January 29, 2017

The American Dream has shrunk to one simple question: rule of law, or rule by man?

Will Americans govern themselves by laws — or be ruled by a man? The question is as old as civilization. Every political idea in history has confronted it.

Peoples ruled by man could only pray for a wise, smart, and far-seeing ruler — or wage war to overturn him. (Most were and are men, though many claimed divine endorsement.) Historically, enough people were unhappy with rulers and arbitrary rules to fight for democracy, to claim some degree of sovereignty for each person, to find ways to work together to draft enduring laws.

America once embodied this dream, but such ambitions, and its democratic notions of equality and opportunity, have been long crumbling. High-quality evidence (see this Princeton research, or this Guardian report, or this ProPublica series on Dark Money in politics) suggests America’s democracy is illusory, and a sophisticated, slick and secretive “rule by the rich” is winning a war on its founding ideals.

The situation would be easier to grasp if there were an easy catch phrase. “Neoliberalism” gets much attention, and blame. But the campaign against America’s democracy is far more complex, and shape-shifting, than any such fuzzy academic concept.

It’s more like “rule by paid-off lawmakers and other useful idiots,” all secretively manipulated by for-profit corporations, oligarchs and ideologues, who insist their subjects believe, cultishly, in whatever economic models most benefits the leaders at any point in time. And that’s a mouthful, unfit for sound bite or tweet.

“The United States is a nation governed by the rule of law and not the iron will of one man,” insisted  Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, this weekend. Citing America’s constitutional laws, the ACLU led the fight against the ban President Donald Trump issued Friday on people from Muslim-majority countries, including refugees. Late on Saturday, a judge sided with the lawyers and imposed a partial stay on the ban.

Score one for for the lawyers, and the rule of law.

But that was just one battle in a long-running war. Rule of law is up against rule by man. Expect casualties.

Copyright Deborah Jones 2017


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