Although we ostensibly live in a democratic nation, democracy as a meaningful concept has been disappearing before our eyes and before the eyes of the world. It has been hollowed out, stripped of its intrinsic meaning, and is now used to support some of the most destructive choices in human history. How is it possible that democracy can have been so emasculated that it can only survive as an underground movement in a nation that was the first modern incarnation of democracy in the world and was seen as the beacon of democracy for decades, if not centuries? The short answer is money. Democracy, as it now exists in this nation, has been bought and paid for and now serves other masters than the ordinary citizens of this nation.
Capitalism, especially the most radical capitalism at the heart of neo-liberal economics, tends to treat everything as a commodity to be monetized and used as a resource to produce some product or to be sold to produce capital. It has little to no concern for the intrinsic value of anything except capital. Therefore, the accumulation of capital is its goal, and only the monetary value of things is of importance. It is not hard to see that such an approach discounts or ignores the human value of things or the spiritual or natural value of things. Humans are seen as human resources to be used to produce wealth with their labor or as a source of financial resources to be mined for economic growth. A tree is not seen as part of a natural web of life but instead as the source of board feet of lumber. Natural resources exist to be turned into products to be consumed by the citizenry of the nation or of the world.
This process of monetizing life also includes language. This process begins with stripping words and language itself of their intrinsic meaning and putting them to work to serve the purposes of expanding the power of capitalism. The very word "democracy" is an example. Its most basic meaning is rule by the people and is to be a vehicle of self-determination for ordinary citizens of a nation. Its intrinsic value, its principles, have been pushed aside and its meaning shifted so it seems to be that capitalism is the prerequisite of democracy. The result is that neoliberal economics can be exported to the world under the rubric of spreading democracy.
Having allowed those with money to co-opt and control the basic levers of power within this nation, we have allowed an economic system, capitalism, to become preeminent and to use the term "democracy" to support its abuses. As radical capitalism once again began to gain control of the directions of the nation after the election of 1968, it spent much of it burgeoning profits to begin to buy the trappings of democracy for its own use. In the process the ideals, the real spirit of democracy, were lost as the term became a commodity to be traded in the economic marketplace. It became an empty term.
We live in a continuous state of illusion to distract us from noticing that no real change is occurring, no significant issues are being resolved and our democracy and our lives are continuing on a downward trajectory.
In the place of anything that might resolve significant issues or lead to real change or improvement in the system we are given political theatre"and we seem to not only accept it, but to be willing to become totally immersed in it, as though our very lives depend on it.
Political theatre is when the activities of the governing bodies have been scripted and choreographed to provide the appearance of real debate while the outcome has been predetermined by those who are writing the script.
What goes on is a very elaborate production, presented on the stage of governance and reported by a willing media for a national and international audience. It comes complete with program notes, explanation, and interpretation, with the immediate analysis of critics, pundits, and talking heads. We as spectators, on the other side of the screen, are encouraged to applaud or boo the actors"those actors all know their roles and have been well trained to play them. They all receive their actors' pay with bonuses for those who best entertain the spectators. For the next several hours, and often days, after each performance we are entertained by continuous comment and analysis until a new act is ready or another entirely new play is written.
The speaking roles are given only to those who, after arduous political auditions in their home states, have been carefully vetted by those in charge of the process, the producers, for the big-time national stage. If they are deemed worthy, i.e., they will stay on script and accept the casting decisions, they are trotted out for their final audition with financial backing and full PR support to see if they can pass the final audition, the screen test before a national audience. If they perform well enough, they will be chosen over the fully vetted candidate of the other party. (In some rare cases they may lose to a candidate unvetted by either party at which point they lose all political face and are often relegated to the dustbin of political history.)
The process is not dissimilar to being willing to pass the casting couch test to win a role. Will the potential candidate prove to the producer that they are willing to do the bidding of the producer, no matter the cost to their honor or integrity?
After passing their screen test, any who refuse, or even hesitate, to play their assigned roles, are relegated to minor roles or discredited as legitimate actors. They become like itinerant actors trying to find enough work to survive and ready to step in at a moment's notice as a replacement. If they are really effective, they may find audiences outside of the major theatre circuit, playing in unaffiliated small-town theatres for the ordinary folks and relying on older plays or writing their own scripts.
The big-time theaters are elegant and there is a constant striving for the appearance of realism. There are international theaters, national theaters, regional theaters, state theaters, county theaters and local theaters to keep us all entertained, so we have something like soap operas to follow with bated breath"to pour our passion and our hearts and souls into.
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