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Wielding Godlike Powers

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Political leadership involves some of the highest powers available to humans on earth: the ability to forcefully dictate what others can or can’t do, to demand money and time for the good of the collective, to wage war, and to legislate the relations between millions of people. The level of power over others is staggering.

Politics allows men and women to play with forces normally reserved for the gods, which is part of why political leaders were historically seen as divine representatives. They literally wielded godlike power over the lives of their subjects and were thus treated with reverence, even when badly abusing that power.

The founders of our country recognized the corrosive effect that godlike powers have on men and women who are not consistently operating from a godlike consciousness. Their political actions can turn to self-indulgence, inflation, and tyranny rather than service. In creating a new system of governance, America’s founders had the opportunity to conduct an experiment away from the rigid political hierarchies of Europe. In this experiment, appropriate checks were put on the godlike powers so that normal humans could create a decent and workable government even when the leaders were behaving in self-interested, power-hungry ways.

The basic structure of governance enacted by our Constitution involves the separation of power into three domains: executive, legislative, and judicial, each with checks and balances upon the others. In addition, the legislative branch was created with the checks and balances that result from two separate houses. The founders also created America as a representative democracy rather than a full democracy: leaders chosen by a majority of voters, they felt, would be more likely to make wise decisions in the service of the whole than would the average voter. The need for re-election would keep politicians more honest and accountable and ensure some degree of representing the needs of the whole.

At every level, the system was built on a recognition that we need to be protected from the distorting effects of power. The Founding Father’s structure has done a reasonably good job of protecting us from the worst political excesses and allowing for incremental evolution of the system itself. However, the power landscape has shifted in many ways that our founders could not have anticipated, which has meant that the corrosive effects of new power centers have seriously undermined the integrity of the whole.

Like a computer operating system that starts crashing when the code that runs it is no longer adequate to deal with new demands, America’s current political infrastructure has begun crashing. We will need to go through a major upgrade of our political system to adequately address the distorting effects that the new powers on our cultural landscape wield. Without such an upgrade, our self-congratulatory rhetoric about democracy will increasingly be out of sync with the truth of the moment.

We need not see this as a failure. Rather, it’s remarkable that our system was built so well as to last this long without a major overhaul. We just need to be honest that the checks and balances are no longer robust enough to deal with current realities. So what are some of these forces that the founders could not have anticipated and which are rendering our current checks and balances inadequate?

  • Size of population – When founded, our nation was between 1.5 and 2 million people, or about the population of current-day Manhattan. At that size, political representation was a more intimate process in which people could make a more accurate appraisal of someone’s integrity, wisdom, and leadership capacity. With the vast expansion of population, the number of people who are represented by each political official at the national level has ballooned. It is now rare for an average citizen to have any personal connection to their Representative or Senators. This change in scale means that only those with privileged amounts of power tend to get personal audiences with their political representatives. The result is that officials are no longer adequately connected to their base and unduly influenced by the powerful. An intermediate level of political power between constituencies and their representatives would be one strategy to mitigate this situation.
  • Corporations – With the rise of corporate personhood via a dubious judicial decision in the 19th century (granting them the same rights as individuals) , corporations have gained enormous money, status, and power to influence political processes. They do so with relentless self-interest. Their founding mission, after all, is to maximize the returns for their investors, which makes them predatory by design and conscious only by choice. With the advent of multi-national corporations, they are now even able to play different governments off each other. They fund large numbers of lobbyists that hover, like wasps, around Washington politics. This power base did not exist in 1789 and thus our current system does not adequately address its distorting influences.
  • Mass media – Our mass media have become extremely talented at shaping public consciousness through visual imagery, music, soundbites, and rhetoric. The advertising industry is, at the root, a science of mind control. This science of mind control can now be used with unprecedented effect upon viewers, who often take delight in being controlled. The mass media become politically problematic when their amplified power becomes consolidated under fewer corporate umbrellas. The fewer people who make decisions about how the media is portraying public events, the more potentially distorted a picture they can paint. The barriers to entry for independent mass media ensure that the average American gets less truly independent coverage each year, although this is being offset somewhat now by the Internet.
  • Defense distorions – The speed and devastating impact with which war can now be waged reduces the time available for considered decision-making . The specter of nuclear warfare and terrorism chills progressives and conservatives alike. Advances in weaponry have produced an escalation of fear, which translates into an inflated war-making and defense apparatus. The sheer size of our military and the corporations that profit could not have been anticipated by our Founding Fathers. This exacerbates the glaring problem of the combination of the role of President and Commander-in-Chief into one role. The consolidation of those two powers have ensured that the war-making function of our chief executive is prone to misuse. In the case of Bush, one way we can see him is as someone better designed to be a Commander-in-Chief than a President. As the saying goes, if we only have a hammer, we see nothing but nails. As a warrior, Bush primarily sees a world of enemies. And he thus may end up as the only President in history to wage three wars, if the current speculation on US military action versus Iran proves correct. The combination of two vast powers under one job description means that the distortions brought about by an inflated military sector becomes exaggerated and the President plays a more hypermasculine role than should be the case.
  • The rise of shadow government – While leaving office, President Eisenhower warned of the emergence of an unaccountable and powerful force in the governance of the United States – a mixture of covert intelligence groups and the military-industrial complex, popularly known as black-budget operations. The movie JFK discussed this “shadow” government, which has often been implicated in JFK’s assassination and the darker aspects of our foreign policy, including overthrowing foreign politicians not aligned with our economic interests. The threads of this shadow government are difficult to untangle, from Cold War covert task forces to gun running by the CIA to secretive societies. Whatever the actual details, the truth is that this “shadow government” has an enormous influence on our elected government, largely out of view of the public. The secrecy with which these forces operate amplify the naturally corrosive effects of power.
  • Non-verifiable electronic voting - As long as elections have been held, politicians and the people who support them have been tempted to cheat – and often do. The intoxicating drug of power is often sought at any price. That’s why the recent rise in non-verifiable electronic voting, combined with the forces ennumerated above, create the most immediate threat to American democracy. Unlike citizens of other countries, Americans seems to be particularly naïve about the tendency to use whatever means is necessary to “win” elections, including stealing them. Both the 2000 and 2004 elections have abundant, demonstrable evidence of fraud. The corporations that wield increasing power in the process, such as Diebold, are deeply suspect. Without the checks and balances that come with a paper trail, this situation will only worsen.

    All of these changes have resulted in an increasing mismatch between the checks and balances that were created 230 years ago and the expanded sources of power now seeking to manipulate our system of governance. Simply put, today’s powerhouses have overrun the political defenses erected by our Founding Fathers. The end result, if we are not able to arrest the process and create a true political upgrade that integrates all the reflective wisdom earned in the last two centuries, will be that America’s political operating system will crash into a more archaic form.

    Do we have the courage to admit the truth of the situation and the will to undertake the work of reform at all levels? That’s the challenge set before the American people in the coming years.

    Sacred America Series #13
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    Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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