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Holding America Hostage

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Twice in the past week, parts of our country have been held hostage by the acts of a few individuals, disrupting the lives of thousands of others. The nation has watched the latest in what appear to be a rise in attempts by individuals to take matters into their own hands—the hell with everyone else. In Dannemora, N.Y., two men escaped from a maximum-security prison resulting in hundreds of law-enforcement officials searching for their whereabouts for days, the closing of public schools in the area, the disruption in the lives of thousands of families who were encouraged not to go outside. The result was maximum chaos and huge expense because of the acts of the two escaped killers.

In Dallas (an appropriate venue), a lone gunman, who had purchased an armored vehicle on EBay (which tells us something in and of itself), attacked the police headquarters, shooting the building hundreds of time before fleeing police retaliation. Besides the rounds of ammunition in his vehicle and multiple assault rifles, he also had pipe bombs. Surprisingly, no one besides the attacker was killed in the chase but the disruption to the city was major, all caused by one man who thought he needed to take things into his own hand, though the supposed reason—as subsequently revealed—was a recent custody case involving his son. Both of these incidents, you could say, were caused by unstable loners, misfits. The chaos they caused was not unlike that by recent serial killers, or mass-murderers, going into schools or movie theatres and emptying their assault rifles.

That metaphor, for me, is just about the same as actions caused by our elected leaders in state legislators, by members of congress and the senate, by the supreme court, and lobby groups such as the NRA.  Small groups of people (often unelected officials) have a disproportionate say in the lives of all of the rest of us, creating chaos in our country, destabilizing the lives of everyone. NRA membership in the United States is said to be somewhere around 4.2 million, out of a population of 320 million. So what is that—1.5% of the country are members of the NRA at most? But look at the damage they have done to the nation as a whole with their fanatical views on gun control and assault rifles? The NRA is responsible for thousands of deaths a year. Is this the way a Democracy is supposed to work? The 1.5% will control the other 98.5%. I’ve spent a paragraph talking about something that most journalists and politicians are afraid to mention, let alone confront. If that isn’t a lock on reason in the country, I don’t know what it is.

What about a few hundred congressmen and senators, mostly men, controlling the dialogue and the position on abortion in the United States for decades? How can this make any sense? What kind of congressman or senator has the country created (and tolerated) that permits these men to vote against the wishes of at least half of their constituents? What would happen if the rules regarding abortion in the United States were put to a straight up or down vote, where every American could cast his or her opinion? How many other cultural issues would go down in shame if they could be voted on in a nation-wide referendum? But we don’t do things like that, so a few hundred elected leaders get to make the decisions for everyone—to hell with genuine representation.

Which takes me to the Supreme Court and Citizens United, proclaiming that corporations are individuals and have the right to spend as much money supporting political candidates as they want. If corporations are individuals, shouldn’t they pay the same tax as individuals? The percentage of my income (mostly retirement) that I pay as taxes far outstrips the percentage of that of most corporations in the United States. Ergo, shouldn’t I have the same loopholes and special privileges in my taxes as a corporation? What an absurdity to refer to corporations as individuals. How did five justices on the Supreme Court have the right to destroy the American election system? (Yes, of course, our government was set up with its three separate branches.) Is the assumption that the justices cannot make grievous errors in their decisions? What’s the check and balance? The 2016 election will probably squander  $10 billion dollars. What will the 2020 election throw away? Thirty? Forty? How obtuse do you need to be before you can understand what has happened?

All right, so it’s 4.2 million NRA members who control gun legislation in the United States. A few hundred men (and a few women) who control abortion rights. Five men on the Supreme Court who ruined the election system in the United States. Can this reductio ad absurdum be reduced any further? Unfortunately, yes, to three: the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson. In the past few days there are hints that these billionaires may combine forces and back the same Republican candidate, i.e., buy the same Republican candidate. The Kochs have fessed up to $900 thousand dollars for their investment in this election. Adelson put a couple of hundred thousand dollars into the previous one. Combining their money, the result will be the widest array of negative advertising the country has ever seen. And what can we do about it? Nothing, thanks to the five Supreme Court manipulators.

Is this democracy or high jacking of the country like those escapees in New York or the gun freak in Texas? Where will this end? How can this end? At some foreseeable time will one man be able to buy all the candidates in the United States? Will elections become totally predictable? Purchasable?

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu.

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Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

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