Flint: The Failure of Democracy

By: Bill Whaley
5 February, 2016

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. “ –Declaration of Independence (A long forgotten document?)

Surely in today’s America, a belief in civilized values should enable citizens, families and children to survive and have access to moral law, despite racism, poverty, and economic inequality. The Statue of Liberty is inscribed with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The notion of being able to “breathe free” originally welcomed immigrants to America who fled repressive regimes. Today, Americans flee Flint to come to Washington D.C. and plead for clean water, modern sanitation, and the right to breathe free whatever clean air remains.

At the House of Representative hearings on Flint, chaired by the U.S. House Oversight Committee’s Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the fellow traveler and tea party comrade of the Michigan Governor, seem to divert attention from Snyder, the Governor, and responsible party for enforcing draconian penalties on the poor children, women and men of Flint. The regulators at the state and federal EPA, apparently, lied and dallied with the truth while disease ravished a mostly black population. Course Chair Chaeffetz and the Michigan overlords conveniently blamed the various officials, who recanted, obfuscated, and, in Tea Party fashion, blamed the collective failure of government i.e. themselves. Everyone’s looking in the mirror for an escape hatch.

Nobody appeared to take responsibility for the political culture’s attack on infrastructure i.e. clean water, sanitation infrastructure, as well as the general health of the polis. The Tea Party learned their lessons from Marie Antoinette who advised the starving to eat cake if hey didn’t have bread or if they don’t have clean water from the tap, let them buy it in bottles from the private sector.

Off-camera during the hearing, one could see three busloads of Flint citizens filling up the back rows of the hearing room (like an old South theatre). Cameras focused mostly on the white faces and white voices. The vocal outrage and passion of Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the Black Congressman gave voice to the voiceless.

According to the Detroit News, “Gladyes Williamson, a lifelong Flint resident who’s retired from General Motors, was among those who came to Washington. She has been traveling to nearby Mt. Morris, twice a week to shower. “I can’t afford to lose more hair,” she explained, pulling out of her bag some wads of hair she lost while still showering in her home. As she walked from the hearing room to another room for a news conference, a worker in the Capitol complex saw her “Flint Lives Matter” T-shirt and yelled out his support.“(Todd Spangler and Maureen Groppe, Detroit Free Press and USA Today 10:45 a.m. EST February 4, 2016.)

As the horror tale has unfolded, first revealed by citizens, activists, a doctor and an out-of-town researcher, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Amy Goodman, so the hearing room, was filled by the grizzled and worn faces of Flint residents sitting in the back row. I was reminded of faces and bodies emerging from the hold of a slave ship, so stark is this living legacy of America’s original sin, captured in today’s headlines by the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Even as the faces faded from view, I heard Lincoln’s legacy of “emancipation” reconstitute the dedication of America to opportunity for all Americans, i.e. the right to clean water and sanitation. By hijacking the Constitution for the sake of living and using the Declaration of Independence to buttress the notion that “all men are created equal” under moral law, Lincoln made a grand appeal to America’s’ better nature.

(During this Flint Crisis I keep wondering, “where is President Obama?” I am reminded more of George W. Bush’s flight over post Katrina/New Orleans. Must Cornell West speak to Lincoln’s legacy?)

The values of life and commonly accepted notions of customary social decency, access to clean water and sanitation, a chance for access to democratic equality has been transformed today by neoliberal politics into the notions quantifying every value, action, and feeling into a notion of dollars and cents. The historic legacy written into the Constitution by the founders, wherein black people are considered 3/5ths of a person and Native Americans defined as invisible, is personified in the persons of the billionaires who count and control the Republican and Democratic political parties as well as their puppets in the U.S. Supreme Court. The worship of money is kind of new metaphysics, learned from the casino culture of Las Vegas, where “I am what I bet.”

The nightmare continues as bankers and corporatists, the Trumpets of White Power or Canadian-born Evangelicals, the Wall Street Democrats and Republicans struggle for the Senate, House, and Presidency. Anyone who looks at the charts can see the decline in privacy, rise in the surveillance state, support of Obama, the House and Senate for the “establishment” and the establishment’s “Princess of the Children’s Fund” capitalizing on “identity politics” while picking the pockets of the poor and aiming to permanently install totalitarianism and then fascism as state policy. Bernie—mirabile dictum—is the single progressive and humanitarian among candidates. He might get a chance to restart the engine of democracy.

But Democracy is running on two cylinders now in a moribund factory town, located 62 miles northwest of Motor City, where the fanatics have implemented “slow death” as policy. Who’s next?

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