Can Democracy in America Be Saved?

alex atkins bookshelf culture“The four catastrophes Martin Luther King Jr warned us about — militarism (in Asia, Africa and the Middle East), poverty (at record levels), materialism (with narcissistic addictions to money, fame, and spectacle) and racism (against black and indigenous people, Muslims, Jews and non-white immigrants) — have laid bare the organized hatred, greed, and corruption in the country….

The fundamental question at this moment is: can this failed social experiment be reformed? The political duopoly of [a Republican and Democratic party] — in no way equivalent, yet both beholden to Wall Street and the Pentagon — are symptoms of a decadent leadership class. The weakness of the labor movement and the present difficulty of the radical left to unite around a nonviolent revolutionary project of democratic sharing and redistribution of power, wealth and respect are signs of a society unable to regenerate the best of its past and present. Any society that refuses to eliminate or attenuate dilapidated housing, decrepit school systems, mass incarceration, massive unemployment and underemployment, inadequate healthcare, and its violations of rights and liberties is undesirable and unsustainable.

Yet the magnificent moral courage and spiritual sensitivity of the multiracial response to the police killing of George Floyd that now spills over into a political resistance to the legalized looting of Wall Street greed, the plundering of the planet and the degradation of women and LGBTQ+ peoples means we are still fighting regardless of the odds. 

If radical democracy dies in America, let it be said of us that we gave our all-and-all as the boots of American fascism tried to crush our necks.”

From the essay “A Boot is Crushing the Neck of American Democracy” by Cornel West, American professor, philosopher, and civil rights activist.

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2 thoughts on “Can Democracy in America Be Saved?

  1. Alex,

    This is a good question, and not asked only recently, either.

    Have you read any Frederick Douglass?

    His 1852 speech in Rochester, NY, is a classic:

    NPR had his descendants read and discuss the speech on July 3:

    I spent a while this weekend on this passage: it still bites to there bone, IMHO —

    “What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed. At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

    What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

    Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

    That said, I am still an optimist and think we will see a huge, blue landslide this November, after which I think we can redeem, reorient, and rescue ourselves from our current state of emergency/duress…

    Happy Independence Day weekend!



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