle responded by declaring the harbor to be a "high-security zone" whenever the ferry comes to Kaua‘i. Her action is part of a growing national pattern of elected "public servants" abusing the Public Commons in the name of security and for the benefit of commerce.
Lingle went one step further and threatened to use state agencies to take the children of demonstrators away from their parents. That threat goes even beyond being unconstitutional and an impeachable offense; it's reprehensible behavior, immoral in every way.
Sadly, Lingle is not alone in her cynical disdain for the Rule of Law in the Land of the Free. The scales of justice are so far out of alignment that two priests were recently sentenced to five months in federal prison for trespassing on a military base. Their intent was to deliver a letter protesting the teaching of torture at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Both priests were arrested while kneeling in prayer in a driveway. They pled no contest and were taken straight to jail after sentencing.
Lewis Libby, however will serve no jail time after his conviction for obstruction of justice. He lied to a grand jury about leaking the identity of a covert CIA officer – an act akin to treason, some say – but was handed a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card by the president. The two priests who want our government to stop torturing people won't be getting any such cards from George Bush, however. They'll sit behind bars because national security is at stake.
Our federal government may also have reached a record low in hypocrisy with its recent attempt to label a century-old massacre of Armenians by Turks as an act of genocide. Our own history of genocide against Native Americans doesn't give us any moral authority on that issue, but it didn't stop that bit of history from being discussed on the floor of the House and in the Senate chamber. In doing so, Congress confirmed that they are as irrelevant as the British House of Lords in the eyes of the world.
We do have a few politicians willing to speak the truth as they see it. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are the most prominent among a handful of elected officials from both major political parties who want to change the way we govern our country. They're proof that Americans will vote honest, reasonable people into positions of power when they can find them.
It's going to take more than a handful of conscientious individuals to solve our current problem, however. Government in America has slipped so far off its foundation that it may never sit on solid ground again. But we can build a better government – or install a new one – any time we choose. We do, after all, still own the country.
The momentum for a fundamental change in politics is rising slowly but it's rising all across the nation.
On Oct. 27, anti-war protests were held across the land in cities as diverse in character as San Francisco and Salt Lake City, Seattle and Orlando and Jonesborough, Tennessee. Tens of thousands in each city took to the streets to voice their anger over the occupation of Iraq and to protest Dick Cheney's plans to bomb Iran.
Garret Keizer, writing in the October issue of Harper's Magazine, has called for a general strike on Nov. 6 – Election Day, a date that Keizer calls "The Feast of the Hanging Chads." He proposes that everyone who can afford not to work should stay home for as long as possible. The rest of us should stay out of shopping malls and retail stores as long as possible, buying only food and essentials. An economic message of that magnitude could change the level of political discourse across the nation, just as it has done in dozens of other countries during the past century.
More demonstrations and peace actions are being scheduled across the land every day. Confrontations with lawmakers are increasing as more citizens are demanding answers to some very difficult questions. Military families, religious groups and coalitions of true conservatives are calling for our soldiers to return home. Grassroots media are carrying that same call with blogs, email campaigns calls to talk radio, letters to editors and a dozen other forms of expression.
We haven't actually hit bottom yet – that moment could come however, if Cheney is able to bomb Iran before he slinks out of Washington and goes home to his Wyoming ranch – or moves to Dubai to run Halliburton once again – where he can dream of WWIII and an Armageddon that he hopes will bring redemption to his murderous soul.
We can prevent that if we ignore the political divisions in this country and unite to chart a new course for government to follow. It's the one right that can't be taken from us, and it's past time for us to exercise that right in full.