Monday, December 12, 2011

Depression waxes, Democracy wanes

Paul Krugman sets a grim picture of Europe in this op-ed, and it doesn't help that he's not even talking about the economy. Krugman's point in this piece is that, when the recession and depression get worse, democracy itself starts to dissolve. He makes a few great points, mostly in regards to increased pushes of austerity measures, the rise of fringe political parties into the mainstream, and the takeover of extremists in positions of power, and how these moves have made the continuation of democracy a tenuous goal.

While Krugman is focused primarily on Europe's concerns with democracy, we can take some lessons from this as well. In a depression, there are those who would use this financial crisis to disintegrate our democracy. Whether this threat comes from the Left or the Right is irrelevent. It's there. Consider the legislation that has nothing to do with our economy, but has sailed through Congress recently: the ability for the federal government to detain American Citizens indefinitely without charge, representation, or time limit. It flies in the face of our Constitution, but our lawmakers don't question this. They simply pass it without any real discussion.

And consider the pushes that we are seeing nationwide to limit access to voting, redistrict our states to favor one party over another, limit women's access to their legal right to an abortion, and the ongoing gay marriage debate. All of these issues have a few things in common. First, they all seemed to be stewing in some form for a couple years, but have since erupted into political prominence. Second, none of them have a thing to do with our economy, but are being hotly debated across the nation anyway. Third, they are being pushed by conservatives. It's as if all these plans were formed years ago, and they have been waiting for a good, stiff recession to pass them all under the radar.

Krugman points out that this is not random, but an issue that feeds off of unrest in our society, and hardly anything creates unrest like prolonged economic hardship. As the depression continues, so does this attack on our democracy. We have seen so much gutting of our basic rights that it is hard to distinguish what was once ours and what never was. Continuing to let these policies, and the groups that promote them, dictate the conversation will bring an end to the democracy we have cherished in America for over two hundred years. It will be the end of democracy in any definition.

Does this seem bleak? Does it seem far-fetched? Maybe it is. But consider what's happening in Europe. Consider what's happening here. Whether the corporate interests control us or the government itself makes no difference. It's all the same. We as Americans have to stand against the rich and powerful, have to defend our rights and keep our freedoms for ourselves. Extremist views, both Left and Right, have no place in public discourse because they reject discourse as appeasment. This is not an apocalyptic view, it is clear that this is a very real possibility. Consider the positions taken by many of the GOP candidates for president. Stopping a bill that gives millions of people affordable health coverage? Cutting the EPA, FDA, and departments of Education and Energy among others? War-mongering? Further de-regulation of the markets? Tax cuts for the wealthy and businesses? Bans on gay marriage and abortion? Disrupting the system of checks and balances in order to limit the power of the Supreme Court? How are these positions promoting our liberties and democracy? I don't see it. Unless their position is that democracy means fending for yourself, then I don't get it.

We have to hold on to our Democracy, even if it means we have to challenge our own institutions. Our rights are being taken away all the time, and we have to get them back before we forget we ever had them.

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