Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

July 31, 2012

LION AND THE LAMB: Our nation's twilight zone

CROSSVILLE — As we look around us, we can discover a number of signs indicating that our nation is entering the twilight of its life as a democracy. Seldom do we find at the grass roots level any lively, hopeful conversation about our nation's values and goals. Instead, there is a deep sense of anxiety and foreboding, a sense that our political institutions have been corrupted by money and our economic system by increasing inequality. Our electoral system no longer provides a democratic bulwark for us.

Since January 2011, nineteen states have passed a total of 24 laws that create hurdles between voters and the ballot box. As Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice has written, "We are seeing a dramatic assault on voting rights, the most significant pushback on democratic participation that we've seen in decades. The laws could make it harder for millions of eligible American citizens to participate, particularly in swing states."

Many states, such as Tennessee, now require a government-issued photo ID to vote, supposedly to combat fraud. As Weiser has written, "You are more likely to find someone struck by lightning than someone who carries out impersonation fraud to cast an improper vote." Obtaining such an ID is very hard for certain groups of people —rural, elderly, poor, college students, and those forced to move because of house foreclosure. There are 330,000 adults living in rural Tennessee counties that do not have driver service centers or other sources of ID cards nearby.

Not only do requirements such as this provide a great obstacle for some would-be voters, but in some cases, they come face-to-face with actual roadblocks. Georgia's new voter ID law, on hold pending federal approval, has an interesting catch-22 feature: voters would need to produce a certified birth certificate in order to get a photo ID, but would need to produce a photo ID in order to get a certified birth certificate.

It would seem that a nation aspiring to be democratic would go out of its way to make it possible that more, rather than fewer, people would be able to vote.

Our democracy is under threat from another direction—from the impact of money on the life and development of our nation. We have seen how the tremendous wealth of billionaires and corporations has taken control of our political campaigns and determined the agenda and deliberations of Congress, the Supreme Court, and even the Presidency. The Supreme Court in its Citizens United ruling that corporations are persons with First Amendment rights, and that their money is a form of free speech, has transformed and corrupted our nation's political process.

There are several efforts now to reverse this decision: calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, and passing a DISCLOSE Act that requires the full disclosure of the donors who are making huge secret Super PAC campaign contributions to their preferred candidates.

A third effort is now also being considered: If corporations are indeed to be treated as "persons," then they should not be above the law. According to some critics, their recidivist wrongdoing and criminal behavior should make them vulnerable to the revocation of their state charters and even capital punishment. Charges could include ongoing corruption and fraud, deception of shareholders, usurpation of political power, complicity in human rights violations, environmental devastation, and the destruction of human life.

Valuing and protecting the personhood of our nation's citizens, and of all our fellow residents on this planetary home, is a huge challenge. In our nation's twilight years it may be too late to change our ways, but it's still worth a try.

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