Democracy is at stake

As de Tocqueville pointed out over 160 years ago, US lawyers have risen to take the place of the older form of societal control: that of the aristocracy. They share habits, tastes and — he pointed out -— they share the aristocracies’ “contempt for popular opinion.” He felt, and this has been borne out since, that lawyers and their control and interpretation of the law, form a counter-argument for the intentions embedded in the Constitution.

Think about that for a second, just how right he was. There is almost no political question or Constitutional direction taken by democratically elected officials that is not subsequently modified or coerced by legal action. And in this process, the for-profit or for-life legal elite actually rule the country, control the destiny, and, always, use control of judicial process to modify implementation or observance of right.

And this power — no matter how carefully exercised — means that the bottom-up will of the people becomes controlled by the top, the last to handle the issues, the last to modify the laws written to embody the original intent. Original intent quickly becomes least desired outcome by the elite or the least radical version of original intent. 

When you add the politician to the process — a politician desperate to compromise anything radical to broaden appeal and thereby secure the votes necessary to remain employed -— the least radical version of any original public intent is desperately appealing to all politicians. Now, it may not merely be a politician’s intent to secure employment. The more dangerous impetus may be to maintain power.


That power afforded to politicians comes precisely because of this top-down application of law modification. People always want radical change, total change. The populace always clamors for “throw the baby out with the bathwater” approaches to change. The Tea Party (now judiciously re-named as the Freedom Caucus which is the opposite of the control they exert) was formed as a radical force. Trump was elected by the populace (well, sort of) for “everything must change.” And therein now lies the challenge for those currently in Washington. 

The system, the top-down judicial application of modification of the will of the populace, has increasingly fallen beyond the scope of the lawyers and the law into that new realm of the all-powerful judges. As the final arbiters of what the laws are said to mean (even when their rulings compromise original intent to worthless scrap), judges, especially newly appointed (by the political system desperate to maintain power) federal judges, seem to exhibit a complete and absolute contempt for the will of the people. And the rate at which the Senate is appointing lifetime judges to reflect and secure their grasp on power is astonishing.

So, what are the limits we now find ourselves under when it comes to democracy? The state of the union now finds itself divided by the political and the legal.

On the one hand, the legal model seems the more reliable — a nation ruled by laws and strict adherence of the rule of those laws. Of course, that very same model is both patronizing and, when influenced by political appointment of judges interpreting the laws, open to corruption. 

The legal model is, I feel fair to say, not reflective of the will of the populace at any given time. They may serve to water down radical thought and concepts but, in the process, set themselves above the will of the people and, therefore, corrupt the state.


On the other hand, the political limits are, in a free capitalist society, completely devoid of the moral fortitude to avoid financial temptation and persuasion. A perfect example of this is the NRA. Regardless of the discussion of a right to bear arms, the NRA gathers tens of millions of dollars to cajole, bribe and influence politicians on a host of non-gun related issues aligned with radical beliefs. In a way, the NRA stands against the legal manipulation of their radical desires. But such financial corruption and corruptive practices — which have spread through all branches of government — corrupt the whole system, thereby relegating the assessment by the populace of all politicians as corrupt and against the people’s interests.

So, where can the will of the people be expressed and how can that will be reflective, once more, across the nation? That is the real issue coming in 2020 elections. The non-dilution of radical ideas, fought out in chamber to reach a modification without compromise, determined to be written into law so clear that no legal modification can neuter it -— these may be the aspirations we really need to reach for — not the safe bet. 

The voice of the people needs to be clear and forceful. If it is not, “We The People” will become a footnote to a once valiant attempt at true democracy.

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.