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Opening the Closed Political Culture

Editor’s Note: Chicago-based journalist Robert Koehler’s articles are intuitively Girardian. While he may not write specifically about mimetic theory, his articles demonstrate the contagious nature of violence, and more importantly, inspire hope in the contagious power of compassion. We are honored to feature his articles every Thursday.

The headline, from the Los Angeles Times, hit me like a sucker punch: “Voters’ ‘Bernie or Bust’ efforts persist despite Sanders’ vow not to be another Ralph Nader.”

Actually, it was worse than that. When my brain cleared, I realized I was, once again, caught in a media straitjacket.

In just over a dozen words, the paper managed not only to trivialize everything two presidential candidates stood for, and not only to reference the myth that Nader caused Al Gore to lose an election he didn’t in fact lose, but also, my God, to obliterate the last six months of a presidential campaign that had permanently shaken up the political status quo and return progressive voters to a place of permanent irrelevance to the national future.

In light of his recent primary losses, Sanders will almost certainly lose the Democratic presidential nomination, and he has said he would support Hillary Clinton if that’s the case, the story explains. However: “Some of his supporters remain so steadfast, however, that a #BernieOrBust movement has picked up momentum on Twitter. So has an online pledge for supporters who vow to vote for Sanders as a write-in candidate if he loses the nomination.”

Don’t they know how American democracy works? Real change isn’t part of the game. The mainstream media looks on in fascination at those (mostly young people) who don’t get this yet and seem to think that something more is at stake than which preselected big-money candidate wins the election.

Hamid Dabashi, writing at Al-Jazeera English, described the Democratic and Republican parties as “competing Orwellian Ministries of Truth.” He noted that Clinton’s decisive victory in New York state last week occurred not only amid election chaos (126,000 registered Democrats purged from the voting list in Brooklyn), but that it was a closed primary. Independents were not allowed to vote, neatly stiffing much of the Sanders base.

“Clinton has won every state so far that’s held a closed primary,” he pointed out, adding darkly:

“These ‘closed primaries’ are the bottlenecks of a closed political culture, preventing the possibility of any liberating breakthrough into a foreclosed political system.”

This is serious. The political culture has been in the process of closing throughout my lifetime, locking the American empire into place. Dabashi writes:

At the heart of this imperial republic that effectively rules the world with its military might (not with any moral courage or political legitimacy), we have an electoral process that systematically bars any critical judgment of its own citizens to disrupt its mindless militarism. American citizens are as much trapped inside this corrupt system as people around the globe are at the mercy of its fighter jets and drone attacks.

Money and militarism rule and the American experiment in democracy, at least as defined by the mainstream media, shrugs in acquiescence. The game of meaningless winning and losing is pretty much all that’s left of it. The military budget is not up for discussion, let alone debate. Neither is the political budget.

“At their core,” writes Geoff Gilbert at Truthout, “political parties are fundraising and marketing mechanisms. Over the years, the Democrats and Republicans have achieved fundraising economies of scale that have effectively barred the entry of any would-be competitors. Their collective fundraising monopoly — combined, they spent $7 billion during the 2012 election cycle — has allowed them to dominate the political discourse by financing campaigns, reaping brand recognition from the political advertising that accompanies campaigns, and thereby establishing their legitimacy as the parties who run candidates and do the governing of our country.”

Gilbert goes on to make an extraordinary suggestion. The Sanders campaign has been called a revolution. Maybe there’s a less amorphous term for what it really is, whether he wins or loses the 2016 presidential nomination: the foundation of a new political party, which would bring a progressive voice back into American politics at every level and, at the same time, help unify “our currently fragmented movement cultures.”

Gilbert writes:

By exploiting the Democratic Party’s name recognition, Sanders appears to have escaped the third party catch-22: He has achieved widespread name recognition without first having to raise money from the usual big donor suspects.

He adds that “Sanders’ fundraising throughout the primary process, completely independent of the two-party fundraising channels, has been nothing short of historic. In effect, the campaign has already created the skeletal fundraising infrastructure that is the backbone of any political party.”

Gilbert also suggests that the campaign — that this newly emerging political party — “deliberately bypass the corporate mass media as a mechanism for spreading its ideas” and create its own permanent voice via the Internet, e.g., a 24-hour YouTube channel or something equivalent.

In short, the extraordinary Sanders campaign has demonstrated that small money — affordable donations from millions of people who aren’t simply frustrated by the status quo but envision a future that is environmentally sustainable, compassionate and fair to everyone — is the antidote to Big Money, which cares primarily about perpetuating its own interests.

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What’s In A Name? On Building Cooperation Beyond Partisan Barriers

“What’s in a name?”

I’ve been asking myself that question a lot recently, and not just because this past Saturday marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death! It’s a question that comes to mind when I consider today’s political climate and the enmity between the mimetic doubles more commonly known as the Democrat and Republican parties.

To say that the political parties are the same is scandalous according to mainstream culture, and I acknowledge that there are some real and important differences between most members of the two parties. Yet in the quest for power and profit, leaders from each of the major parties have more similarities than differences, with greed, faith in violence, and a desire to “win” or retain power washing away major distinctions.

Corporate profits dictate policy far more than the will of the people that the elected officials are purported to represent. In fact, a recent study has determined that the will of the vast majority of people has no effect at all on policy making. Instead, large corporate donors contribute to both political parties to insure their interests are met. Because people tend to work for those who pay them, representatives are often more beholden to their donors than the will of their voters, making differences between many of the policies of each party more nominal than substantial.

While Republicans may pride themselves on being more responsible with money, decrying “big government spending,” the fact is that more than 50% of every tax dollar goes to the defense department, which Republicans leaders (along with many Democrats) would like to increase. Social welfare programs, meanwhile, are championed by many Democratic voters but are decreased or privatized under both Democratic and Republican leadership. And on the issue that most concerns me, namely, whether the United States will continue her quest for imperial control of the world or humble herself and become a partner in peace, there is near bipartisan consensus among the powerful to continue to wage wars for resources and power. While the Global War on Terror may have begun under a Republican administration, it has been expanded and extended – with drone warfare killing mostly civilians in seven countries — under a Democratic one. The fact is, from the standpoint of most of the world, it is hard to see much difference between the leaders of both parties when both are covered in blood.

With policies that contradict the rhetoric of both parties, partisan identification is increasingly rooted in a sense of “over-and-against” identity rather than actual policy outcomes. Forces of power and greed, wielded by the most wealthy and the politicians who work for them but beyond even their control, find value in keeping partisan warfare alive while ensuring that many of the policies of both parties are financially beneficial to them, to the detriment of the nation and the world. The enmity between the parties, fueled by the media and conventional wisdom, keeps the public divided by labels while unconsciously united in our lack of influence.

But it need not be this way.

Too often, a mental block against a party label keeps us from seeing the good in a politician’s proposals and actions, and likewise prevents us from being critical of those in the party with which we idenitfy. Too often, we interpret the rhetoric of an opposing party in the worst possible light. While we cannot afford to be naïve, we also cannot afford to be overly cynical and hostile. We cannot afford to nurture enmity, no matter how wrong we may think someone is, because we absolutely need to work together in every way possible to change a corrupt political system that is having a devastating effect on the whole world. And when we nurture enmity in ourselves, we inevitably nurture enmity in others, further deepening the chasm between us.

Regardless of political party, most of us would like to live in a democracy rather than an oligarchy. We can come together to demand the reduction of the influence of money in politics, which would be a gateway for leaders to listen and respond to nearly all other concerns, but often other divides keep us from doing so. But people from wide and various perspectives can come together where they agree, building more respect for each other even in disagreements. Non-interventionist fiscal conservatives can join with anti-war social liberals. Pro-life and pro-choice individuals often share a core of compassion for the vulnerable and could unite in helping to make the world safer and healthier for women and children. There are all kinds of unions to be made across the divides of political labels. When enmity no longer divides us, the forces of greed and domination will have to reckon with a nation waking up to a false dichotomy and working to help each other. Compassion and cooperation can have a powerful and lasting impact, awakening the moral conscience even of those who have been ruled by self-interest (which to a degree is all of us).

The spirit of enmity that is destroying the world is also borne out at home in political parties caught up in both corporate control and mimetic rivalry. Our potential to help the world – to replace warfare with reconciliation, reduce our carbon footprint, and build a prosperous peace — is significantly hindered by an inability to let go of the enmity among ourselves. I believe that political labels encourage us to look past each other rather than work together. If we can’t drop them completely, we must at least be willing to look past labels to the people who hold them, and come together where we can to make our voices heard. Our hope lies in each other.

Image: “Republican Elephant and Democratic Donkey Icons” by DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Available via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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The New Enlightenment

Editor’s Note: Chicago-based journalist Robert Koehler’s articles are intuitively Girardian. While he may not write specifically about mimetic theory, his articles demonstrate the contagious nature of violence, and more importantly, inspire hope in the contagious power of compassion. We are honored to feature his articles every Thursday.

What remains endlessly hinted at about the 2016 presidential race, but not fully articulated, is that something enormous — bigger than politics, bigger than America itself, perhaps — is trembling and kicking just below the surface, struggling to emerge.

I have a name to suggest for this hypothetical phenomenon: the New Enlightenment. Nothing less than that seems adequate.

There are millions of midwives at the ready — angry, despairing citizens — desperately hoping to assist in the birthing process . . . by being part of the Bernie Sanders campaign. I say this with full cognizance of the flawed, compromised nature of politics in general and the Democratic Party in particular. The political process is a stew of money and competing interests, power, compromise, cynicism and secret deals. But that’s not all it is.

It’s also the opening to our collective future. A failure to acknowledge this leaves the process in the hands of those who think they own it.

The New Enlightenment?

The old Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which began sweeping across the consciousness of Western Civilization in the 17th and 18th centuries, implanted science, democracy and capitalism at our social foundations and fomented the industrial revolution. But the shortcomings of this enlightenment are many. Slavery, for instance, flourished through much of the Age of Reason. So did war. So did genocide. The worst of who we are maintained its grip on power. We have yet to begin implementing our deepest values in the social and political realm.

The political mindset that sees Hillary Clinton as the pragmatic candidate in the Democratic race is unable to see beyond the parameters of a stunted political system. What she has accomplished in her political career is essentially defined by that stunted system, which not only serves (often in secrecy) the interests of those already in power, but fails to envision the implementation of power except in domination over some enemy or other.

This is illustrated with agonizing clarity by the recent controversy over the tough-on-crime and “welfare reform” policies of the Bill Clinton presidency in the 1990s, which, of course, Hillary supported and promoted, and which have begun coming back to haunt her. While the “war on crime,” the backlash against social spending and the implementation — via imprisonment — of what Michelle Alexander has labeled the new Jim Crow, got seriously underway in the Reagan era, Clinton continued and promoted rather than tried to undo these policies.

As Alexander wrote recently in The Nation:

Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine.

She added that: “By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps” and “funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion . . . while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion.”

The result of all this, as Alexander and others have noted — and that Black Lives Matter activists recently brought to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign, confronting Bill Clinton as he campaigned for his wife — is that African-American incarceration rates went through the roof and families and communities were shattered. This phenomenon has resulted in recent, stunning apologies from former supporters of Clinton-era tough-on-crime policies.

For instance, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago, a one-time Black Panther, tore his heart out in an MSNBC interview this month over his support of that bill. “I am ashamed of my role. I sincerely apologize to my God, I apologize to my community, to my family,” he said, lamenting that, in his urgent desire to deal with the devastating impact of crime and crack in the black community, he became ensnared in single-focus thinking: “locking them up, keeping them in jail.”

Despite the anguished sincerity of Rush’s apology, I remain pierced by the question: Why?

Why did sheer, vindictive punishment loom in that moment as the solution to crime? Why was Reagan still the de facto president, with the head of his chosen scapegoat still on the altar of American politics? Bill Clinton’s Democrats surrendered to Reaganism: to the pursuit of black “super-predators” and the defunding of “welfare queens.” They surrendered to racism, as American as apple pie. The New Deal was dead and the Old Deal had reclaimed control over American politics and American thought. And it’s still in control today, settled and unquestioned at the level of the political status quo.

“Of course ‘sorry’ isn’t enough, given the magnitude of the harm that has been done,” Alexander wrote, referring to Rush’s apology. “A brand new system of racial and social control has been born again in the United States, one that has functioned as a literal war on poor communities of color.”

The focus, she says, must be on rebuilding these communities that have been so devastated over recent decades. Yes, yes . . . but I would push it further. Social spending must be utterly redirected away from prisons and punishment, away from militarism and war, and toward the construction of real peace. The original New Deal was conceived in coexistence with war, but war eventually consumed it.

The cry of the New Enlightenment must be heard: Do not dehumanize! The only true enemy is the darkness we all share, lodged deeply in the collective human heart. When we try to kill it in “the enemy,” we kill ourselves.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: Stock Vector by jtanki via 123rf.com

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There’s Nothing New About A Contested Convention

Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.

In this installment of his series of articles drawing on the wisdom of the past to reflect on our current election cycle, Dr. McKenzie puts political conventions into historical perspective to show us how the possibility of a contested convention is by no means unprecedented.

 

Think of your forefathers!  Think of your posterity!—John Quincy Adams

So what would you make of the following scenario?

In a highly charged election year, the Republican Party faces a showdown at its impending national convention.  The field of presidential contenders has been large, and no single candidate will come to the convention with a majority of the delegates behind him.  Candidate A of New York is the clear front runner, and for months his rank-and-file supporters have considered him the presumptive nominee.  But Republican elites are lukewarm about A.  His reputation as an extremist gives them pause, and despite the enthusiasm of A’s followers, they worry that A will fare poorly in the general election.  They fear that A is unelectable, and by nominating him they will not only sacrifice any chance at the presidency but harm Republican candidates for state and federal offices as well.  The future of the party hangs in the balance.

As the opposition to A becomes ever more outspoken, a “Stop A” movement works frantically behind the scenes to rally behind a single alternative.  The number of potential nominees makes this difficult, however, and the divisions within the “Stop A” movement look to be crippling.  Candidate B is a southern conservative with tenuous links to party leaders.  Candidate C is an economic and social conservative who has risen to prominence in the Senate but made too many enemies along the way.  Candidate D is a northeasterner with a following in his own state but viewed elsewhere as a corrupt opportunist.  Candidate E has none of these liabilities, but as the convention approaches this Midwesterner is the first choice of only one state: his own.

Although candidate A commands a sizable plurality of delegates when the convention opens, candidate E’s campaign team goes to the convention determined to deny A a first-ballot nomination and open the door for E.  Unabashedly pragmatic, their message to delegate after delegate emphasizes expediency.  E is electable.  A is not.  E lacks A’s negative baggage and is widely respected.  He is a unifier who has been careful not to denigrate the other candidates.  E’s promoters encourage A’s delegates to consider E as a good second choice if it becomes clear that A cannot win a majority on the convention floor.  Where it promises to be helpful, E’s team makes thinly veiled offers of future political favors to delegations willing to switch their support to E after the initial ballot.  A significant number of wavering delegates are even willing to shift their allegiance before the balloting begins.

In the end, the strategy works.  On the first ballot, A takes 37% of the vote to E’s 22% (with candidates B, C, and D trailing even farther behind).  But as delegates are released from their first-ballot pledge to support A, the momentum shifts decidedly toward E on the second ballot, and by the third ballot E claims the nomination over A.  E’s margin of victory?  A razor-thin 50.5% to 49.5 percent.

So how would you evaluate the outcome of this contested convention?  Was it a miscarriage of justice?  An assault on democracy?  A “brokered” behind-the-scenes deal that bartered the wishes of the people? Or was it a politically prudent compromise that secured the best outcome realistically available?

If you say that you don’t have enough information to answer the question, you would be right.  But in thinking through the scenario, it might be helpful to know that it isn’t hypothetical.  It’s my best attempt to summarize the nomination of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  Candidates A, B, C, and D were Republicans William Seward, Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, and Simon Cameron.  We don’t know how this year’s Republican slugfest will play out, of course, but so far I’d say there are some pretty striking similarities to the 1860 Republican contest.  And although Donald Trump has modestly proclaimed that he is as “presidential” as Abraham Lincoln, right now the person best approximating that role is probably John Kasich.

So what does this analogy prove?  Can it help us to predict how the race for the Republican nomination will come out?  Can it teach us how it should come out?

Absolutely not.  The point of listening to the past is not to get easy answers to contemporary problems.  I cringe whenever I hear someone in the public opining ponderously about what “history proves.”  We study the past not as a storehouse of simple lessons but as an aid to thinking more deeply, more self-consciously, and hopefully more wisely as we meet the future.  History promotes wisdom, when it does, by expanding the range of our experiences to draw from.  As C. S. Lewis put it figuratively in “Learning in Wartime,” the student of history has lived in many times and places, and that greater breadth of perspective aids us as we seek to think wisely and live faithfully in our own historical moment.

I suspect that much of the popular hyperventilating about the prospect of a contested Republican convention stems from the fact that the last multi-ballot nomination of a major-party candidate came in 1952, before the vast majority of Americans were born.  And because we have no memory from before we were born—only people with historical knowledge can have that—we are vulnerable to all kinds of nonsense from those who would prey on our ignorance.

The reality is that the presidential primary model that we take for granted today has been dominant for less than a half century.  The earliest presidential candidates were chosen without any popular involvement at all, hand-picked by party caucuses in Congress.  Beginning in the 1830s (following the lead of a bizarre coalition known as the Anti-Masonic Party), the major parties established the pattern of choosing candidates in party conventions.  And although some states began to hold presidential primaries as early as 1912, as late as the 1950s conventions still effectively made the final decision, and it was possible for a presidential candidate like Adlai Stevenson to win the nomination without running in a single state primary.

And unlike the conventions of the last half century—which are carefully choreographed, excruciatingly boring infomercials—the conventions between the 1830s and the 1950s were frequently contested.  It wasn’t just Abraham Lincoln who was nominated after multiple ballots.

Future president James K. Polk was nominated on the ninth ballot at the Democratic Convention in 1844.  In 1848 future Whig president Zachary Taylor was nominated on the fourth ballot.  Future Democratic president Franklin Pierce was nominated on the forty-ninth ballot in 1852 (and received no votes at all for the first thirty-five ballots).  Among other future presidents, James Buchanan was nominated on the seventeenth ballot in 1856, Rutherford Hayes on the seventh ballot in 1876, James Garfield on the thirty-sixth ballot in 1880, Benjamin Harrison on the eighth ballot in 1888, Woodrow Wilson on the forty-sixth ballot in 1912, and Warren G. Harding on the 10th ballot in 1920.  And although he lost in the general election, Democrat John W. Davis outdid them all, claiming his party’s nomination in 1924 on ballot number one hundred and three!

There was much that was broken about this system of selecting nominees.  Political bargains in proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” were the norm, and I’m not recommending that we return to them.  But these examples should give us pause and lead us to wrestle with some questions that might not otherwise occur to us about the current Republican contest.  Why, for one, would we assume that a candidate with a plurality of popular support has earned his party’s nomination?  Is it wrong to take “electability” into question in selecting a nominee?  Why do we think that a contested nominating convention is automatically disastrous for the party in question?  I have thoughts about all of these, but I’ll stop here and invite you to share what you think.

For more in this series, see also:

Offered In A Spirit Which Will Not Disgrace The Cause Of Truth

Words From The Past: James Madison On The Role Of Elected Leaders

George Washington on the “Spirit of Party”

“Neither Force Nor Will”: Alexander Hamilton on the Supreme Court

Should the American People Have a Say in the Supreme Court’s Direction?

Image: 1880 Republican National Convention by C.D. Mosher. Available via Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author of The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History ​from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com. 

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The Qualifications Quibble: What Do We Require of Our Leaders and Ourselves?

The Qualifications Quibble

One of the electoral season’s obligatory scandals occupied the media spotlight last week when Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders engaged in mimetic rivalry, accusing (implicitly or explicitly) each other of being “unqualified” to be president.

Briefly, on a segment of Morning Joe, Hillary Clinton expressed concern that Bernie Sanders did not know how to deliver on his central campaign promise, to break up the banks, as an unflattering interview with the New York Daily News had implied. (Actually, Sanders’s assertion that he had the authority to break up the banks via the Dodd-Frank bill and the treasury department was correct, but the interviewer continued to question him, implying that he did not know his own talking points). She asserted that Sanders had “not done his homework.” While stopping short of calling Sanders unqualified, a staffer had leaked the Clinton political strategy to “disqualify” Sanders. In return, Bernie Sanders explicitly called Hillary Clinton “unqualified” to be president based on her vote for the war in Iraq, her millions of dollars in donations from Wall Street, and her support of trade deals that hurt American workers.

Being swept up in mimetic rivalry is par for the course when competing for anything, particularly for the highest office in the nation. For all the heat behind the words, negative campaigning is to be expected to draw contrasts between opposing candidates, and I do not begrudge either Clinton or Sanders for drawing contrasts. However, honesty matters. Clinton’s assertion that Bernie “had not done his homework” is based on a misleading and disingenuous interview that was spun by major media outlets against Sanders. If she had reached her conclusion that Sanders is unprepared based on her own experiences working with him in the Senate, as either a fellow Senator or perhaps as Secretary of State or First Lady, it would behoove her to give better examples. For his part, Sanders’s assertions that Clinton showed poor judgment on the Iraq war and trade deals, and that she has taken significant sums of money from Wall Street, are all true, though if he sincerely believes that these decisions are “disqualifying” he would not continue to pledge endorsement of Clinton should she be the Democratic nominee. In the heat of the campaign, both candidates may have been too loose with their rhetoric. But I do not think it benefits us to dwell on the scandal of he said/she said. This episode has brought up deeper issues, however. What, exactly, are the qualifications we demand of a leader? And what qualifications do we have when it comes to our role in building a better nation, a better world, a better future?

What Qualifies A Leader?

The media tends to frame elections in terms of candidates running against each other. That makes sense, of course, as elections are essentially competitions. But they are also an opportunity for candidates to tell the people what they are for. Likewise, when we think about what qualities we desire in a leader, it helps to ask, “What do we want for our people, our country, and our world?”

The most fundamental thing I want for our world – the one thing on which everything else depends – is a healthy and sustainable planet. Global warming is a threat to all life, far beyond American life, far beyond even human life. I believe we need a leader who takes the threat of global warming seriously and would be willing to take substantial action to reduce our carbon footprint.

Reducing our carbon footprint necessarily means reducing military action worldwide, as the United States military is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels on the planet. Of course, I wish for a reduction of our military action and our military budget not primarily for the sake of the land but for the sake of all people, as living in peace and security is a fundamental human right. But to speak of reducing our military action makes many people uncomfortable when we are convinced that our military actions are for our protection. If we view our protection as a priority over and against the welfare of others, we will be reluctant to reduce our military action or funding. But if we consider our welfare interconnected to that of others, and recognize that our violence perpetuates a cycle of violence, then we can understand that a leader can be for the security of our nation and for the replacement of violence with diplomacy and reconciliation at the same time. In fact, there is no way to be truly for security without being for peace, as violence will always perpetuate itself.

Finally, I want a leader who shows concern for the health, welfare, and prosperity of all people, particularly the marginalized. The quality of someone with much power can, I believe, be measured in his or her treatment of someone with little or no power. This means I want someone who is humble enough to listen when called out on privilege, and someone who can recognize and push to correct systemic injustice in its myriad forms, from racism to sexism to ableism to heteronormativity and more.

What Qualifies Us?

These are a few very broad areas that form the values I employ when considering candidates for a leader. But no leader can work alone, and the  people most in need of a more just, more compassionate, more peaceful world, those who currently suffer the most from marginalization, poverty, environmental degradation and violence, theirs are the voices that need to be heard the most. Whether leaders ensconce themselves in circles of power and shut out other voices or strive to their utmost ability to be true public servants, no leader, no administration, no government, can tackle the problems of our world without a vocal and active citizenry making demands and contributing time, ideas, and resources to solutions.

So when we consider what “qualifies” a leader, it is incumbent upon us to consider the goals we wish our leaders to work toward, and ask how we might work toward those goals ourselves, independently of election cycles, regardless of whomever occupies the Oval Office or any office.

If I want a healthy and sustainable planet, I must do my part to reduce my carbon footprint – from recycling to public or “green” transportation (biking, walking when possible), reducing packaging, being aware of energy and water consumption, and more.

If I want peace, I must strive for peace in my own relationships. I must humble myself to hear the criticism of others, be willing to do right by others even at the expense of my pride, replace enmity with empathy. I must also strive for peace among my children by modeling peaceful conflict resolution. I must continue to speak and work and occasionally take to the streets for peace in the community and the world. I must remind myself and everyone else that to be against a war is to be for the people, for the planet, for the future, even for the leaders who may wish for war in the first place, as our well-being is deeply and intimately interconnected.

If I want a more just, equitable and compassionate nation, I must embody solidarity with people on the social, cultural and economic margins. I must strive to understand my own privilege and listen to discover how to turn such privilege into equality. I must listen, learn, and act… in that order, or rather, in that order over and over again in a continuing cycle.

Conclusion

During election season, the horse race of who’s up and who’s down and the “scandals” of who said what latest “outrage” can drown out important issues. A negative tone permeates the atmosphere as we define ourselves not only against candidates, but against their supporters (who could be our neighbors!) Even when we agree on what we seek in a leader, we may disagree on which candidate best fulfills those qualities, and set ourselves up against even those who would normally be our allies. Campaign season, so interminably long in the United States, can bring out the worst in all of us.

But the changes required to heal our nation and our world require us working with each other and for each other, independently of the election cycle. They require that we recognize what we have to give beyond our vote. They do not require agreement on a particular decision, like whom to vote for, but they do require cooperation, listening in the midst of disagreement, and recognizing the value of the contributions of others.

As we consider what we require in a leader, let us ask what is required of us? This question was posed in scripture by the prophet Micah, and (separation of church and state notwithstanding), the answer is one that, with slight modification, serves us well as citizens: justice, kindness, and humility.

Image: Disney / ABC Television Group’s Photostream. Available on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivs 2.0 Generic license

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Quiz 6: To Bern or Trump The Economy? That is the Question!

Are you feeling the Bern? Or are you just feeling burned? Are you hoping to Trump the whole economic system that breeds inequality with a particular candidate? Or are you hoping that that candidate will get trumped, never to be seen again?

If we learn anything from the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two candidates who challenge their party’s establishment base, it should be that a lot of people are not satisfied with the economic status quo. From racism to classism to sexism, inequality keeps many people from achieving the “American Dream,” turning lives into an American nightmare. Which of the following statements about the economy and inequality do you most agree with?

• Bernie Sanders claims to be a Democratic Socialist, but we all know what socialism means! If Sander is elected president, we’ll be hailing the Fuhrer of socialism! Capitalism made America great and socialism has always been our great enemy.
• Hold your horses, big guy. Socialism is not a bad word. In fact, America has always implemented socialist programs to help those in need. Veteran Affairs, social security, education, Medicare, public libraries, even our military and police departments that are meant to protect our society – whether we pay our taxes or not – are all socialist programs.
• White privilege is a myth and affirmative action should take class, not race, into account.
• Racism continues to be a destructive source of evil in the United States that guides our economic, judicial, and political systems to create inequality for minorities, but especially for African Americans.
• Trump knows how to make money and we need someone who knows how to make money to make America great again!

Change Your View: Inequality and the economy are major hot button issues at the moment. Despite the high emotions running on all sides of these contentious issues, there’s one thing that we all seem to agree on – our opponents are the problem! They and their misguided plans are sure obstacles to alleviating inequality and to fostering better economic opportunities for all people! The problem is that the one thing we agree on is the absolute wrong answer because scapegoating our opponents will not solve anything.

When we view our opponents as an obstacle to our goals, we become entrenched in an adversarial relationship of bitter rivalry. The only way out of that rivalry is to change our view about our opponents. Maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the willful obstructionist we think they are. If we change our view and start by assuming the good intentions of the other, we might be able to work together to create equal opportunity and a better economy that will benefit all people – including those we previously viewed as obstacles to overcome.

Image: Screenshot from Youtube. “Outsiders are in Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders lead in latest Iowa poll” by interesting on the planet.

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Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

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Dead to Me – Shark Tank and the Miracle of Resurrection

“You are dead to me.”

Shark Tank is one of my favorite shows. Admittedly, it’s one of my guilty pleasures. The “Sharks” are described as “tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons.” They invest their own money in entrepreneurs who pitch their product to the Sharks. ABC states that the Sharks give “people from all walks of life the chance to chase the American dream, and potentially secure business deals that could make them millionaires.”

But, they are called “Sharks” for a reason. The Sharks are ruthless in their critique of entrepreneurs. When they smell blood, they strike, bringing tears to many poor contestants.

The greatest villain on the show is Kevin O’Leary. He compares making money with war – “Here’s how I think of my money: As soldiers. I send them out to war everyday. I want them to take prisoners and come home, so there’s more of them.”

O’Leary is a great villain because I love to hate him. His violent, war-like mentality is captivating. He’s mean and nasty, but I can’t stop watching. One of the most captivating moments of the show is when O’Leary offers a deal to a contestant and the contestant refuses his deal. O’Leary, in a fit of revenge, states, “You are dead to me.”

There’s a scandalous truth about human nature in that phrase. As René Girard has taught us, from the very beginning, humans have had a “shark” like quality to us. As we face conflicts within our communities, our default mechanism is to find reconciliation by uniting against a single victim, whom Girard calls a “scapegoat.” The scapegoat is sacrificed or banished from our community. In other words, the scapegoat is dead to us.

We see this scapegoating mechanism throughout human history. One only needs to take a cursory look at American politics, business, or reality television to see that we have not evolved much beyond the ancient human practice of scapegoating. We are run by the scapegoat mechanism, for as long as someone else is scapegoated, it means we are part of the larger group who is not being scapegoated. The scapegoat takes the place of death, or, as James Alison puts it, the place of shame.

James writes in his book Jesus the Forgiving Victim, “The place of shame into which the group puts someone, a someone of whom everyone can be ashamed, and thus who will be not them. That’s how the sacrificial model to which we are accustomed works.”

Fortunately, Jesus offers us an alternative to this Shark Tank mentality. James calls it “the complete reversal of the sacrificial model.” The crowd, acting like sharks, united against Jesus and killed him. The crowd chanted “Crucify him!” But they could have also mocked Jesus with the phrase, “You are dead to us!”

Jesus reversed the sacrificial model by creating a new way of forming community. Whereas the old way can be summed up by the sacrificial phrase “You are dead to me,” the new way of forming community can be summed up by the cross and resurrection.

The miracle of the cross and resurrection is the transformation of the way we form community. It transforms the way we relate to one another. Whereas the sacrificial formula of scapegoating leads to death, shame, and exclusion, resurrection leads to life, love, and reconciliation.

Jesus went to the place of shame and death, but he didn’t seek revenge. In fact, Jesus reversed the sacrificial formula by forgiving his persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus ushers in a new way of finding reconciliation that is not based on the ancient model of scapegoating. Rather, the new way of reconciling is based on our new model, Jesus, and specifically his new command, “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

But the place of shame and death did not have the last word. The resurrection had the last word. The resurrection reaffirms the transformation at the cross. Whereas the sacrificial formula says, “You are dead to me,” the resurrection is God saying, “You are alive to me.” In the resurrection, Jesus reconciled with those who abandoned and betrayed him by offering them peace. He then invited them to share that peace throughout the world.

The resurrection reveals the utter aliveness of God in the face of our mechanisms of shame and death. We live in a world of Shark Tank. And that world can be captivating. But we also live in a world of Resurrection. Resurrection is all around us. It is far more captivating. We see the miracle of resurrection when people reconcile without the crutch of scapegoating another, but by living into the spirit of forgiveness.

Image: Kevin O’Leary on Shark Tank (Screenshot from YouTube: ABC Television Network)

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Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

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Should the American People Have a Say in the Supreme Court’s Direction?

Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.

In this installment of his series of articles drawing on the wisdom of the past to reflect on our current election cycle, Dr. McKenzie again considers the controversy of the current Supreme Court vacancy and explains why the founding fathers did not particularly intend for the will of the people to have great influence upon the Supreme Court.

 

Think of your forefathers!  Think of your posterity!—John Quincy Adams

I have a hard time taking seriously Democratic appeals to the Constitution as they insist that Senate Republicans act promptly on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  Most Democrats long ago embraced a role for the Court that the Framers of the Constitution could have scarcely imagined.  It seems more than a little opportunistic to rediscover the authority of original intent now that it suits their purposes.  As I noted in a previous post, the Founders described the judicial branch in terms of its essential “feebleness.”  The Court could never be a threat to the rights of the people, Alexander Hamilton insisted in Federalist no. 78, because under the Constitution the Court possessed “neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment.”  The Framers would be stunned to see the power that the Court wields today.

And yet they would be equally mystified by Republicans who insist that public opinion should play an important role in shaping the composition of the Court.  In arguing to postpone consideration of Obama nominee Merrick Garland, for example, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell observes that “of course the American people should have a say in the Court’s direction.”  That subterranean rumbling you may have noticed afterward came from the Founders collectively turning over in their graves.

The Framers’ vision for the proper place of public opinion in a free government is easy to caricature because it is complicated.  In their reading of human nature, it was just as fallacious to assume “universal venality” (i.e., moral corruption) as to assume “universal rectitude,” to use Hamilton’s terminology.  They believed that there was enough “honor and virtue among mankind” to justify an experiment in republican government grounded in the consent of the governed.  But they also knew that there was enough “folly and wickedness” in human nature to make such a government perpetually susceptible to tyranny and injustice.  And so they sought to ensure a degree of popular involvement in the new government while protecting it from undue popular pressure.

Remember how federal officeholders were originally to be selected: Only members of the House of Representatives would owe their appointment to the direct election of the people.  According to James Madison in Federalist no. 52, this meant that the House, unique among the components of the new government, would have “an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.”  But even then, “the people” who would so influence the Representatives comprised a severely truncated shell of today’s electorate.  The Framers did not specify who should be eligible to vote, except to stipulate that the states should apply the same criteria for federal elections as they did for the houses of representatives in their own state legislatures.  Based on state voting laws as they currently existed, the Framers could expect that members of the U. S. House of Representatives would be chosen by the votes of adult white male landowners.  (Depending on the state, the property requirement for voting regularly disqualified from one-third to two-thirds of adult white males.)

So much for the government’s “popular branch.”  The members of the more august Senate would be selected, not by the people directly, but by the state legislatures. To buffer the Senate further against popular pressures, only one-third of Senate seats would be open in any given election year.  These features would make the Senate less susceptible to “the impulse of sudden and violent passions,” as Madison put it.  More removed from “the people,” the upper chamber would function as an “anchor against popular fluctuations.”  “I shall not scruple to add,” Madison further noted, that the Senate “may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.”

Less “popular” still would be the executive under the new Constitution.  We sometimes forget that the Articles of Confederation didn’t include an executive branch at all, and so the Constitution’s framers were in uncharted territory as they sought to define the role of a “president” of the United States.  Andrew Jackson would later redefine the office of president as the most uniquely democratic element of the federal government.  This was true, he contended, because the president alone among all federal officeholders was chosen by the entire country.

But Jackson, keep in mind, made a practice of inverting the vision of the Framers while claiming to uphold it.  In reality, the Framers went to great lengths to isolate the executive from popular pressure.  They anticipated that, in most election years, the president would actually be chosen in a run-off in the House of Representatives where each state delegation would cast one vote.  The congressmen would be choosing from among the five individuals who had received the most votes by “electors” from each state.  (These are the members of our so-called electoral college.  The Constitution does nothing to tie the selection of electors to the vote of the people, but leaves the manner of choosing them to each state legislature.  For the next generation, at least, upwards of two-thirds were appointed by the state legislatures, not elected by “the people.”)

By protecting the executive from direct popular pressures, the Framers hoped that the executive would be able to perform his duties more effectively, always sensitive to the public welfare but never captive to the passions of the people.  Alexander Hamilton developed the point at length in Federalist no. 71:

There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best recommendation.  But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the purposes for which government was instituted, as of the true means by which the public happiness may be promoted.  The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they entrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive.

Which brings us to the judicial branch.  According to Mitch McConnell, it’s self-evident that “the American people should have a say in the Court’s direction.”  He may be right.  Given the inordinate power that the Court wields today, he probably is right.  I would just like to hear this prominent conservative leader tell his constituents that none of the Framers whom he claims to venerate would agree with him.

Just think for a minute about how the Framers of the Constitution expected the members of the Supreme Court to be chosen: Supreme Court justices were to be appointed for life by the president of the United States, who in turn was to be elected by the House of Representatives, who would choose the president from a group of finalists identified by electors, who in turn were appointed by the state legislatures, who for their part were elected by adult, white, male, property-holding voters.  Whatever you or I or Mitch McConnell may think, the Framers certainly didn’t believe that “the people” should “have a say in the Court’s direction.”

So what do we do with this information? I’m far from suggesting that we simply ask WWFD—What Would the Founders Do?—and then go and do likewise.  Figures from the past have no authority over us, and figuring out what the Founders would think about contemporary politics settles nothing.  But following John Quincy Adams, I think there’s more than a little wisdom in situating our contemporary debates within the larger conversations across time of which they are but a part.  While we shouldn’t be slavishly submissive to the values of the Framers, neither should we be cavalierly dismissive.  In Christian terms, the former is idolatry, the latter is arrogance.  We avoid both these extremes when we assess their views critically but respectfully, grappling with them as we seek to clarify and justify our own positions.

The Framers’ determination to shield federal officeholders from undue popular pressure stemmed logically from a skeptical view of human nature that few twenty-first century Americans share.  Nearly two centuries have passed since Alexis de Tocqueville noted wryly that the American people “live in the perpetual utterance of self-applause.”  Most Americans—including most American Christians—now reflexively view human nature as essentially good and the wishes of the majority as essentially just.  It might not be a bad thing if we reevaluated that popular prejudice in the light of Scripture.

But whatever your view of human nature, we might at least concede that there is a consistency and symmetry in the Framers’ efforts to shield the judiciary from popular opinion.  In Federalist no. 52, James Madison explained the overall structure of the proposed government with reference to the maxim that “the greater the power is, the shorter ought to be its duration.”  Because the House of Representatives would be Constitutionally charged with the responsibility of initiating all revenue measures, it was right and proper that representatives have the shortest terms of office and be most immediately responsive to “the people.”  Terms of office would increase in length as the power of the office declined.  Congressmen would serve for two years, presidents for four, senators for six . . . and Supreme Court justices for life.

That the Framers would allow such dramatically longer terms for Supreme Court justices makes sense only in light of their belief that the Court would exercise dramatically less influence on the life of the nation than it now does.  If Mitch McConnell is right, and we now need to disregard the Framers’ goal of protecting the Court from public opinion, he is right because we have long since abandoned the Framers’ vision of a “feeble” judiciary with “neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment.”

For more in this series, see also:

Offered In A Spirit Which Will Not Disgrace The Cause Of Truth

Words From The Past: James Madison On The Role Of Elected Leaders

George Washington on the “Spirit of Party”

“Neither Force Nor Will”: Alexander Hamilton on the Supreme Court

Image: “Constitution in the National Archives” by MrTinDC. Available on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivs 2.0 Generic license. 

Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author of The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History ​from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com. 

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

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Quiz 4: Help! I’m Gagging on Political Correctness!

We all believe in free speech, right? Hey, we’re Americans! But right now many people believe that we have gagged ourselves with an excessive concern for “political correctness”. Which of these statements about political correctness do you most agree with?

* We’ve got to do away with political correctness. It’s making us indecisive and weak.

* Political correctness enforces taboos that prevent real discussions on important issues. We need to move beyond political correctness if we want to solve our problems.

* Political correctness is about protecting minorities and victims from abusive rhetoric. I’m all for it.

* I don’t think “free speech” means that it’s okay to demean, demonize or insult other people. If you want to call speech that takes the dignity of all people into account “politically correct,” go ahead. I just think it’s common decency.

* I’m actually not American and am TOTALLY OFFENDED by your lack of political correctness.

Change Your View: Sometimes we forget that being right is not the same thing as doing right. Being right is about winning the debate. When I’m focused on being right, I can’t rest until my opponents admit that they’re wrong! I believe that I and I alone possess the truth and that anyone who opposes me is no better than a willful, ignorant brat. In fact, you can be sure you are focused on being right when the name-calling shifts into high gear! But doing right requires me to shift the focus from being right to doing right by you.

Changing the world of confrontational politics requires that I find the decency to offer you the thing I value so much – an honest, open hearing. Rather than shut down and dismiss those on the other side of the debate, change requires me to be humble and kind to those scoundrels who are too stubborn to see how right I – oops, there I go again!

Image: “Political Correctness Word Cloud” by Iculig. Available via 123rf.com.

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

 

Voter suppression

Democracy Free-For-All

Editor’s Note: Chicago-based journalist Robert Koehler’s articles are intuitively Girardian. While he may not write specifically about mimetic theory, his articles demonstrate the contagious nature of violence, and more importantly, inspire hope in the contagious power of compassion. We are honored to feature his articles every Thursday.

Here in America, we celebrate democracy by staying in touch with the lack of it. What better way to honor our ancestors’ struggles to win the right to vote — and have that vote counted — than to have to struggle ourselves for the same thing?

Considering that, as I wrote four years ago, “democracy is nothing if not a perpetual nuisance to the powerful,” and that apathy is the national curse, I remain amazed that we’re having a presidential race this year that cuts so deeply — to core human values — and is worth enduring a sort of bureaucratic totalitarianism to participate in.

This is not the intention of our system’s alleged guardians, of course, and they need to be watched far more carefully than the mainstream media regards as necessary. What we live in is not so much a democratic republic as a sociopolitical free-for-all, not quite in anyone’s control.

The forces of political centrism, which includes the mainstream media, like to think that they’re in control, and endlessly purvey the message that America-brand democracy is the best in the world. Because this message is straight-on public relations (which used to be called propaganda), it’s untarnished by reality, e.g.:

“The frustrating waits,” according to the Associated Press, “come after the Arizona legislature slashed funding last year for counties to carry out the presidential election. Election officials in Phoenix responded with scaled-back polling, citing a lack of money and the belief that people would vote by mail.”

How much is democracy worth?

On March 22, as we know, Arizona’s primary election degenerated into a fiasco in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, where County Recorder Helen Purcell (a Republican) had cut the number of polling places by a stunning 70 percent, from 211 in 2012 to 60 this year, one polling site for every 108,000 residents of the ethnically diverse (non-majority-white) city. Many determined voters had to wait in line five or six hours to cast their ballots and some of the polling sites didn’t close till nearly 1 a.m.

And, oh yeah, the state’s independent voters were totally shafted. Their votes didn’t count at all, apparently unbeknownst to those who waited hours in line. Only registered Republicans or Democrats could cast a primary ballot. Thus, as many as 24,000 provisional ballots were thrown out, election analyst Ari Berman told Amy Goodman at Democracy Now.

And this, too, is what democracy looks like: determination pushing, not always successfully, against power and bureaucracy. Democracy is an inner urgency far more than it’s a settled political system. The United States does not embrace the idea that the more eligible voters who actually vote, the better we are as a nation. Indeed, beyond voting rights for white, male property owners, voting eligibility has accrued only to those who claimed it after a long, bitter struggle. Deep wariness of actual democracy is still very much who we are as a nation.

For a serious bloc of the nation’s power holders, democracy is primarily a dangerous energy flow that has to be gamed and controlled, not accommodated. What matters is maintaining power, not making it easier for have-nots to vote.

Democracy, I wrote during the last presidential go-around, “asserts that public policy is everyone’s business, and that the concerns of even the most financially and socially marginal citizens are equal to those of the most elite. Indeed, no one is marginal in a democracy — a concept we embrace as a nation but don’t believe. And thus citizens are marginalized all the time.”

Meet, for instance, Wisconsin resident Dennis Hatten, one of the 300,000 or so registered voters in the state whose enfranchisement may have been thrown into jeopardy by the state’s controversial new voter ID law. These are the people I call the complexly struggling: economically and perhaps physically marginalized people for whom transportation and various bureaucratic costs, which may run more than $100 (to get such things as new birth certificates), are extremely difficult to meet and constitute a latter-day poll tax.

As ThinkProgress reported recently: “Thanks to an error on (Hatten’s) birth certificate, the formerly homeless Marine Corps veteran spent months working with the voting rights groups Citizen Action and Vote Riders, finally obtaining a state ID just in time to vote.”

The ordeal “involved countless phone calls, assistance from volunteer lawyers, and trips to the DMV. If he had children, he said, or multiple jobs, he may have given up.”

Allegedly, such laws are meant to control voter fraud, the power elite’s red herring of the moment — as though people voting twice were a real problem. Federal Judge Richard Posner wrote in a dissent to the Wisconsin law that “since 2000 there have been only ten cases of in-person voter fraud that could have been prevented by photo ID laws. Out of 146 million registered voters, this is a ratio of one case of voter fraud for every 14.6 million eligible voters — more than a dozen times less likely than being struck by lightning.”

But you’ve got to cut democracy-wary pols and their corporate puppeteers some slack. They can’t just ban certain classes of likely hostile voters from the voting booth, like they could in the old days. They have to operate under the cover of democracy-protecting legitimacy — just as the U.S. military, which maintains a bottomless budget even as state legislatures slash funding to hold elections, has to keep telling us it’s protecting the country from terrorists.

As Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman wrote recently, there does remain a second option for the powerful: “flipping” the vote on electronic voting machines. The electronic vote count simply cannot be verified.

“Virtually all these machines are 10 years old or more, and can easily be hacked,” they write. “Swing states Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Arizona, among others, have GOP governors and, except for Florida, secretaries of state who can easily flip the vote counts, once they are cast, without accountability or detection. Also, private partisan voting machine companies have unlimited access to the electronic poll books, voting machines and central tabulators.”

In 2016, democracy is doing its best to survive the free-for-all. So many Americans — the young, the impoverished, the watchful — in their determination to safeguard the democratic process or, simply, to cast their votes, are, let us hope, causing the arc of change to bend beyond the reach of the powerful.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Image: Screenshot From Youtube. “Arizona Election Fraud hearing Live Stream Bernie Sanders vs Hillary Clinton” by North East.

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.