Just Give Up! Why American Democracy Is an Illusion
Like many of my idealistic friends, I too voted in this year’s election. I didn’t plan on it — it didn’t strike me as something too important — but, finding myself near my polling station I walked in, took an envelope and voted. I voted in Israel, having made this country my home for the last few years. I did not vote in the U.S. elections and never did it cross my mind to obtain an absentee ballot. I just don’t think that my vote counts, and not because I’m only one individual. My problem with system lies deeper: I know that it’s all a lie.
I did not pay so much attention to the results either. I hate the GOP, but I don’t especially like the Democrats. I feel appalled by President Trump and his minions’ crude behavior and vicious policies, but I don’t harbor fond sentiments for the ultra-liberal insanity that many of the Democratic lawmakers promote. To me, both parties form an unholy coalition, a single party of corrupt opportunists with wallets and ears open to the suggestions of corporate power and ruthless strongmen. This one-party-state that you live in appears to some as a thriving democracy, but don’t be fooled: democracy in America is dead on arrival.
Nearly any attempt at sane politics in the U.S. faces the unrelenting obstacles and restrictions of an invasive, global bureaucratic order intent on stifling revolution and squelching protest of any of its broad policies that threaten humanity. Together with the corporate world, the corporate media and manipulative social-network platforms, the ruling class has made it nigh impossible to even investigate and report to the public on anything. The calls of “Lugepresse” (“Fake news”), which hearken back to the dark days of modern man’s oppression, reinforce in the general public’s consciousness the subjectivity of truth and honesty and further strengthen our ruler’s (owners of the “official outlets”) ability to rewrite our histories and values, and control our lives.
Some outliers do manage to break through the hermetically-sealed fountains of information that we semi-willingly imbibe on a daily basis, and sometimes idealistic figures surprise us at their relative successes. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a socialist congresswoman from NY, woke me up to the idealistic undercurrents of a sophisticated and frustrated left that I had not known existed, though I do not believe for a moment that her recent election will spell the end of Western neo-imperialism, nor do I think that her election presents a danger to the ruling establishment. Serious political discourse, even if people have begun to speak up, will not develop independently in America — it’s too late.
In order for a healthy democracy to operate, a state needs a public sphere conducive to the promotion of democratic ideas, freedom of the press, freedom of discourse and of religion, and the ability to defend the decisions of its people in the event of violent uprising by segments of its population. For that purpose, a state needs not only a law making system of legislature, but also a standing army, a comprehensive educational system and a general willingness to sacrifice one’s well being for the common good. America today lacks nearly all of those qualities: it lacks a free, sophisticated and unbridled public sphere, it lacks a system of legislature that feels responsible to its constituents and it lacks the ability to physically defend itself against the power of private interests.
In addition to the comprehensive privatization of many branches of the military-industrial complex (e.g. Haliburton, private contractors etc.) and the mass accumulation of wealth and influence (through the media, education, the market etc.) by our ruling elites that took place over the past thirty years, we have also witnessed a general trend of disaffection regarding our international conflicts and the military in general. While young men eagerly joined the ranks of the largest military on the face of the Earth 40 years ago, today most of us have never had any serious interaction with soldiers, let alone a draft official. As American citizens, we all must register for the draft at the age of eighteen, but has anyone seriously considered the army as a serious option? Most well-to-do bourgeois Americans, favoring the individual luxuries of a suburban, industrial lifestyle, cannot even imagine that one might feel a yearning to defend his way of life and country against the forces of evil and oppression.
We have yielded much of this responsibility to the few idealistic youths who harbor a deep love of their country but lack the basic understanding of an upstanding citizen. While the army still receives a steady stream of strapping young lads and gals willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their brethren, the white-collar working class has disengaged completely from national service and pays for it dearly. Middle-class America suffers from the utter gutting of its capital, the annihilation of its freedoms, and even the general unwillingness of the public to demand justice. The False Consciousness of fake democracy terrorizes the American people. One does not only suffer, but he also can’t even register his own demise.
Even in the unlikely event that a democratic revolution occurs from within our current political system, such a brazen act, a collective democratic uprising against our ruling elites, will not be tolerated. We lack the power and resources to actually effect such a change as we aspiring socialists desire. Even if we could convince masses of the American electorate that voting for either the Democrats or the Republicans runs counter to their interests, even if we could introduce into such a corrupt system a new brand of politics, authentically motivated and sufficiently sophisticated to re-educate America and make her great again, I am convinced that the forces that be will not allow such a democracy to persist.
By neglecting its civic duty to serve in the army, the American middle class has lost its influence and power in the military. The monopoly of force now firmly rests in the hands of private interests and the uneducated lower classes who will not necessarily support the democratic will of the middle-class. Instead of freeing itself from the banality of military service, the middle class has concretized their vulnerability and permanently divorced itself from an active role in America’s internal power struggle. The ruling class, if unable to maintain its control over society and our natural resources through the psychic ploy of a dysfunctional democratic system, will not hesitate to enforce its rule through other means.
We have seen such a fate befall many states that fought the onslaught of corrupt American interests. Chile, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, China, South Korea and Argentina, among many more, witnessed the triumph of American interests over those of their democratically elected governments or have suffered the effects of tacit American approval and material support of vicious dictatorships. Such betrayals of liberal democratic values occurred many times before in history, and I do not dare believe that such a coup, if politically necessary in order to maintain control over a rebellious proletariat, will shrink away from striking at the paradigmatically democratic U.S. By opting out of their civic duties, middle-class Americans have given away their country to the highest bidder. They privatized away their responsibilities and with them their liberties.
In Israel, on the other hand, the IDF still plays a large part in general society. Every Israeli, with exceptions, of 18 years must draft for close to three years of active service, followed by reserve duties for the remainder of his working career. Such an expectation, unheard-of in most Western democracies (with the exception, of course, of Switzerland) looms large over the heads of most Israeli high school students, guiding their burgeoning lives through to their retirement. While American high schoolers must decide where to go to university and where to party, Israeli teenagers must deal with the intensely bureaucratic military, be tested, cataloged and sent for service, all within a year or two of their AP (‘Bagrut’) exams. The extreme privation of bourgeois luxuries, the overwhelming nature of total and complete subservience to an external system of laws, values and directives, necessarily tests the abilities of many of the countries youths, and some fail to qualify for such physically and mentally demanding circumstances. The involvement of such a large portion of society in such an institution generates vast repercussions for society at large, even more so for the middle class.
Recently, many of the more bourgeois, middle-class families have begun to prefer sending their children to non-combat duties, the intelligence corps, cyber-warfare etc. These jobs, in addition to keeping the young draftees out of harm’s way, also provide excellent opportunities for social and economic advancement. The social connections developed in select units such as 8200 (Intelligence) bring with them excellent odds for future employment through a deep system of nepotism (“protectsia”), and the technological/logistical acumen the soldiers develop through exclusive government-funded courses and intense experience with sensitive, usually classified, material, look great on just about any job application. Intent on promoting their children’s self-interest and in anticipation of a harsh job-market, the middle class have begun the same process that their American counterparts completed years earlier.
Much of Israeli bourgeois society has moved on from the army experience as a unifying factor. They serve, but they are less noticeable. The large army bases are being relocated to the periphery of Israel, ostensibly for real-estate interests, but also serving the same objective as in America. By removing the middle-class from the army, by incentivizing non-combat roles and by physically relocating soldiers to peripheral microcosms (one sees fewer armed soldiers nowadays) away from the influence of greater society, we too risk castrating Israeli society and alienating our middle-class from taking an active role in its own protection.
In response, many Religious-Zionists (among other secular Jews) have felt the need to reintroduce the middle-class element into the IDF. Many idealistic kids from stable, middle-class households have returned to the ranks of combat troops, not without objection and not without controversy. They bring with them the classical values of a traditional middle-class upbringing: a stable, strong family life, modest religiosity and sophisticated patriotism. They think on their feet, they question orders, they must deal with conflicts of values and interests and they are truly selfless. They are strong in their desire to provide for their families, communities and country, and, owing to their bourgeois, urbane mentalities, they know how the system really works. These youths threaten the resurgent neo-liberal assault on society, and thus are labeled as fanatics, ideologues or unenlightened. They may be just so. But only they can guarantee Israeli democracy. They are our only hope.
God Save America.
Photo Caption: Rabbi Eli Sedan receiving the Israel Prize for his work on reviving middle-class participation in the IDF (Mechinot)/IDF Soldiers