When my four and seven year-old daughters reach the age where they can understand, what should I tell them is the kind of government that we live under? In the United States, has “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people” perished from the Earth, and should I tell them that?
It seems, after all (at least to me), that we do not live so much in a democracy or representative republic, but a plutocracy (wherein the rich rule).
Of Lincoln’s famous statement, take that government “of the people” part. Do our representatives really represent a broad swath of the American people—or just its elite slivers? And aren’t most of the members of the Senate millionaires?
And what about government “by the people”? Isn’t it quite obvious that mass television propaganda campaigns, financed by wealthy interests, are the chief drivers of state and federal election outcomes? As Noam Chomsky so frequently says, the consent of the people is largely manufactured.
And what of that “for the people” part? Isn’t this also quite obviously false? If there is any doubt about this, recall the recent bank bailout. The bank bailout demonstrated that, when push comes to shove, the U.S. government functions primarily for the benefit of corporate and wealthy interests, and not for the general welfare (the interests of the public at large).
I think the best thing (the truest thing) to tell my daughters is this: our country used to be a representative republic, but right now it’s a plutocracy masquerading as a representative republic. Maybe democracy will reassert itself in an authentic way again, but it’s not clear if, how, or when that might happen.
If, how, and when have replaced of, by, and for.