Jonathan Cloud April 7th, 2007
The irony is that we’re still battling with our own deficiencies, as human beings: our propensity for war, for fanaticism, for oppression and exploitation. Who would have believed, a few short years ago, that we would still be dealing with religious, ethnic, and sectarian violence; that we would be mired in another Vietnam; or that we have to fight not so much to preserve democracy as to restore it?
In The Subversion of Democracy, I compiled and documented many of the Bush Administration’s assaults on the Constitution and on human rights, both at home and abroad. After the 2006 election I stopped adding to the site, because the task now is to repair the damage that has been done: to end the war, to rebuild our weakened economic system, to undo much of the psychic damage that has been done, to fix our government, and to restore the morale of the people.
But coming to terms with the weakening of American democracy, with the total failure of our foreign policy (accompanied by the hypocritical pretense of bringing democracy to the rest of the world), and with official actions that constitute international war crimes: this still remains to be done. As does decommissioning the world’s nuclear arsenal, ending hunger and preventable diseases, and ensuring sustainable development everywhere on the planet.
At the same time we face today a global climate crisis that is the result of our great success in industrialization and wealth creation, our growing population, and our completely haphazard approach to technological development. Our major challenge today is to overcome our internal antagonisms in order in order to deal with the consequences of what we, as a species, have created, and indeed continue to perpetuate until we change the way we live and behave on the planet.
My early efforts to document this – in Headed For Disaster – have been largely overtaken by events, and by the superb Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth. But the fact remains that we must find a way to measure and evaluate, on a continuing basis, how well or poorly we are doing in environmental terms.
We must do so first, in order to discern for ourselves the effects we are having on our environment, to become cognizant of them. In addition, however, developing and using this kind of measurement will help us identify the challenges and opportunities of counteracting these effects, and enable us to build new industries and businesses based on the need to achieve these outcomes. Hence the opportunities.
But the ironies remain.
Myths and Realities of Modern American Life
The “birthplace of modern democracy” ranks near the bottom of the list of developed countries on fourteen or fifteen measures of democratic effectiveness, according to political scientist Robert A. Dahl. A poll conducted in 2002 found that only 33 percent of Americans think their government is run for the benefit of all, as opposed to the benefit of special interests. At the same time, voter turnout has been increasing in recent elections, and was up from 50 per cent in 2000 to 60 per cent in 2004 – though it is still well below the 80 per cent common in other established democracies.
The American political system continues to produce sub-optimal outcomes: failed foreign policies, gridlock in Congress, divisiveness in the electorate, apathy, erratic economic policies, a deteriorating educational system, vast divides between rich and poor, racial and ethnic disparities, conspicuous consumption, declining literacy (see Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline), religious intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance – giving rise to comparisons with the Roman Empire during its decline. The ease with which the Bush Administration has undermined the Constitution, disregarded traditional American values, introduced foreign concepts (“homeland security,” “faith-based initiatives,” the endless “war on terror,” unprecedented domestic surveillance, and soon a “guest worker” program), rejected scientific findings, and overturned hard-won environmental, labor, and social policies, is evidence of the inadequacy of historic checks and balances. Fundamental changes are needed, but are not being discussed, let alone debated by U.S. politicians.
The restoration of democracy is the most urgent political task facing the country. Clean elections, respect for civil liberties, political engagement, reduction of the deficit, reform of the justice system, the emergency-response system, environmental policies, the health-care system, the military, and most other government institutions, the elimination of corporate and governmental corruption, and the regulation of the economy are all important priorities that are mostly being neglected.
These are some of the realities. The war in Iraq is criminal under international law and treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory. Torture and “extraordinary rendition” are both war crimes and violations of the U.S. Constitution. Terrorism is a trivial problem compared with traffic fatalities, alcoholism, gun violence, and even obesity. Since 9/11, the American public has been manipulated by fear and misinformation. The two presidential candidates committed to “speaking truth to power” – Ron Paul on the Republican side, and Dennis Kucinich on the Democratic side – have been effectively marginalized by the corporate media. And third parties are effectively nonexistent. But virtually no one is discussing the reform of the American political system.
The U.S. economy is weakening, and is unlikely to be able to withstand the external forces of global competition and climate change, and the internal forces of a ballooning federal deficit, corporate corruption on a massive scale, and military failure.
Sustainability and the Environment
The present course is not sustainable, and not simply because of global warming. The rising tide of population, the exhaustion of natural resources, the emergence of new diseases and epidemics, the decline in scientific literacy, the rise of fundamentalist religious ignorance and fanaticism, the rising level of environmental toxins, the total neglect of aging nuclear arsenals: any one of these is sufficient to do us in as a species. Most of us simply have not grasped the planetary magnitude of the problems, or the need to develop new paradigms that can effectively ensure that sustainability is the first consideration, in business, in government, and in life.