The Erosion of U.S. Democracy
by Ed Sawicki - October, 2015
On August 5, 2015, former president Jimmy Carter (D-1977-81) commented on the Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited political campaign donations:
“It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and US senators and congress members. We've just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favours for themselves after the election's over.”
The U.S. political system has always tended to push the country to the right, but this accelerated starting in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan, faster still during the George W Bush administration, and now pedal to the metal with the Republican-dominated Congress today. You can see this clearly if you could go back in time and see what our democracy was like before the 1980s. One way to do this is to look at Japan's constitution.
The current Japanese constitution was drafted by attorneys for occupying American forces after World War II and came into effect on May 3, 1947. It was modeled after the United States constitution but with numerous improvements. You can view the Japanese constitution in its entirety at The Constitution of Japan.
Listed below are articles from Japan's constitution that contrast (sharply in many cases) with U.S. democracy today.
- Article 9
- Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
- In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
- NOTE: Japan spends about 2.1 percent of it's budget on military defense. The United States spends about 16.9 percent of its budget on military spending - it's over 20 percent if Veterans Administration spending is included. Republicans want to increase this spending by taking money away from social programs.
- Article 13
- All of the people shall be respected as individuals. Their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness shall, to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare, be the supreme consideration in legislation and in other governmental affairs.
- NOTE: The U.S. conservative Congress does not consider the public welfare to be the supreme consideration. Public welfare is often sacrificed for military spending and tax cuts for the rich and corporations.
- Article 14
- All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.
- Peers and peerage shall not be recognized.
- No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it.
- Article 20
- Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.
- No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice.
- The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.
- NOTE: The U.S. extends priviledge to religious organizations in the form of tax exemptions. Powerful religious leaders have significant political influence to the point where they can escape prosecution for crimes. Politicians must feign faith if they want to get elected to high office. Politicians, including the president, must attend the National Prayer Breakfast or face retribution.
- Article 23
- Academic freedom is guaranteed.
- In the U.S., powerful right-wing forces are exerting influence on colleges and universities to teach topics and to hire professors who are compatible with their narratives.
- Article 25
- All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living. In all spheres of life, the State shall use its endeavors for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security, and of public health.
- NOTE: The U.S. Congress resists matching the minimum wage to levels of inflation. The Republicans in Congress regularly vote down funds for food, welfare, and social programs while continually finding ways to cut the federal budget and passing those savings on to the upper class via tax breaks.
- Article 26
- All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided by law.
- All people shall be obligated to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law. Such compulsory education shall be free.
- NOTE: The phrase "correspondent to their ability" is vague. In the U.S., many interpret this as ability to pay.
- Article 27
- All people shall have the right and the obligation to work. Standards for wages, hours, rest and other working conditions shall be fixed by law. Children shall not be exploited.
- NOTE: The unemployment rate in Japan averaged 2.72 percent since 1953. The U.S. Republican Congress since 2001 has not allowed a jobs bill to reach the floor of Congress that was not "poison pill" legislation. Congressional Republicans have tried to weaken child labor laws.
- Article 28
- The right of workers to organize and to bargain and act collectively is guaranteed.
- NOTE: Republicans in state governments have enacted Right To Work laws to discourage workers from joining unions and to enjoy collective bargaining.
- Article 34
- No person shall be arrested or detained without being at once informed of the charges against him or without the immediate privilege of counsel; nor shall he be detained without adequate cause; and upon demand of any person such cause must be immediately shown in open court in his presence and the presence of his counsel.
- NOTE: In the U.S., some prisoners are held without adequate cause and without being charged. The Guantanamo Bay prison is one example. Republicans in Congress refuse to approve and fund the shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay prison. Another example are the numerous sites around the world that the U.S. uses for extraordinary rendition.
- Article 36
- The infliction of torture by any public officer and cruel punishments are absolutely forbidden.
- NOTE: Torture was used by the George W. Bush administration. Bush attorneys wrote legal opinions that justified enhanced interrogation techniques that were not allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual. When Barak Obama took office, he restored interrogation practices to that allowed in the Army Field Manual.
- Article 89
- No public money or other property shall be expended or appropriated for the use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association, or for any charitable, educational or benevolent enterprises not under the control of public authority.
- NOTE: In the U.S., most religious institutions don't pay taxes, thus all American taxpayers subsidize religious activity. Starting with the George W. Bush administration, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships exists to channel money to religious organizations in the form of grants and contracts. This practice continues to exist in the Barak Obama administration. When Senator Obama was campaigning for president, he disagreed with powerful religious leaders who wanted to use the public money to discriminate in their hiring practices, such as not being required to hire atheists to perform duties related to the grants and contracts.
Constitutional Change in Japan, Council on Foreign Relations
The Atlantic: The American Woman Who Wrote Equal Rights Into Japan's Constitution
Biden’s remark on Japan Constitution raises eyebrows