Bureau of Engraving and Printing vignette of John Trumbull’s painting Declaration of Independence (c. 1818). Wikicommons/ Frederick Girsch. Some rights reserved.
Like millions of other Americans, the 2008 financial crash changed my family's life overnight. The value of our home, a home I had bought by playing by the rules with a down payment of 20%, dropped by almost half, wiping out our life savings. The effects did not end there either because the rest of the economy was also affected. Cities and states cut spending and personnel.
My employer replaced our insurance coverage with an HSA that barely covered our physicals. My salary was cut. Our financial situation, which had been improving, worsened. Where before we could save a little each month, we could no longer save anything. When my son broke his leg, for instance, and we rushed him to the clinic, we had to haggle over the cost. Eventually, we qualified for some financial assistance, but this was a drop in the bucket as statistically speaking we were, like half of American households, living month-to-month, and no matter how much or how hard we worked, we could not significantly change our situation. At this point, I began to research the causes and consequences of events.
I concluded that the government was playing us. In the 08 financial crisis, for example, the government bailed out the "too big to fail" banks with trillions of dollars despite evidence showing the banks and the rating agencies had preyed on and deceived people, pushing many qualified borrowers into sub-prime loans, committing fraud, and firing anyone who questioned their practices. This was on top of government deregulation and lack of oversight.
The same kind of corruption occurred with the Iraq War as the nation learned the Bush administration had lied to the American people. Iraq never posed a threat. These two events alone cost taxpayers upward of 16 trillion, and when you add to this the tax cuts which heavily favored corporations and the wealthy, the ones off-shoring profits and outsourcing jobs and "free trade" agreements like NAFTA which hollowed out American manufacturing, crushed unions, and decimated wages, the picture becomes very clear. The question is: Why don't people see the connection between these events that created the debt and led to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and soldiers and the rising cost of education, housing, healthcare, declining wages, and increasing economic insecurity?
The more important party
Yes, I get it. People do not want to think about the causes and consequences of every event. And, why should they have to worry about how lobbyists and donors influence the government and congress people or what our military is doing? When people come home from work they want to relax. They want to shut the world out and enjoy quality time with family and friends. I understand this, but there comes a time when, we the people, have to stand up for what is in our best interest because if we don't, we will lose all the hard won victories of the past including Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, voting rights, and the list goes on. These things were won at enormous cost, and as things currently stand, the power brokers are working behind closed doors and beyond public scrutiny to destroy these and reduce the life of most Americans to debt peonage.
This is where we are. We have forgotten that deception and deregulation are no more consensual than bipartisan commission reports are solutions.We the people also have to remember that we are the sovereign power and as such have the right of consent. This is not a parent-child relationship. We are the more important party in this relationship and deserve to be respected and allowed to exercise our constitutional rights to check power and be informed, for our representatives are supposed to serve us. Our representatives are not in the service of donors or lobbyists but in the service of the people.
The truth, unfortunately, is far more insidious, and this is where we have to come to terms with the enemies within, including the Koch brothers, the Mercers, other billionaires, former government officials, and the corporations who have no desire to honor the social contract, consent, or our system of checks and balances any more than they want to protect and secure the people's inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
And, this is where the plutocrats and corporations are so dangerous because these words, which are so important to the proper functioning of our political system and who we are as a country, are central to the health of our government. Without them our system will collapse. Inalienable means given to everyone at birth and cannot be taken away. The word life should be clear. Any action that threatens the life of any human being should take precedence over everything else. If the government knows that the herbicide glyphosate is carcinogenic it should be banned from the marketplace. Profit should not be in any conversation when the product or policy threatens life. Life is non-negotiable. There is no wiggle room for allowing products that cause disease and death to be released into the marketplace. To this end, all products and legislation need to be determined to be safe and life-affirming before being sold or passed. This is called the precautionary principle, and it must take precedence in the minds of all our representatives and everyone in the executive and judicial branches. To do otherwise is to state that you are not fit for public service. Similarly, police officers need to be trained to use lethal force only when faced with an imminent threat to life. Thus, we need responsible gun legislation that protects the life of all citizens. We also need to protect whistleblowers in government and private industry for they are the canaries in the coal mine.
Liberty is a word that can be defined broadly or more narrowly. At the time of our Founders, liberty was often divided into personal, civil, and political. Liberty is the opposite of tyranny, a system of government in which people are controlled by the random and cruel exercise of power. To experience liberty, or freedom, there should not be external forces holding us back from going about our day-to-day lives and keeping us from developing into the person we want to become, so if a woman is not able to walk safely down her street out of fear of being attacked then her liberty is being infringed upon. On the other hand, freedom is not license. It does not give one the right to do whatever they want without consideration of the life and liberty of others. This idea, which was central to the early colonists idea of liberty, necessitated self control. To be free at that time also meant to be free of greed and lust. It meant to put the common good above personal gain and profit.
As for the pursuit of happiness, it seems Jefferson thought happiness was something people attained within a community. In this sense, happiness is more akin to contentment, peace of mind brought on by an attitude and a life that is good enough. In this sense it means to feel safe, secure financially, and unafraid in one's environment as opposed to pleasure which is a temporary feeling brought on by things such as food or sex. Where contentment is deep, pleasure can be hollow and fleeting.
Taken together these three principles should be written on the desk of each and every one of our public officials. They need to commit them to memory and take them to heart, especially those in leadership positions.
Another aspect of these core principles is the ideas of equality and fairness. Our founding documents brought the kings down to the same level as every other citizen. In other words, nobody is above the law and everyone regardless of age, sex, ethnic background, socioeconomic status is deserving of respect and a dignified existence. If the President of the United States knowingly deceives the American people about a threat that leads to war and the deaths of Americans and others, then he must be held accountable in the same way an individual would be. In other words, there should not be two sets of laws; one for those with money and in high positions and another for the rest. Similarly, neither our rights nor our democratic instincts should end at the workplace door.
Just as protecting the life, liberty, and contentment of citizens in all areas of their life is the oxygen of our government, our system of checks and balances and delegated duties are needed to maintain stability. If the executive branch violates the people's rights, the courts must check the excess to return the system to its balanced state.So when the president violated the people's 4th amendment rights by eavesdropping on their conversations and emails, the courts should have not only stopped it but also held the executive branch accountable. Similarly, by abdicating its Article 1 Section 8 duties to declare war and coin money and regulate the value thereof to the executive branch and Federal Reserve respectively, Congress has removed two of its central functions.
Of course, for the people to trust that Congress will only declare war when necessary depends on how well Congress serves the people and the press. Without a free press acting as the doctor, so to speak, honestly and ethically examining and reporting on government activities the populace will not be able to accurately evaluate events as they occur.
Democracy the nourishment
Finally, where the system of checks and balances and duties are the stabilizer, the press the doctor, democracy is the nourishment. It is the food that maintains the health of our Republic. To this end, for the system to be healthy two things have to occur; first, voting rights have to be sacrosanct, debates have to be open, and money has to be removed from the political process – money is not speech; second, our representatives' legislation has to reflect the people's will insofar as it protects and furthers the life, liberty, and contentment of the people. It is on this very point that two Columbia University professors, Gilens and Page asked the question: Who rules America?
After extensively examining 21 years of legislation from 1981 to 2002, Gilens and Page found that legislation passed is not determined by the needs of mass-based interest groups and average citizens, but by economic elites, or roughly speaking the top 10%. This is certainly not majoritarian pluralism in which the majority more or less is equally represented. In short, by definition, we do not have a government of the people, but a plutocracy, a government of a small group of wealthy individuals. In the words of Gilens and Page, "When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."
This significant finding shows that our system is starved of nourishment. For rather than legislation reflecting the will of the people, as it is meant to, it reflects the will of a few morbidly rich individuals and corporations. This is akin to a person being addicted to a junk food diet. This is precisely what has happened to our Republic. It has been overwhelmed with the junk values of the already comfortable to the point that our system has been overtaken by the cancer of corruption, militarism, and greed.
For these reasons, We the People wrote a new Declaration of Independence that retains the original intent less the obvious injustices while putting in protections to put all the fine words into practice as well as reiterating our grievances against the current royalists, who working in concert with most of our politicians, have sucked the oxygen and nourishment from our government as well as destabilized our Republic to the point of grave illness. Read on here.