By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, retired epidemiologist
April 23, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- So Senator Jones claims America exceptionalism because our Constitution begins with “We the People,” in his recent editorial on restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nice sentiments, but what is the reality?
According to Senator Jones, “‘We the People’ established a Constitution with a Bill of Rights that enshrines the liberties that cannot be permanently taken from us. Just because we’re in an emergency doesn’t mean we hand over our freedoms to the government absolutely and indefinitely.”
First, no one is talking about handing over our freedoms indefinitely. However, if we rely on our “intuitive genius” President and people like Senator Jones rather than experts on infectious diseases we may actually hand over more than our freedoms--threatening our health and our lives.
Having studied infectious diseases, including their histories, for over 40 years, just one example is the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 which killed more than 675,000 Americans when our population was only around 120 million, about a third what it is today. The Pandemic came in three waves, the first killing like most flu; but the second wave came back with a vengeance.
If we lift social distancing too soon to get our economy moving again, it may actually cause more harm to our economy. If COVID-19 flares up, we could have far more people hospitalized, basically crashing our health care system, and, though the vast majority of younger people will survive, many will take longer times to recuperate, thus hurting our economy even more. This pandemic has been mishandled from the beginning.
Our Bill of Rights to some extent is a joke. During World War I, people went to prison for saying something as simple as, “This war is just to make profits for the corporations” and the Supreme Court supported this.
Our 5th Amendment says we can’t be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law and the 8th Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishments; yet when an elderly couple’s grandson, visiting them, was caught selling a little marijuana, their home was forfeited. Not only were they not involved in the sale of drugs, but the value of their home far exceeded the little the grandson made on sales of marijuana. That’s just one example of our asset forfeiture laws which despite the clear language of the 5th and 8th Amendment, our Supreme Court has upheld. No charges, no trial, no conviction, and, yet, totally innocent and you can lose your home. Check out the Don Scott case where his small ranch was targeted for growing marijuana and he was shot dead in his pajamas early in the morning, yet no drugs were found.
It has been documented how over the past few decades SWAT teams, originally armed and trained for dealing with violent situations, in many communities are used for collection of unpaid tickets, etc. barging into people’s homes, terrifying them.
Today, we have gerrymandering, voter suppression, elections influenced by funding from corporations and billionaires, a Congress, at least many members, bought and paid for by lobbyists with revolving doors between industry, Congress, and/or Cabinet members, etc. The Electoral College (originally created partly to protect the Slave States) gave Trump the Presidency when he lost by three million votes.
Having lived in both Sweden and Canada, both nations have vibrant democracies and both have higher voter turnout than the U.S.
How can we claim we are a free people when we have 5% of world’s population, yet almost 25% of those imprisoned, including an estimated 100,000 who are TOTALLY innocent? Anyone who has followed the various Innocence Projects will know how our system is biased against admitting errors, fighting tooth and nail against admitting someone was wrongly convicted; yet, at the same time, allowing the guilty to go free. And compared to other nations, we are the only one with for-profit prisons, even worse than State run prisons which are overcrowded and often brutalize the incarcerated.
The Constitution says “We the People”; yet our Supreme Court in Citizens United ruled that artificially created entities called Corporations are protected as if they were living breathing flesh and blood human beings. So much for our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Currently the Republicans are using COVID-19 to funnel monies to companies that were on the verge of bankruptcy prior to the pandemic, to weaken environmental laws endangering everyone’s health, and on and on it goes.
As for deficits, keep in mind that our Congress approved tanks and planes that our military made absolutely clear it neither needed nor wanted; but why spend monies on the American people when one can enrich a few corporations? Yep, created jobs; but the same monies could have been dispersed to repair infrastructure, bridges, roads, keep rural hospitals that have been closing in record numbers, creating far more jobs and actually benefiting the American people; but these don’t have lobbyists. I am all for a strong military for defense; but our military has been mostly used to further the interests of corporations.
When Senator Jones writes: “Other countries’ leaders have few obstacles to putting extremely restrictive measures in place. Thankfully, this is not so in America,” he is just repeating American mythology. Having lived in Canada and Sweden and keeping in touch with friends, regularly reading newspapers online, I assure you that they are freer than we are, they don’t have asset forfeiture laws, grossly overused SWAT teams, voter suppression, gerrymandering, corporations considered equally protected as people, masses of innocent people in prison, etc. Moreover, as opposed to this nation, they can have recall elections.
So, let’s let our “intuitive genius” President and people like Senator Jones decide when the social distancing ends. Maybe we’ll get lucky; but maybe not. I prefer to listen to the experts and err on the side of caution.
Economies can be rebuilt. Dead people can’t be brought back to life and people who survive with 30% reduced lung capacity and damage to other organs can’t be restored to full health.
For me, the Dow Jones doesn't TRUMP people.
Alfred W. Blumrosen & Ruth G. Blumrosen (2005). “Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies & Sparked the American Revolution.” Barnes & Noble
Alexander Keyssar (2000). “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. Basic Books.
Geoffrey R. Stone (2004). “Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime.” Norton
Michael Waldman (2016). “The F(R)ight to Vote” Simon & Schuster.
John W. Whitehead (2015). “Battlefield America: The War on the American People” Select Books.
Wikipedia. Death of Don Scott.
U.S. Military - Our Government Lies Used for Defense when, in reality, used to further Corporate Interests
William Blum (2003). Killing Hope: US Military & CIA Interventions since World War II. Available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/abbottabad-compound/13/130AEF1531746AAD6AC03... [also for purchase on amazon.com
Major General Smedley Butler War Is A Racket. Available at: https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.pdf [Butler is the most decorated marine in American history]
Mason Gaffney (March 2018). Corporate Power and Expansive U.S. Military Policy. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 77, No. 2. Pages 331 - 417. Available at: https://www.globalresearch.ca/corporate-power-and-expansive-u-s-military…
Stephen C. Schlesinger (1983). Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Inexpensive copies available on Amazon.com Also available San Diego Public Library
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a native San Diegan, is a retired epidemiologist. He has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. He is currently active in supporting the adoption of a single-payer health care system in the U.S. For more information on single-payer go to Physicians for a National Health Program’s website at www.pnhp.org. His undergraduate degree was a duel major, Political Science and Social Psychology.
So Senator Jones claims America exceptionalism because our Constitution begins with “We the People.” Nice sentiments; but what is the reality? “We the People” didn’t apply to Afro-Americans, didn’t apply to women, and mainly recognized property white men as having the right to vote (the various states had different requirements for voting; but only for white males). And there is NO indication that the framers had any intent to expand the “We”. In fact, if one studies early American history, most of the Framers considered Democracy “rule of the mob.” Perhaps, it should have been reworded to “We the White Males”. And, yes, our Constitution can be amended and it only took to 1920 to give women the right to vote (133 years), though some Western States did give the vote to women as far back as the late 1800s. And, though freed by the Civil War, followed by the 15th and 15th Amendments, Amendments brought about at the cost of 650,000 lives and many more permanently disabled, until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, discrimination continued, and now, given that the overwhelming majority of our imprisoned population is Blacks, our Constitution still doesn’t encompass “We the People.” Many states deny voting rights even after one has served their time. Yes, the Civil Rights movement resulted in middle class Blacks, in judges, university professors, etc.; but every study continues to show that the majority of Blacks have poor access to health care,to education, to jobs, to decent lives, that poverty rates among Blacks is much much higher than among Whites. They are PEOPLE; but, apparently, not really included in the protections of "We the People."
And, as an example of just how fraudulent and undemocratic our electoral process is:
In 2000 George Bush was “elected” President. He won the electoral college by just over 500 votes in the State of Florida. A butterfly ballot was used where many thought they were voting for Al Gore; but their vote went to Pat Buchanan. There were hanging chads. Polling stations were far and in between in Democratic districts, resulting in an over 90 year old woman waiting in line hours to vote, not so in Republican districts. And, for the first time, an outside firm, one involved in the Bush campaign, was used to find and purge ex-cons from the voting lists. A year after the election it was found that about 60,000 people, mostly minorities living in Democratic districts were wrongly purged from the voter roles. In fact, we are one of few nations who don’t restore full citizenship rights once one has served their time. When a vote recount was underway, the Republican party flew in loads of people who stood outside and screamed, making the recount impossible. Police didn’t intervene. The person responsible for all of the above was Katherine Harris, Florida Secretary of State, who was actively working for the Bush campaign. And finally, in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court ruled 5 - 4 to stop the recount. Two of the justices had family members actively working in the Bush campaign and should have recused themselves. In addition, as far as I have been able to find out, this was the first time in history that a Supreme Court ruling didn’t become the law of the land; but specifically applied to one case. Despite all the above, Gore still got 500,000 more votes.
We are NOT a democracy. "We the People" is about as meaningful as prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain East Germany was called the German Democratic Republic. It was neither Democratic nor a Republic. And, as a kid I wrote to Radio Moscow and received a copy of the Soviet Constitution where it clearly states that any of the Republics were free to leave at any time. Anyone believe that?
We are more democratic, have more freedom than some of the worst totalitarian nations; but it is a narrative myth that we are a free people with a democracy that truly represents the will of the government, with protections against tyranny of the majority or, currently, of the minority, given well-done polls often indicate that what the voters want, due to gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc. is not what they get.
The opinions expressed in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.