America goes to the poll in November of this year to elect its president. While in recent weeks the list of candidates from the two major political parties has narrowed down significantly it is not yet clear as to which party will eventually capture the citadel of power. One thing is, however, clear: for the first time in the last half a century a senator with no previous administrative experience, either in public or private sector, will head for the White House.
Notwithstanding all the excitement generated by the coming election, one should not lose thought of the bigger reality that there is a deep disquieting deterioration of democratic powers in America today.
In 1980 the right-wing coalition of Christian Conservatives (whom Professor Cornel West of Princeton University calls the Constantinian Christians) and Jewish neoconservatives (the modern-day Judean High Priests) helped to elect Ronald Reagan. The fact that 35 percent of the most liberal group –” American Jews –” voted for Reagan was a discerning moment in American history forewarning what was to expect later. When the Bible-thumping Christian fundamentalist reverend Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority received the Jabotinsky Award in 1981 in Israel, it should have been a sufficient eye-opener to realize that "imperial" Constantinian (and not "prophetic") Christianity had arrived on the international stage, albeit with Jewish neocons as their powerful allies. In the following decades with targeted campaigns to unseat daring voices – Paul Findley , Earl Hillard and Cynthia McKinney , we also witnessed how improbable it had become for anyone to win either a congressional or a senatorial race when the "alliance" (with all its powerful lobby groups like the AIPAC  and CUFI , and media outlets like the Fox News and TV) is opposed to that candidate. With George W. Bush’s repeat wins in 2000 and 2004 the hideous face of that unholy alliance is visible for all to see. Over the last eight years, the more we looked at that imperial face the uglier and demonic it looked; the more we heard its haughty, blasphemous Pharaohnic utterances the scarier we got of a coming Armageddon; and the more we saw its Hamanic displays against unarmed civilians –” home and abroad – the more we got convinced of its evil nature.
The problem with this resurgent imperial democracy is that it breeds nihilism at all strata of the American society –” from a desperate housewife to a debauch president, from an unemployed worker to a greedy corporate tycoon, from poverty-stricken inner cities to wealthy Beverly Hills, from chartered schools in Philadelphia to Columbine School in Missouri, from a co-ed residence hall in Virginia Tech to a lecture hall in Northern Illinois University, from streets in Harlem to corporate headquarters in Manhattan, from Enron to Halliburton, from penthouse to fortified Pentagon and majestic White House. It values power over logic and follows the paranoia: "my way or highway" and "you are either with us or against us". Not surprisingly, it incites gangterism from street corners in inner cities to corporate boardrooms to the WTO.
The most frightening feature of this deadening nihilism at the state level is that it breeds ‘noble’ lies –” from Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin to Bush’s WMDs – that demand blood –” tons and tons of it – to appease the nihilist Dracula (sitting in the Oval Office). Fashioned out of Texan cowboy mentality, it prefers settling conflict via show of force and employs "spare-no-enemies" tactics, i.e., aggression over negotiation, unilateralism over multilateralism. In that process, it totally disregards human lives –” their pains and sufferings, as we have witnessed time and again from the killing fields in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Occupied Palestine to the gruesome prison camps in the Guantanamo Bay  and Abu Ghraib. Naively, it forgets that its very gangsterism invites terrorism at home that it claims to be fighting in a never-ending vicious war.
In political nihilism, there is no room for Socratic probing and dissenting, but only unquestioning confirmation and compliance. There is no place for either Denis Kucinich or Ron Paul. They can say what is right and just, but they are deemed un-Caesar-like. Anyone sounding less imperial is, thus, considered outside the mainstream – weak and, by default, unfit to rule America.
So pervasive is this culture that the Senators John Kerry and Hillary Clinton had to join the club of believing the scripts prepared by the nihilists within the Republican Party in favor of going to war against Iraq. Even after all these years, when Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice have been found to have deliberately lied and deceived America, the paternalistic nihilists within the Democratic Party have to behave like the evangelical nihilists within the Republican Party.  Thus, when it comes to furthering the imperial ambition of America, there is virtually no difference between any of the major candidates –” John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama –” each one trying to sound more hawkish than the other. Obama wants to bomb Pakistan,  Clinton wants to invade Iran  and McCain wants to occupy Iraq for a hundred years!  What audacity!
The other worrisome matter is that imperial democracy inevitably promotes and in turn draws its strength from sentimental nihilists –” the publicity agents or propaganda machines that are unwilling to probe. They hinder coverage of hard facts that may not be politically correct, thereby polarizing and balkanizing citizenry and contributing much to the decline of public trust in political discourse. Not surprisingly, the American media accepted and spread imperial lies about WMDs. They became ’embedded’ journalists covering the war –” providing views that were approved by their masters.
Truly, in America today media are becoming mere parasites on their evangelical and paternalistic nihilist hosts. In contrast, genuine democracy thrives on a free and frank press that is willing to speak out painful truths about the society. When the so-called free press lacks the autonomy or courage to inspire democratic energies, democracy is in danger. America is in danger.
But with a functioning liberal democracy, things are not supposed to be this menacing. As hinted above, the change in America did not happen overnight. It took years for the rise of an ugly imperialism that has been steered by an unholy coalition of plutocratic elites, Jewish neoconservatives and the Christian Right, and aided by a massive disaffection of many voters who see no difference between the two major political parties.
One can only wonder how America –” the country that still attracts and retains the most talented minds – ends up electing mediocre and milquetoast leaders in public office! It is as if the brightest citizens boycott elected public offices, while the most ambitious go to the private sector. Those who want to be elected need millions of dollars to campaign for election. However, few are blessed like Ross Perot or Mitt Romney to spend their own money. Guess: who provides that ‘needed’ campaign money? It is the lobby groups, special interests and corporations. It would be foolish to imagine that they provide such funds for free.
It is not difficult, therefore, to understand why the majority of American voters don’t vote. They know that political leadership is confined to two parties that are both parasitic on corporate money and interests. The illicit marriage of corporate and political elites has undermined trust of informed citizens in those who rule over them.
Political leaders sound like as if they still believe in democratic principles. But the reality is that they are too willing to sacrifice those principles to gain and retain power. Sadly, thus, politicians have bastardized and pulverized the word "democracy" as they fail to respect and act on real democratic ideals, but act what their financiers dictate.
The situation is bleak in the private sector, too. Our corporate leaders continue to sacrifice their integrity on the altar of profits while our media watchdogs sacrifice the voice of the dissent on the altar of audience competition, the Nielsen Ratings.
Part Two: The Threat from within: Is Democracy for sale?
The rise of Constantinian Christian power in American democracy has progressed in stages. As Professor Cornel West of Princeton has demonstrated in his must-read book –” Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism – first, the ecumenical groups who spoke in defense of the rights of "others" were targeted by the Christian fundamentalists. They were lashed out with vicious attacks and branded as "liberals." The Christian fundamentalists and evangelists cast liberal seminaries as "sinful" havens. For legitimacy of imperial rule, they recruited and financed minority (e.g., Blacks, Chinese and Korean) churches who parroted their views. The last stage was their consolidation of power by throwing their weight around with well organized political action groups and aligning themselves with Jewish neoconservatives. The ride to grab power from Reagan’s election in 1980 to Bush II’s election in 2000 has been nothing but a thunderous success for the Constantinian Christians. Never before in American history has a group of organized militant fundamentalist Christians risen to such a prominence in power.
But an empire cannot grow solely from her High Priests. She needs other players –” notably, Haman, Lord Clive, multinationals –” the East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. Today, that role is played by the multinationals and big corporations that have an overarching influence on American democracy.
The Civil War was the first modern war when modern technology and resources of a modern state for mass mobilization were put to use. During the war industrialism ran amuck, and the dogma of, what Professor West calls, free market fundamentalism ruled supreme.  The country gave birth to a new breed of plutocrats who ran unregulated monopolies and accumulated enormous financial fortunes. Thus began the nihilistic rule in America where the empire and the corporate elite power came to empower and enrich each other resulting in corruption, greed and graft.
Just as the Civil War brought in free market fundamentalism, the Cold War in the post-World War II era created a military industrial complex in the USA. It produced a vast concentration of military might that is simply unparalleled in the human history. Her military budget matched the combined budget of the rest of the world. She has over 650 military facilities with some 1.5 million soldiers stationed in some 132 countries. Such unmatched power tended to intoxicate all those who smelled power. Thus, followed streams of blood from Indo-China to Central America with invasions of Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, and lately Afghanistan and Iraq; and add to this list the hijacking of state apparatus in countries like Iran for quarter of a century.
During his Presidential tenure, Eisenhower was alarmed about the greater threat from within, which he discovered in the rapidly increasing relationship between the military industry, the Pentagon, and the Congress. Much of the civilian population was financially dependent on defense industry, and most universities thrived on the increased research opportunities. Contrary to many politicians of the time, he understood the dangerous consequences of increasing the military’s impact on the national economy. He feared that the military industrial complex could result in policy decisions which were not in keeping with the best interests of the American people.
In his farewell speech (Jan. 17, 1961), Eisenhower cautioned: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." 
If one scrutinizes the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq, one cannot escape from asking: was Bush coaxed into war because it served the best interests of military industrial complex? How about the Carlyle Group?  How about the dozens of other defense contract companies that benefited from the war? How about the multi-national oil and gas companies? How about Halliburton Energy Services where Cheney was CEO before becoming Vice President?  How about the influence of multi-nationals and big corporations on the Congress? Was not Eisenhower right?
Since 9/11, global arms market has grown. In 2006, the USA wrapped up the biggest share of new arms deals ($16.9 billion), approx. 40 percent of the worldwide total. Just in January of this year, there were 223 publicly-reported defense contracts, totaling $19.6 billion.  As Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com has correctly pointed out, "While the civilian economy is shrinking, the military sector is expanding –” and, if either of the eventual major party candidates have their way, the military expenditures will balloon. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are pledged to an even bigger U.S. military. It’s good for business, if your business is war or war-related, and…the growing group of Americans whose livelihoods…depend on the continuation of our foreign policy of perpetual war." 
These are justifiably ominous signs for America. If America hands off the presidency to John McCain, there is little doubt that as an old guard of the current establishment, he will escalate militarism with a policy of confrontation and conquest. He will further the dogma of the "military industrial complex" that Eisenhower feared. With his favorite punch line "the transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical Islamic extremists," we are not surprised that he is the favorite candidate of the War party, the Jewish neoconservatives and the Constantinian Christians who favor perpetual war over negotiated settlements of disputes.
This resurgent imperial identity not only arrogates America to overlook her own hypocritical, bullying behavior in regard to so many of the regions of the world but also about the contempt she inspires amongst others. 
This imperial arrogance has made America to behave like a plaintiff, jury, judge and executioner –” all at the same time. It has also reduced the UN to act like a mouthpiece for the UNSC members with the Veto power (esp. the USA). Truly, the UN has lost its purpose. Rather than being a forum where dissenting views are heard and debated it has become a boardroom where punitive sanctions are often unjustly passed against rival nations that are deemed Socratic, challenging the powerful. The General Assembly has by now become a spineless paper tiger –” a Harijan center for the wretched of the earth and can only bemuse itself with Resolutions that don’t have the biting power to resolve any crisis. The actual power of the world body is now confined to those states that have the Veto power in the UNSC, esp. the USA. In essence, the UN has morphed into the most undemocratic organization in our time. So, while Bush has been preaching democracy overseas, esp. in the Muslim world, all his rhetoric sounds so hollow and hypocritical!
The imperial American democracy is also failing miserably to fight recession at home and stop devaluation of a falling dollar. Already signs are too looming to ignore the fact that while America has built up uncontested military might, undeniable cultural power and trans-national corporate and financial hegemony (note: like the UN, the IMF and the World Bank are also headquartered in the USA), she has a huge trade deficit, budget deficit, and class, racial, religious and ideological warfare at home.
And worst of all, in imperial America today, there is truly nothing called a "free" press that is willing to probe for the greater good of "free" American citizens. Yes, there is the Internet and there is some honest journalism in some unknown newspapers, but they don’t make headlines that common Americans either read or listen to. Most media are controlled by multi-nationals, big corporations and powerful interest groups, who dictate what needs to be fed and at what frequency. If one is willing to keep one’s job, one better don’t antagonize those "bosses" who put up the bill, and they include advertisers, sponsors, etc.
It is not by chance that in spite of all the proofs (and these were plenty) of absence of any connection of Saddam Hussein’s regime with 9/11 and nonexistence of the WMDs in Iraq, American media propagated the lies of Washington, and the U.S. Congress, which acting more like an ‘Amen Corner’ for a rogue nation and the merchants of war, authorized invasion of Iraq in which nearly a million people has perished in the last five years.  The war has also displaced millions of civilians, and sent the country back to the days of Jahiliya, lacking basic necessities of life and safety. Not a day goes by when some civilians are not killed violently there. The war has also killed some 4000 U.S. soldiers and wounded another 30,000, mostly minority Blacks and Hispanics, much like how the Scottish and Nepalese Gurkha soldiers used to die for the glory of the British Empire.  Are not the U.S. media responsible for this crime of the 21st century? Is not Washington accountable?
American economy is now in shambles! Writing in the Times magazine, two experts – Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize winner in Economics, 2001) and Linda Bilmes (of Harvard) –” conclude: "The Bush Administration was wrong about the benefits of the war and it was wrong about the costs of the war … The cost of direct US military operations – not even including long-term costs such as taking care of wounded veterans – already exceeds the cost of the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War. … Larry Lindsey, President Bush’s economic adviser and head of the National Economic Council, suggested that they might reach $200 billion. But this estimate was dismissed as "baloney" by the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, suggested that postwar reconstruction could pay for itself through increased oil revenues. Mitch Daniels, the Office of Management and Budget director, and Secretary Rumsfeld estimated the costs in the range of $50 to $60 billion, a portion of which they believed would be financed by other countries." These experts tell us that the total cost may be close to $3 trillion figure.  Guess who may be laughing from the cave?
Is there any solution to get out of this imperial quagmire? How about listening to Eisenhower? He said in his farewell speech: "Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.
"Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose." 
Will America listen to this wise man who knew the evils of war firsthand and cautioned about the power of multinationals, and advocated negotiation to resolve international problems? Or, will she follow the orders from chicken-hawks, draft dodgers and AWOLs, who protect themselves and their own children from fighting in the battlefield and yet are so emotionally charged up about settling disputes violently?
Part Three: Myths and Lessons of Athenian Democracy
In 1871, Walt Whitman, the great poet of America, wrote, "We have frequently printed the word democracy, yet I cannot too often repeat that it is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawakened, notwithstanding the resonance and the many angry tempest out of which its syllables have come, from pen to tongue. It is a great word, whose history, I suppose, remain unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted." (Democracy Vistas)
The word democracy derives from the ancient Greek dēmokratia (literally, rule by the people) formed from the roots dēmos "people," "the mob, the many" and kratos "rule" or "power." To understand its history, we should look at Athenian Greece where it all began nearly 2500 years ago. Athenian democracy evolved out of the revolt of organized peasants against the abusive power of oligarchic rulers who redistributed wealth upward –” from demos to the privileged few. It transformed those abused peasants into active citizens who demanded public accountability of their elected officials. Socrates is the towering figure of this democracy precisely because he challenged the chauvinistic thinking of his day. As we shall find out below, he was also its major casualty.
It is not easy for anyone in the West to think of ancient, democratic Athens as anything but a paragon of equality, free speech and democracy. After all, to him/her Ancient Greece is the keystone of Western civilization. However, as classical historian Bettany Hughes has demonstrated, democratic Athens had a darker side.  It was highly xenophobic and imperial. To illustrate this point, Athenian statesman and General Pericles’s great funeral oration is enough. He proclaimed, "For Athens alone of her contemporaries is found when tested to be greater than her reputation … we have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good, have left imperishable monuments behind us." (Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War) He contended that democracy at home was rooted in slavery, patriarchal households, and the economic advantage of the cheap labor for resident aliens who could not vote.
Under the Athenian empire, as Professor Loren J Samons II of Boston University has argued, almost all of Athens’ formerly free allies eventually either accepted her hegemony or were reduced to the status of tribute payers. Athenian settlers occupied prime lands in former allies’ states, local legal cases were transferred to Athens (where Athenian juries would render decisions), garrisons were established in some cities and the allies were required to make the contributions at certain Athenian festivals. 
Democratic Athens practiced "black magic" and created a society where one in three Athenians was a slave, many separated from their families and forcibly sterilized. The Athenian intellectuals who were describing the ideals of justice and freedom were also slave owners. Nine tenths of the Athenian population were not allowed to vote. This included all women, as well as slaves and other groups. Not only were women denied the vote, they were considered demonic and compelled to veil themselves fully outside their homes.
Rhetoricians practiced modern "spin control" as a central part of democracy, and no two years went by in which Athenians did not vote to go to war. Overall, it was a bloody, confused place of both bright ideas and a repressive regime. Thus, Athens became a warlike state that carved out an empire to enrich itself, an empire that couldn’t tolerate criticism from within. Inevitably, Socrates had to be its casualty. In 399 BC, a jury of some 500 Athenians voted to convict and execute him. Despite its legacy which lasts to this day, democracy in ancient Athens did not flourish but quickly died.
With such a root in Athenian democracy, is it any surprise, therefore, that many of the European powers –” e.g., Holland, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Russia, France, England and Germany –” had deep imperial foundations? We are not surprised either that many founders of the American Revolution –” from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson – were slavers. Thus, true to this complex and contradictory nature of democracy, the U.S. government, immediately following the Civil War, would deploy troops in the imperialist cause of further westward expansion, engaging in genocidal war against the indigenous peoples.
It was no accident also that in the early 20th century, while America was preaching democracy, she had already colonized Guam, Samoa, Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba, let alone denying those same rights to her black population and women. Not only that, she created a vast hegemony in the Central and South America by giving new meaning, force and enforcement to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.
The word "democracy" no longer stands for the type of "direct" democracy that was practiced by the Athenians. It is redefined as something like "government by elected officials that ensures the sovereignty and benefit of the people while protecting their rights."
Very few people today would question the wisdom of this "indirect" democracy. It is seen (and prescribed by America) as a panacea in many third world countries where people are denied the right to elect their representatives, where there is lack rule of law and separation of powers. Democracy allows them to elect leaders who will serve their best interests. And if those leaders do not measure up, it empowers them to replace them in the next election, provided that election is held on time, and it is fair and free. It is all about majority rule.
However, as has been correctly argued by Fareed Zakaria in his book "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad", majority rule may not necessarily preserve democracy and guarantee liberty, freedom, equality and justice for all. The majority spirit may prove to be not only misguided but also greedy, corrupt, belligerent and bloody. It can lead to mob violence, annexation and colonization of others. It can crucify voices of reason and moderation, if such views are deemed politically incorrect or Socratic. Through enacted laws, it can even terrorize its own people.
The founding fathers of America viewed democracy of the Athenian type as an unstable form of government. America emerged as a republic (representative government) by creating buffers between the popular will and legislative or policy decisions, and not as a demokratia precisely because of that elite fear of passions and ignorance of the demos. For founding fathers –” just as Plato –” too much Socratic questioning from the demos and too much power sharing of the elites with the demos were expected to lead to anarchy, instability, or perpetual rebellion. Not surprisingly, the term "democracy" is nowhere to be found in either the American Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.
Plato defined democracy as "a polis full of freedom and frank speech (Parrhesia)" that could never resolve the perennial problem of corruption or crawling despotism. For him, only the rule of philosopher-kings equipped with knowledge of the good life could control the unruly passions of the demos. The views of Socrates, Aristophanes and Thucydides (all Athenians) were not much different either. Arguably they were all prejudiced aristocrats who sought to thwart the empowerment of the poor. 
In America today, like many other democratic countries of the world –” both liberal and illiberal (to coin Zakaria’s terminologies) – democracy is increasingly becoming a toy in the hands of the elites, the powerful financiers and lobbyists of various interest groups that back politicians and set their agenda before those of the ordinary voters. Many politicians and government officials, after their retirement, end up with lucrative jobs as Board Members in various lobby groups and corporations to buttress the vicious cycle of power. Such common practices are a danger to the health of a nation.
With a failing economy and a looming war casualty, America needs to take a Socratic self-examination and choose her path. And it is not going to be an easy one. After all, the contingent origins of American democracy and the ignoble beginnings of imperial America go hand in hand. This vibrant and multifaceted bonding of the opposites — of democratic flourishing and racial subjugation, of freedom and slavery, of imperial resistance (to British rule) and imperial expansion of Amerindians — is driven primarily by market forces to satisfy expanding population and greedy profiteers. 
There is no denying that the influence of merchants of war, big business, Constantinian Christians and Jewish neoconservatives has steadily grown to a dangerous level today. Neither of the two major parties is immune from their deadly embrace. Only time would tell if this combo had pushed America off the cliff of ascendancy to embrace the fate of imperial Athens in the dustbin of history.
As mother America is torn between the opposing twins of democracy, it may be prudent to take lessons from Athenian Democracy. To quote Prof. Simons II, "Athenian history teaches us that ‘what the people want’ is not always or even usually a good thing. The execution of Socrates should give us pause…. The Athenians provoked hostilities with Sparta and Corinth, their former allies against Persia, fighting with one or both states (and their allies) off and on from about 460 to 404 BC. During that period, the Athenians undertook military actions virtually every year, often attempting to expand their empire (invading Sicily in 415), reduce recalcitrant allies or force others into the Delian League. In the course of these conflicts, the Athenians bankrupted themselves while killing thousands of fellow Greeks and selling thousands more into slavery. In 416, when the island of Melos (where the Venus de Milo would be found in 1820) refused to join the alliance, the Athenians besieged the city and then slaughtered all the Melian men and enslaved the women and children. Afterwards, refusing offers of peace on favorable terms from their foes, the Athenians eventually lost the war, their fleet and their empire." 
Is America listening? Is she ready to leash her imperial passion?
. Democracy Matters by Cornel West, Penguin Press, NY (2004): http://www.amazon.com/Democracy-
. They Dare to Speak Out by Paul Findley:
See also: The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt: http://www.amazon.com/
. For detail information see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_
. For information on CUFI: see
. Tough talk on Pakistan from Obama, Reuters, Aug. 1, 2007: http://www.reuters.com/article/domestic
. Hillary, war with Iran is no laughing matter, Sept. 30, 2007:
. Joseph Stiglitz was the chief economist at the World Bank; he won the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2001. Linda Bilmes is a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. See their joint article in the Times: