Home National Politics Who Cares About Justice? (My Latest Challenge to My Republican Neighbors)

Who Cares About Justice? (My Latest Challenge to My Republican Neighbors)

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This piece has run as an op/ed in newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06).

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Justice has been called the most important virtue for a society to have.  And, since before my age broke double digits, I’ve had a passion for justice. Which makes it distressing for me to have discovered, many decades into my life, that so many of my countrymen do not seem to care much about justice.

But perhaps I should start by addressing the famous question, “What is Justice?” The best answer I can give describes how the world would be if justice played no role. From ancient Greece came this description of such a world: “The strong do what they can, while the weak suffer what they must.”

In other words, “justice” is the concept civilized people have used to correct the wrongs done by “might makes right.” Justice says that those without “might” have “rights” that entitle them to more than having to “suffer” whatever the strong – because they can — selfishly decide to seize for themselves.

“Justice” represents an ideal that serves as an antidote to the poisonous rule of raw power. 

How does this conflict between “justice and “the rule of power” relate to America? For starters, one can see the ideal of justice informing the main concepts of our founders.

The idea that “all men are created equal” asserts that needs of the strong and the weak are equally deserving of society’s concern. The idea that government derives its “just powers” from “the consent of the governed” declares that rulers are obliged to wield their power in ways approved by those being ruled. And in the election process – where, as the Supreme Court eventually put it, “one person, one vote” is the rule – power gets equalized, thus eliminating the distinction between the “strong” and the “weak.”

In today’s America, there are many battles that can be seen in terms of whether the strong will be enabled to wield their power to get what they can, forcing the weak to suffer what they must.

One such battle is over who gets to vote. In the past decade, millions of Americans have become unable to vote because of various voter suppression measures. Most prominent among these have been the “Voter ID” laws, passed by one of our major parties, in states across the nation, on the fraudulent basis that they would solve a virtually non-existent problem of “voter fraud.” Those Americans whom these measures effectively prevent from voting are among the most vulnerable – weakest—of our citizens. Government will no longer need their consent.

Another battle over justice, involving our elections, concerns how easily the inequalities of wealth in America can be translated into inequalities of power to the election process. The (virtually indefensible) Citizens United decision – handed down by five Supreme Court justices (all of them appointed by one of our major political parties) – magnified the power of those already the most powerful by virtue of their riches. Moving the nation from “one person, one vote” increasingly toward “one dollar, one vote” weakens the say of average citizens on the nation’s destiny.

Many other political battle lines in America, of course, are drawn between the richest and the rest. In every such battle, that very same political party consistently weighs in on the side of the richer — and thus stronger — at the expense of average citizens. For example:

  • The distribution of the tax burden, where one of our political parties just passed a measure that transfers nearly a trillion dollars to the billionaire class and the corporate system, with minimal and only temporary benefits for average Americans, while piling more than $1 trillion in national debt onto future generations.
  • The balance of power between our great corporations and the people who work for them, as one of our major parties has worked for more than a generation to weaken workers’ power. The result has been an ever-declining part of our national wealth going to wages and an ever-increasing share going to corporate profit.
  • The battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, whose mission was to protect average citizens from being deceived and exploited by giant financial institutions—an agency which one of our major parties has opposed and has now essentially neutered.

Still more of our political issues bear upon the relationship between stronger and weaker groups of people.

Take the treatment of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. America has long been a diverse society, but from its founding the power structure has placed white over non-white, European over non-European, Christian over non-Christian, and male over female. Recent generations have seen the weaker of those pairs gain some ground, but the originally stronger groups remain clearly dominant.

One of our two main political parties has placed itself squarely, and consistently, on the side of those long-dominant groups.

Indeed, I can think of only one issue on which today’s Republican Party sides with the weaker side: that is the issue of abortion, where the “stronger” party is the mother and the “weaker” party is the fetus inside her.

The question arises, why on this issue, and only on this issue does the GOP stand for “justice” for the weak? After all, nowhere in all of human relationships are we more likely to find selflessness, rather than mere selfishness, than in a mother’s relationship with her child.

From my observation, it does seem that for some Republicans, with the abortion issue, it is indeed a concern for the vulnerable that’s being expressed. But with others, it seems rather that the relationship involved is not that between mother and child but between a male-dominated society and the woman that society seeks to control.

So the picture, regarding even the issue of abortion, is mixed.

All of which leads to the question: what does it say about the moral nature of a political party if – almost without exception – it consistently sides with the strong against the weak?

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Andy Schmookler — who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 — is the author of an ongoing series, “Press the Battle: Fighting for the Soul of America(ns).”

 

 

 

  • RobertColgan

    It says it’s all about conscientiously protecting power and riches where it already resides and keeping it flowing toward the already powerful and wealthy without any regard for all the rest = egoistic greed paragoned.
    Nice essay, Andy.

  • RobertColgan

    GOT THIS EMAIL FROM CONGRESSMAN “GOOD”LATTE:

    “Dear Robert,

    “Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” This simple quote, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, is in a sense the very essence of what our Armed Forces have fought for throughout America’s history. Americans enjoy rights and freedoms unmatched by any other nation in the world. As we mark Memorial Day and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our liberty, we must also ensure that today’s men and women in uniform have the resources they need to perform their duties.

    The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed by the House of Representatives just days ago. It lays out a plan for military funding for the coming fiscal year. This strongly bipartisan measure will help strengthen and rebuild America’s military and reform the Pentagon. Our Armed Forces cannot operate effectively if the appropriate infrastructure is not in place. The NDAA specifically addresses improving readiness, and contains increased funding for training, rehabilitating and replacing worn out equipment, and getting more aircraft in the air. It also includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for our troops, the largest in nine years. I look forward to seeing this bill make its way through the Senate and to the President’s desk.

    Part of providing for our troops is ensuring that our veterans have access to quality care. Earlier this month, both the House and Senate passed the VA MISSION Act, which is now on its way to becoming law. The bipartisan VA MISSION Act builds off the work done by Congress over the past several years to right the ship after serious failures within in the VA system were revealed. By streamlining the VA’s community care programs into one comprehensive operation, implementing a process for reviewing the VA’s assets to ensure veterans can access the care they have earned, strengthening the VA’s workforce through modernization and recruitment, and expanding the Family Caregiver Program to pre-9/11 veterans, we can ensure our nation’s heroes have access to high-quality health care in every community in the United States. Our veterans faithfully served us, and it’s time we serve them by providing the care they deserve.

    The lives of the men and women we honor on Memorial Day were given in defense of our country. We remember the families they leave behind, and the sacrifices they have made. To all who serve, and have served, thank you. Protecting our freedoms is not an easy job, and we are truly grateful. May we never forget that our freedom is not free.

    Sincerely, Bob”

    AND I RESPONDED:
    “Bob,
    I don’t mind most of what you said………your usual jingoistic appeal to militaristic “might makes right and we’re mightier so we must be rightier” morality that resonates with the people who think along these same lines.
    But your assertion that:
    ” Americans enjoy rights and freedoms unmatched by any other nation in the world. ”
    is just so patently wrong that it’s offensive on logic alone. It’s doubly offensive when it is taken into account that American “rights” exist in stronger measure in other countries……that American “freedoms” exist in stronger measure in other countries.
    The right to form a union in American (“freedom” to form a union) has effectively been curtailed by court decisions…..workers here have far less “freedom” to collectively bargain or air grievances.
    The “freedom” to have medical access in most industrialized nations is a given. Not here———-the chances that people cannot afford to visit a doctor or clinic or procure necessary medical help for conditions is far more prevalent than published reports. Many of America’s elderly do NOT have coverage for eyeglasses, hearing aids, or dental care——–the very things they need most for quality of life as they grow older.
    The “freedoms” protected by the Bill of Rights have been virtually dismantled by both parties, mostly yours, over the last two decades. Protections previously long considered sacrosanct in the 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th Amendments are now as dispensable as toilet paper.
    But you wouldn’t know about such things, would you, Bob? You’re more interested in protecting a deranged POTUS and hiding his madness behind the mask of civility.
    About maintaining a government intent on keeping power in the hands of the few. About ensuring corporate America has the referees paid to make the right calls:
    that’s the kind of thing that to you typifies “American freedom.”

    Please go away.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Colgan”