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The Vapid Vote

The United States is beginning to look more and more like a “submerging” democracy — one where the people have little actual say in who governs them and how they are governed. Super Pacs now fund our elections and big money has taken over all branches of the government, and so we struggle on within a sort of free-trade nomocracy, which is not so different from a theocracy except it is bereft of basic morality claims and any social responsibility.

The problem is structural, procedural, and cultural.

Its structural in that we are “constitutionally entrenched” , i.e. hamstrung by the sacred writ of US law that while supplying its citizens with noble rights and protections, also sets sharp limitations on how we select for our leaders, examples being the Electoral College, bicameralism, and zero-sum voting results. Maybe there is wisdom in the call for a second constitutional convention, which is the only possible way to remedy the situation. Otherwise we must continue live with this fundamentally fatal flaw.

It is procedural in that the aforementioned has allowed for two-party lock-down that prevents the development of any real alternative to the corporate-fueled lobbying that has infested and infiltrated each branch of government. This includes the “fourth” branch, that is, the nation’s executive and administrative agencies, which make so many of the rules that dominate daily life.

It is cultural in that this nation was built on stolen property; formed by opportunistic adventurers seeking further conquest, who designed a secular state devoted to pursuit of commercial liberty, and that are bound to one another by aggregation of contractual relationships. Consequently, with everything – including public discourse – colonized by privatization, there is no concept of a social commons (society). There is also no social contract. How can there be where there is no choice-power to offer consent; only the demand to give-in, to simply offer assent? This has left us with a nation not of citizens, but one made up of consumers. Human beings whose only understanding of freedom comes at the point of purchase; whose only understanding of morality comes at the point of a gun; and who, in the words of Carl Sagan, have lost the ability to distinguish between what feels good and what is right.

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Matthew Stanton is a Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

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