September 3, 2022 Wayne Northey

Commentary On: The seeds of Biden’s democracy speech sprouted long before the Mar-a-Lago search

But the actions of Trump and his supporters, along with threats of violence, sped up Biden’s need to address the nation.

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WN: Of The Prison of Democracy: Race, Leavenworth, and the Culture of Law, one learns:

Built in the 1890s at the center of the nation, Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary was designed specifically to be a replica of the US Capitol Building. But why? The Prison of Democracy explains the political significance of a prison built to mimic one of America’s monuments to democracy. Locating Leavenworth in memory, history, and law, the prison geographically sits at the borders of Indian Territory (1825–1854) and Bleeding Kansas (1854–1864), both sites of contestation over slavery and freedom. Author Sara M. Benson argues that Leavenworth reshaped the design of punishment in America by gradually normalizing state-inflicted violence against citizens. Leavenworth’s peculiar architecture illustrates the real roots of mass incarceration—as an explicitly race- and nation-building system that has been ingrained in the very fabric of US history rather than as part of a recent post-war racial history. The book sheds light on the truth of the painful relationship between the carceral state and democracy in the US—a relationship that thrives to this day.

In other words, American “democracy” has never been even close to its stated ideals–above all freedom–but their very inversion.

In A People’s History of the United States, brilliant historian/activist, Howard Zinn, challenges the notion that the United States was ever a true democracy. He described himself as

. . . “something of an anarchist, something of a socialist. Maybe a democratic socialist.”[4][5] He wrote extensively about the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and labor history of the United States. His memoir, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (Beacon Press, 2002), was also the title of a 2004 documentary about Zinn’s life and work. Zinn died of a heart attack in 2010, at age 87.[6] (Wikipedia)

He indicates in Howard Zinn on Democracy in America:

We don’t have a lot of democracy in America today. We have these formal institutions. We have representative government and we have a Bill of Rights… Sure, we are more democratic than an absolutist and totalitarian state, but we in the United States are still quite a long way from democracy and certainly a long way from economic democracy. Because of the control of the economy by corporations and the tax structure, which is set up by an unrepresentative Congress and approved by a president, a tax structure which has so far channeled the wealth of the country towards the richest one percent of the population.

A brief video on this by him follows:

Please see my post about incisive social critic, Arundhati Roy:

Empire’s Religion: Arundhati Roy Confronts the Tyranny of the Free Market, September 15, 2016. We read:

We are told the world is being made “safe for democracy,” a trope that dates back to the days of the First World War. But “democracy,” in elite-speak, is code for [militarized] capitalism.

“Across the world,” Roy writes, “as the free market brazenly protects Western markets and forces developing countries to lift their trade barriers, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer.”1

A fist has, of course, always been behind the market’s “invisible” hand. And whether in Iran in 1953 or Guatemala in 1954, whether in Vietnam or Iraq or the Dominican Republic, the fist often takes the lead role, smashing disobedient nations into submission, forcefully prying open previously closed markets, shaping the world in such a way that is amenable to the needs of the profit-seekers and the already powerful.

The resulting consolidation of wealth is astonishing to behold. Each year, the remarkable achievements of the global elite are celebrated in Davos, Switzerland. And each year, Oxfam publishes a report detailing these achievements.

In 2013, Oxfam estimated that the income of the world’s “richest 100 billionaires would be enough” to eradicate extreme poverty “four times over.” A year later, little had changed: “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population,” the organization announced. A pattern is emerging. What about 2015? The world’s billionaires have it all, Oxfam told us, and they still want more.

Then there was the dutiful 2016 report, which featured many striking but unsurprising facts, like this one: “Runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.”

The neoliberal period has been defined by these trends, and whatever critiques of the foundations of global capitalism that remained within mainstream political discourse have been decisively erased or confined to the margins. And, as Roy masterfully documents in her 2014 book Capitalism: A Ghost Story, massive corporations have taken to co-opting the heroes of progressive movements for their own purposes.

In other words: America, the bastion and beacon of democracy for the free world? Au contraire! It represents the very opposite.

Canadian filmmaker, activist, author, wrote the book: Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone. Of it:

What is democracy really? What do we mean when we use the term? And can it ever truly exist? Astra Taylor, hailed as a “New Civil Rights Leader” by the Los Angeles Times, provides surprising answers.

There is no shortage of democracy, at least in name, and yet it is in crisis everywhere we look. From a cabal of plutocrats in the White House to gerrymandering and dark-money compaign contributions, it is clear that the principle of government by and for the people is not living up to its promise.

The problems lie deeper than any one election cycle. As Astra Taylor demonstrates, real democracy—fully inclusive and completely egalitarian—has in fact never existed. In a tone that is both philosophical and anecdotal, weaving together history, theory, the stories of individuals, and interviews with such leading thinkers as Cornel West and Wendy Brown, Taylor invites us to reexamine the term. Is democracy a means or an end, a process or a set of desired outcomes? What if those outcomes, whatever they may be—peace, prosperity, equality, liberty, an engaged citizenry—can be achieved by non-democratic means? In what areas of life should democratic principles apply? If democracy means rule by the people, what does it mean to rule and who counts as the people?

Democracy’s inherent paradoxes often go unnamed and unrecognized. Exploring such questions, Democracy May Not Exist offers a better understanding of what is possible, what we want, why democracy is so hard to realize, and why it is worth striving for.

In The Slow Death of American Democracy: 50 Reasons the US is Not a True Democracy and How We Can Fix It, author Ross Rosenfeld begs the question: When has the U.S. ever been a “democracy”? Of it (2018):

Our democracy is under threat: Voter suppression, legalized bribery, the destruction of unions, poverty, racism, a partisan Supreme Court and much, much more – we are witnessing the deterioration of American democracy right before our eyes. It’s time to fight back.

In this book you’ll find fifty problems with American democracy laid bare, encompassing everything from the Electoral College to the disproportionate make up of the Senate to our extremely skewed tax code to shadow organizations with enormous influence over our government.

If you’re a liberal, if you’re a progressive, if you’re part of the Resistance, this book will give you the intellectual ammunition you need to combat the extremist Republican Party and the injustices we’re seeing all around us. We can no longer sit back while conservatives take names off of voting lists and add names to prison rosters.

Bernie Sanders once said that we have to decide whether we want to be a democracy or an oligarchy. Right now we have an oligarch president in Donald Trump, the poster-child for greed and privilege. We have corporations not only influencing our politicians, but often writing the laws themselves. And we have a growing wealth gap between the richest 1% and the rest of us.

Some of the information you’ll find this book will truly shock you. But we can change things. It begins by defeating the lies from the other side. Let’s get started.

The world’s billionaires have it all, Oxfam told us, and they still want more.

I have little doubt that President Biden–God bless him–truly believes in what he said in his speech, highlighted below. But he is part of the very élite that propels America to democracy’s contrary, such that what is seen above militates against his having much of a clue about what real democracy entails. He is therefore part of the problem, however unwittingly. (And one must ask: Why so unaware?!)

With that caveat, please read on. I do believe his instincts are right. But he is woefully blind to any sense of the enormity of the crimes committed by America since before it became a nation; such that America is almost anything but what he believes there is an assault against by THE MAGA GOP crowd. Such (inexcusable?) ignorance of the real America, especially by a follower of Christ, is truly distressing–though hardly unusual amongst Catholics and Protestants south of Canada; in Canada too. On some of that, please see my:

An Open Letter To Joe Biden

June 11, 2020

Please also see: Opinions, by Chris Suellentrop, September 3, Politics Opinion Editor. We read:

Was President Biden’s big speech Thursday in Philadelphia a call to save democracy, or Democrats?

Biden could have appealed to like-minded Republicans, Henry Olsen suggests, by limiting the speech to the continuing MAGA coup — the events of Jan. 6 and their aftermath.

Instead, the president “gave what was essentially a Democratic campaign speech during an official White House effort, complete with Marine guards standing ominously in the background,” Olsen writes. “Casually ignoring a bipartisan democratic norm in a speech ostensibly devoted to protecting democracy dials chutzpah up to 11.”

By including extraneous issues such as abortion in a speech about “the soul of the nation” (the White House’s description), Biden divulged his real agenda, Olsen adds: winning the midterms for Democrats and proclaiming, despite insisting otherwise, “that there is no distinction between traditional conservatism and Donald Trump’s MAGA movement.”

Olsen and Eugene Robinson don’t typically agree on much, but in this case, Robinson says Olsen is exactly right — and that’s the problem.

“One of our two major parties, in thrall to a would-be autocrat, is no longer committed to the American experiment — and thus can no longer be trusted with power,” Robinson writes.

Biden merely “went through the motions of drawing a line between ‘MAGA Republicans’ and ‘mainstream Republicans,’” Robinson adds. The more radical acknowledgement made by the president on Thursday was, in Robinson’s words, “that, at least for now, this is a distinction without a difference.”

Just like the distinction between little-d democracy and big-d Democrats until the MAGA threat passes, if you buy what Biden is selling.

Read both columns in full below.

There is also this, by , Columnist, September 5, 2022: Opinion–The GOP reaction to Biden’s speech shows that his anti-MAGA strategy is working. We read:

For the past two years, ever since he became the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden has been pushing a message of bipartisanship that grated on the ears of younger and more progressive Democrats. You could hear the grumbling: He’s too old, he has been in Washington too long, he doesn’t understand how the Republican Party has changed.

But Biden stubbornly insisted that he could pass bipartisan bills — and he did. He passed legislation to stimulate the economy, build infrastructure, fund semiconductor production, pay for veterans’ health programs, regulate gun sales, lower prescription drug prices and roll back greenhouse gas emissions. He hasn’t gotten everything he wanted, but from a legislative standpoint, this is one of the most successful presidencies in decades.

Now that Biden has gotten so much of his agenda enacted, and with the midterm elections looming, he has switched to a more combative mode. His Thursday speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia was billed as a salvo in the continuing battle for “the soul of the nation,” but it was really a well-justified expression of rage and despair about what the Republican Party has become. The president is finally telling Democrats what they want to hear: “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” This comes only a few days after he described the MAGA philosophy as “semi-fascism.”

See too this: Opinion–A longtime conservative insider warns: The GOP can’t be saved, by , Columnist, September 6, 2022. We read:

With the midterm elections hurtling into their final stretch, a group of Never Trumpers is pumping millions of dollars into ads aimed at defeating Republican candidates aligned with Donald Trump and his lies about the 2020 election.

At the core of this effort is a big question: Can Trump’s continued domination of the news cycle, and the intensifying revelations about his lawlessness, alienate a small but meaningful enough fraction of GOP-leaning voters to affect the outcome?

The Republican Accountability Project, which is chaired by Never Trumper and conservative movement veteran Bill Kristol, is betting that it’s possible. A PAC linked to the group is spending money to try to defeat more than a dozen of the Trumpiest GOP candidates, those who support the “big lie” such as Doug Mastriano and Kari Lake, who are running for governor in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

The group’s ads highlight ongoing revelations about Trump’s effort to overthrow our constitutional order, culminating in the violence of Jan. 6, 2021. And the stunning disclosures about Trump’s hoarding of state secrets have made his lawlessness even more central.

I reached out to Kristol — who has been a fixture in the elite conservative and neoconservative establishments for decades — to discuss his group’s efforts, the future of the GOP, and the true nature of Never Trumpism. An edited and condensed version of our exchanges follows.

excerpts:

President Joe Biden’s speech warning about an assault against American democracy — by Donald Trump and his core followers — was an election-season call to arms unlike anything in modern American history.

It also was months in the making.

Aides said that Biden had been planning to give a version of Thursday night’s address since this past June, relaying he wanted to speak on what he saw as increasingly grave threats to the nation’s democracy. But events continued to get in the way of its delivery. Pressure built over the past few weeks, they said, amid a number of developments.

GOP primary victories of a number of 2020 election-denying candidates in state and federal contests, combined with the consolidation of support around Trump, jolted the White House. Biden told associates that he barely recognized the Republican Party with which he could once work, seeing a personality cult instead.

Threats made against federal agents in the aftermath of the FBI’s search in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home also outraged the president. Biden saw echoes of what happened 18 months ago, when officers lost their lives defending the U.S. Capitol. The actual writing of the speech started about three weeks ago, with Jon Meacham, the historian who has had a hand in a number of Biden’s most sweeping speeches, helping the framing.

When a number of Republican lawmakers warned of violence should Trump be indicted, it only added to the urgency. There was, as one senior administration official put it, “a rising degree of concern that this movement, rather than dissipating, is going stronger.”

Please see the video:

Allies of the president say he privately emphasizes the importance to not only call out the danger to democracy but connect it to the need to vote in November. Celinda Lake, a longtime party pollster who has worked for the Biden campaign, said voters, particularly swing women and “surge Democrats”— those who vote but not in midterm cycles — have found the case Biden has made compelling.

“You have had two patterns that have emerged that are important,” she explained. “One is that Republicans and Trump think they’re above the rule of law and the Mar-a-Lago search being a pin on that. … The second is that the will of the people is being overturned. Two-thirds of Americans or more think Joe Biden won the election. Jan. 6 and Roe v. Wade are dramatic overturns of the will of the people.”

Lake said the combination creates “a very strong narrative, and it feeds the argument that if you want to unite to ensure the will of the people is not overthrown, you have to vote in 2022.”

Please click on: The seeds of Biden’s democracy speech

Footnotes
  1. A telling variation, blatantly on display in America is captured in the book title by Jeffrey Reimer and Paul Leighton: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Thinking Critically About Class and Criminal Justice; a classic as true today as 40 years ago when first published. New to this edition:

    * Presents recent data comparing the harms due to criminal activity with the harms of dangerous―but not criminal―corporate actions
    * Updates statistics on crime, victimization, incarceration, wealth, and discrimination
    * Increased material for thinking critically about criminal justice and criminology
    * Increased discussion of the criminality of middle- and upper-class youth
    * Increased coverage of role of criminal justice fines and fees in generating revenue for government, and how algorithms reproduce class bias while seeming objective
    * Streamlined and condensed prose for greater clarity[]

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.