The Global Citizen: State of the Union
Like many Americans, I snapped this week. Snapped off the TV. And the radio, even venerable NPR. "Shut up!" I yelled. "I don't want to hear this!"I stomped around delivering my own gloomy state of the union address to myself. Then I realized that I was not the one who needed to hear it. This is a democracy, I said to myself. They're not in charge; you are.So I wrote down my state of the union message, addressed to them all in that august hall -- president, Congress, the press, the cabinet -- all the perpetrators -- and this is my way of delivering it to them.You people, individually and collectively, are abusing our trust and destroying our democracy. You are breaking our political system and our hearts, and our patience is at an end.To cheat on a wife and trifle with a young girl's affections is a double betrayal of personal trust, a sign of weak, self-centered character, poor judgment, and a deep need for and confusion about self esteem. Such cheating is unfortunately a common human failure. It is not -- if it happened, which we don't actually know -- a betrayal of public trust. It is not the concern of anyone except the persons involved.To cheat on a wife repeatedly and to use positions of power to trifle with many young girls' affections, however eager the girls are to be trifled with, demonstrates a lack of self-control that raises real questions about one's worthiness to hold power. To do so after years of being criticized for doing so, while being sued for doing so, knowing there is a pack of enemies watching and waiting for one to do so, that -- if it happened, which we do not know -- is so pathological as to answer all questions about one's worthiness to hold power. A person who would do such a thing should voluntarily relieve himself from pressing public duties and seek psychological help.A press that releases mobs of reporters to speculate about personal scandals but virtually none to cover major raids of the public treasury (such as the corruption of the savings and loan banks) or public resources (such as the timber salvage rider) is not performing its democratic duty. It is not only failing to keep the voters informed of matters that concern them, it is distracting them with matters (perhaps not even true) that have no purpose but titillation, matters that demean everyone who reports or listens to them, matters that reveal to the world a nation in deep moral confusion.Spending full time trying to destroy another person's reputation in order to bring him down from power must be one of the most soul-rotting exercises a human being can undertake. It is one thing to expose real betrayals of the public trust in order to heal and restore that public trust. It is quite another to erode the public trust through desperate witch-hunts based on jealousy, ambition, and hate.A nation that pays someone to carry out such a vendetta against one of that nation's own leaders, in the spotlight and with the approval and support of other leaders, a nation that not only condones but funds this activity with millions of taxpayers' dollars -- that nation has relinquished control of the public agenda to some of the worst of its own people.There is an enormous difference between asking a mistress to lie about an affair -- if it happened, which is not proven -- and using the instruments of government to lie about and suppress an investigation of crimes knowingly committed by leaders of that government in order to interfere with a democratic election.The first is a shabby personal misdeed, for which a leader might feel sufficiently shamed to abdicate his own power. The second is a breach of the rules that hold a democracy together and a violation of the vows every president takes upon inauguration. It is an offense for which the president should be removed from power and a reason for the nation that elected that president to examine and thoroughly restructure its electoral procedures.A union that cannot keep these distinctions straight, that repeatedly elects leaders of inferior character from both parties, that cannot inform itself in a balanced way about the affairs of the republic, that cannot control the forces of spite and hate that inevitably whirl around centers of power, that cannot bring forth, listen to, and be guided by the moral sense and common sense of the people -- that union is in a terrible state. I fear for it, I am saddened by it, I'm sick of it, as are many, if not most, of its people.This latest hysteria is the last straw. It shows how broken our system is, how badly it needs fixing. We, the people, must now use our combined power, the power of democracy, to insist upon political elections and leaders and public media that are not governed by money and cynicism.We want the president to tell us the complete truth and prove it. We want the independent prosecutor to be fired and the legislation controlling such prosecutions to be tightened. We want thoroughgoing campaign reform. We want media monopolies to be broken up and many more broadcasting bands to be released to noncommercial citizen-based organizations. We want the political parties to put up candidates we don't have to be ashamed of, in either their public or their private lives.We want all that right now.