More pressing the global warming, peak oil, the health care crisis, a lagging national education system, or a growing divide between the rich and the poor, is the fate of democracy in America.
President Bush has allowed and enabled two or three dozen senior officials, whom it is hard to describe as anything other than evil (although clearly they have their twisted reasons) to do immeasurable harm to our nation's national security, international stature, and constitutional intregrity.
Their acts have caused more deaths in Iraq than a genocide in Rwanda did.
A federal judge ruled yesterday that even if it happened at the direction and behest of Donald Rumsfield himself, that our courts offer no recourse to people who "were hung upside down from the ceiling with a chain until unconscious; locked for days in a phone-booth-sized wooden box while hooded and stripped naked; placed before a mock firing squad; put in a cage of live lions; electrically shocked; and sexually assaulted." The Bush Administration has many war criminals in its ranks.
The court of international public opinion will not be so forgiving. Courts of law in Germany and Italy are, as I write this, pursuing legal cases based on the illegal behavior of American officials conducting an inquisition-like war on terror in our name.
These few dozen senior officials have carried out their violent and cruel plans over the objections of hundreds of members of Congress, hundreds of decent people in his administration, and many millions of people in the general public who are actively trying to end this national nightmare. But, their efforts seem to fall on deaf ears.
President Bush remains determined to continue a futile war without end, despite the fact that majorities in both houses of Congress have voted to adopt binding legislation to put the nation on a path towards withdrawal from the four year old war in Iraq. Alberto Gonzales remain in office as Attorney General depsite having lost the confidence of Congress. Karl Rove continues to have the President's ear, despite the fact that he has been implicated as one person involved in leaking a covert CIA agent's identity. One of the architect's of the President's illegal agenda is now a federal judge, another has gone on to become a tenured law school professor.
Impunity remains the norm for everyone who have violated civil rights under color of law in the Bush Administration.
Particularly disturbing is the fact that this can continue in a democracy, long after public confidence in these policies has collapsed. The voters made clear that they didn't like what the administration had done at the elections of November of 2006, but forcing the President's hand to change course has proven to be painfully difficult.
Democracy really isn't that old as a form of government. While the United States is a young nation, only one or two other Democratic regimes on the planet have been around longer. Most have been interrupted repeatedly. France has has multiple dictatorial regimes since the French Revolution gave it a first shot at democractic government. Spain's democratic regime is only a generation old. The Democratic regimes in Germany, Italy and Israel, to name a few, are only a little older. Many of the world's democracies in the Third World have yet to experience two consecutive democratic changes of power. There is a notion called the "end of history" that says that we have figured out how to run human affairs in a way that will continue indefinitely. But, how can we be sure that a form of government that has only been around for less than 250 years can last?
One of the big picture lessons since about 1960 in world politics has been that democratic government does not come naturally.
Almost every country freed of colonial rule since then promptly collapsed into one party rule, dictatorship, or intermittent democracy in which coups have been as pivotal as elections. Iraq is typical of them. The failure of the Iraqi public to embrace its new, post-Iraq war democratic regime has defied Western conventional wisdom about what the people of the world want.
One of the most powerful rising forces in the world today is Islamic fundamentalism. My personal belief is that it is largely a counterrevolutionary response to the dramatic changes in people's way of life that globalism and technology have brought about. Whatever the cause, it seems clear that Islamic fundamentalism is not interested in democracy. Sunni Islamist insurgents in Iraq want a new Shah. Shiite Islamists in power in Iraq seem more united in their fealty to their religious patriarch than to anything else. Most of the remaining absolute monarchies in the world are Islamic. Hundred of millions of people in the world have looked at Iran and the Taliban on one hand, and at the United States and Europe on the other, and decided that they like Iran and the Taliban better.
After breaking from decades of one party Soviet rule in the USSR and Eastern Europe, most of us had bright expectations for democracy in its wake. Yet, Russian under President Putin, has been roling back democratic reforms, Belarus and Uzbekistan have degenerated to an even worse state than under Soviet rule, and many of the other successor states of the Warsaw pact aren't doing much better. There have been bright spots, especially near the old dividing line between Eastern and Western Europe, but it turns out the democracy takes more than a good constitution.
Some of the democracies that have managed to endure in the Third World, like the one in India, have struggled dearly and remain question marks when it comes to the long term future. Corruption and other flaws in India's democracy's ability to serve its people has spawned a largely grass roots Maoist insurgency there, and that isn't the only insurgency that nation faces. India's democratic regime likewise seem to teeter on the brink of survival at the top, in the face of ethnic hate and corruption. Israel and Italy both seem incapable of forming stable coalitions, and have been plagued with corruption. Would American democracy have survived the wave of corruption scandals that, in addition to the Iraq War, so influenced voters in 2006, if it weren't so well established?
I don't know if democracy as we know it is sustainable, or if we are doomed to fall into the authoritarian vision of government that President Bush and his inner circle seem to hold so dear? Do we just need a slight course correction, or are deeper historical forces at work? The glass seems half empty today.