It isn’t the number or quality of laws on our books that measures the health of our democracy, of our society. The real measure is the way relevant laws are being implemented, enforced and understood, or undermined, distorted and ignored.
It takes greed and political power to embed corruption throughout a government, whether municipal, state or federal. It takes political courage and leadership to root out corruption and restore the rule of law.
“Compromise, accommodation, compliance and civility” are cited as desirable underpinnings of our democratic government. But those are not legal decision-parameters. They simply reflect the reluctance of elected and appointed government officials to offend even a minority of voters by implementing good laws on our books or demanding them to be passed.
How often have you heard your government officials say, “But we have always done it this way,” to avoid any effort at self-cleansing or returning to the rule of law? As for elected leaders at the top? They say, “It costs too much.” But the cost they worry about is usually not money. It’s the risk of losing their own political power at the next election.
Accountability gets talked about during election campaigns. But it is never implemented, not locally, not statewide, and certainly not in Washington. No one wants to rock the boat.
The compliant citizens think that they have fulfilled their civic duties by voting. Proud and self-satisfied, they never again attend public hearings, protest with letters and speeches, exercise their First Amendment rights. And how do the people justify their failure to speak up or act against corruption, lawlessness? “I have to live with them,” they say. And so they continue “the American way of life,” characterized by compromise, accommodation, compliance and civility, in the face of corruption and lawlessness.
The voters are lulled into inactivity with such slogans as “We’re the best country in the world,” “Ours is the greatest experiment in democracy,” “We honor those who died fighting for our rights.”
But where were we during that fight? We have innumerable opportunities to fight against corruption, against lawlessness, against injustice in our everyday lives. Yet most of us live quietly in a society that values conformity over reform, inaction while corruption and lawlessness continue to fester. We value the voice of moderation, even though that voice cannot be heard over the din of politicians congratulating themselves on our exceptionalism, our supposed continuing march toward social and economic justice, our wonderfully perfectible union. Really?
The huge cost of silence and inaction is born by the disenfranchised, by those who are powerless while being defrauded. The only rights that the people can keep and exercise are those they are willing to fight for.
Attorney at law
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One fine body…