The Faux Civics Lesson

While preparing a lesson about the system of checks and balances and the Bill of Rights for my grandchild, as part of a year-long series of lessons to compensate for the effects of the pandemic’s partial closure of public schools in New York City, I came upon a not-so-Earthshaking revelation.

What is common knowledge to most leftists in the US today and certainly to CounterPunch readers, is the fact that the political system which the Framers of the Constitution wrote and envisioned has turned to absolute shit because of the right-wing juggernaut so prevalent in US society.

The imperial presidency has rendered laughable the system of checks and balances between the three branches of the federal government. Congress has been gerrymandered at exponential levels, and it has turned the Supreme Court and many lower federal courts into the playground of the far right and the wealthy. Watch what happens to Roe v. Wade as the litmus test of both the latter and the former.

Then there is the Bill of Rights. First consider press freedom. The Internet has increasingly turned serious journalism into the domain of the few, and when it’s serious journalism on the left, the guardians of the gates of information have made it increasingly more difficult to locate left critical analysis on the Internet. The site on which these words appear and are read is one example of the reach of powerful interests on the right.

Due process and the right to trial by peers has long since disappeared for many without the means to present a defense. This happens more at the state level than at the federal court level, but look to the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and police violence against black and brown people and the results are predictable. The so-called day in court has become ludicrous for masses of people!

The government has turned the right to privacy in an Orwellian environment into a joke. Edward Snowden warned about the system in place to cull information from our personal communications. Notice where he has spent the past several years for his effort to educate and sound a warning. Julian Assange published information about US war crimes, among other issues, and he languishes in a prison in London.

Return to due process and consider the cases of Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, killed by order of the neoliberal Barack Obama after they were placed on a CIA kill list. Many may not have liked the words that Anwar al-Awlaki spoke and wrote, but US citizens have the right to have charges of wrongdoing brought before a US court and then be judged by their peers. Drone warfare has very little due process built into its use.

The Second Amendment is pretty much a grotesque fucking joke! Meant to raise a militia, perhaps with an eye to Shays’ Rebellion, the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Columbine High are a testament to the insanity and utter cruelty of the archaic nature of that amendment. But there was money to be made from guns and a means of keeping those in the minority under check. A society that lacks cohesion and equity for the many produces endless catastrophes.

As I approached teaching the lesson, I thought that what I would teach was more in the realm of fiction than the presentation of facts. What has been lost to the dictates of empire and an increasingly right-wing domestic climate would likely cause much consternation among the Framers, even though many were slave owners. I can picture many of the Framers wildly spinning in their graves as I teach this lesson.

Across the US, many debate whether or not students, who have experienced various kinds of instruction from fully remote learning to a return to the classroom on a regular basis, need to repeat their current grade assignment. Politico (April 22, 2021) presents the complex nature of the issues involved in repeating students at their current grade level, or moving them ahead to the next grade level as schools are expected to fully open in the fall. The majority of students will have lost some academic ground, with the most significant losses suffered among those students already challenged by inadequate education and inadequate social-welfare support .

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).