Monday, November 07, 2005

American Democracy: R.I.P?

What has happened to American democracy and moral values? Since the terror attacks on 9/11, the media, congress, and the average American has turned its back on what once made this country so great. Accountability, transparency, and truth have fallen to the wayside.
The Bush Administration was able to engage the U.S. in a war based on fiction rather than fact. They spun a tale of weapons of mass destruction to a Congress that was shamefully more concerned about being perceived as unpatriotic rather than judicious. Over 2,000 American servicemen and women and over 26,000 Iraqi civilians have paid the price for the lies. Billions of dollars have been spent on building Iraqi democracy why American democracy slowly implodes at home from one scandal after another.
From torture in Abu Gharib, to the burning of Taliban bodies in Afghanistan, to CIA covert prisons, to Dick Cheney actively campaigning for the legalization of the use of torture by the CIA (even though we ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1994), our moral high ground is quickly eroding. If we continue down this route, we will be no better than the terrorists that we are supposed to be protecting America from. This is simply un-American.
As much as the Bush administration would like to spin the current scandals regarding the outing of the CIA agent into a partisan-motivated witch-hunt, it has nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican. It has to do with being American and being fed up with being lied to.
The media has also failed the American population. The press is supposed to serve as a gadfly to ensure that governments cannot pull the proverbial wool over the eyes of the public. But unfortunately, the American media has catered more to missing teenagers in Aruba, and the pathways of hurricanes than it has to the erosion of American civil liberties through the Patriot Act, and the injustices occurring in America’s name abroad.
But it would be too simple to put all the blame on the government or the media. After all, we are a democracy, not a dictatorship. Americans did vote Bush into the Presidency a second time. Perhaps Americans are too comfortable with the notion that things always work themselves out – our forefathers created as perfect a democracy as possible. But unfortunately, democracy does not work very well when apathy and ignorance are the defining characteristics of a population, and when Americans are too trusting of their leaders. Americans have to become more engaged in their democracy.
American democracy did not happen by accident, nor will it be destroyed by accident. Unless our Congress stops acting as a rubberstamp to the White House’s directives, unless the media becomes more courageous in questioning our lawmakers and the motives of the Bush administration, and unless the average American becomes more of a citizen than a subject, the things that we as Americans hold dear to our hearts: liberty, equality and justice for all, will be a mere epithet on the tombstone of American democracy.
Perhaps there still is hope for our system of checks and balances -- a form of government that has endured multiple challenges in its 229 years. The Senate sent a clear message to the President on Tuesday that they plan to get to the bottom of the White House use of pre-war intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, a recent Zogby International poll found that 53 percent of Americans support an impeachment of President Bush if he lied about Iraq.
As Edmund Burke so famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”.


Thomas T. said...

I don't think it's fair to say that America democracy and moral values have been dying during the last few years. Instead, I think we need to look at how they were never alive in the first place.
With the example of the CIA, for as long as the CIA has been around, they've always been suspected of torturing people in secret "nonexistent" locations, staging coups of democratically elected governments, and doing other things that disagree with our "moral values."
The Bush administration has lied to the public and done numerous questionable things. But so has Clinton. And Reagan. And Nixon. Yes, nobody died with Clinton's lie, but people (non-Americans) did die because or Reagan's supplyment of arms to the Contras via Iran, and we all know about Nixon's Watergate faisco. I'm not saying that this justifies Bush's actions, because it doesn't. He should be punished (perhaps by impeachment) for his lies. All I'm saying is don't act so surprised that the government has all of a sudden stopped possessing moral values, because it never had them to begin with.
The media has been becomming increasingly worse and worse. But this isn't entirely their fault. Almost every time that a news network shows something controversial, they get sued by somebody. That somebody sometimes wins, but if he doesn't, he is still successful in tieing up large amounts of the network's resources. A lot of the time, the news network thinks about its own self-interest, and just decides that attacking the country's government or fighting for the public's interest just isn't worth it.
But I do agree with you that most of the fault lies on the common citizen. If we actually did something to voice our concerns, then something would happen. If it didn't, then we could blame it on a government that doesn't listen to its people. As numerous governmental officials said after the Rwandan genocide, if only each representative had received 100 letters from their constituents, then things would have happened differently. If four classrooms full of people from each district had written letters to their representatives asking for an end of the genocide, then things would have happened differently. But it didn't happen, because nobody cared enough to take action. The President didn't, the Congress didn't, the people didn't. We pledged that it would "never happen again," because we did "care." Darfur has shown that that promise, too, is superificial.

laura said...

I think Thomas made an interesting point about American values never being alive in the first place. If you look over our history, there are so many government actions that Americans should have put a stop to, but did not (or could not?). Outrageous actions by our government go as far back as the Trail of Tears ordered by Andrew Jackson, or the Japanese internment camps during WWII. And Thomas also gave the example of Reagan in Nicaragua.
So have our moral values never actually existed?
I think it's a really interesting question-and I definitely have no idea how to answer it.

rachael h said...

I think it's fair to say that American democracy is dead. Americans do not speak out against the government because it is seen as unpatriotic or cynical to do so. Therefore, the government is given the power to do what they feel is necessary without being questioned. I think the citizens of the US should always question the government. We do not know what really goes on in the oval office. The Americans are expected to completely trust the President and Congress to do what's best for this country. But can we really say that in the past they have done what's best for America? I believe it is time for the American people to reevaluate their role as citizens. What does it really mean to be a citizen of the US?
As for the media all I can really say is that it does not unbiasedly tell of events. I feel to get an understanding of what's really going on I have to look at international news.

Dr. D said...

Thomas T., Laura & Rachel:
you all have very valid points. I think the most disturbing idea for me is that not we had all these things happenning before (torture, lies, etc.,) but that now that we know about them, we just don't care enough to do anything about them. Or is it that we don't know what to do about them? That's even worse.I don't believe that American democracy is dead...perhaps it has just been hibernating ...

Noor M said...

While I agree that the biggest role in promoting/preserving democracy does lie with the individual citizen, I do not think the media can be let off the hook so easily. I aspire to be a journalist someday and I firmly believe that there is something called, "responsibilty of the media." Whether one likes to admit it or not, the media plays a HUGE role in informing the masses so that they have a chance to form an opinion. If Guantanamo Bay was on the news every night, then I think more people would be questioning the actions of the current administration. I think current policies and attitudes from the administration put pressure on the media to cover only certain aspects of the war. I think the media industry should realize the power it weilds over a big chunk of the population and throw light on certain issues that are screaming for attention. If that isn't possible then the restrictions placed on the media should be brought into the spotlight. People will realize that even in this country "freedom of the press" is not all that it is made out to be.

Thomas T. said...

To continue with what Noor was saying, how can we even pretend that the media is non-biased? Fundamentally, the American media's structure makes it biased. New agencies have one primary goal - making a profit. And where do they get their money from? Corporations that pay for commercial time. I guess that's why we never hear anything on the news about how corporations continue to destroy our environmetnt, to cheat the common citizen, and do numerous other misdeeds.

Just look at this one example... numerous Sony CDs have recently been discovered to secretly install programs on users' computers. These programs are hidden and monitor a person's CD use. Any attempts to delete these programs makes your computer no longer able to recognize its CD drive. The program has been described by Microsoft and numerous Anti-Virus agencies as "malware," partly because it makes it easier for hackers to gain access into your computer. It also (allegally) illegally uses Open Source software. The Sony Corporation has broken so many laws that it's disgusting. But where's the news coverage? How many of you actually knew about this? Sony's blatant disregard for basic privacy rights might actually go away relatively unnoticed and unpunished, because of the poor coverage of their atrocious actions. What Sony did is absolutely atrocious, but apparently it's not worthy of news coverage. One must wonder what else the media refuses to cover...

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