The New Authoritarian America: Enjoy!
I have previously written about Orange County, California. ( See “Do Not Come to Southern California--” blogger.com- Search: theopendimension) It is probably one of the most right-wing counties in the nation. If Messrs. Bush and Cheney were to choose a model for what they planned the entire country to become, this would no doubt be it. And actually the model seems to be rapidly becoming the reality nationwide, from what I can gather from contacts around the country. In this “consumer” society the mercantile class, dutifully served by right -wing politicians and judges, is attaining virtual absolute power.
What is particularly disturbing to me, having practiced law during the 70s and early 80s, is the gross deterioration of the legal system. It no longer even pretends to serve the people. In Orange County, for example, you learn fast enough that if you have a claim against a landlord, a service corporation or the medical industry you don’t even bother going into the county courts. The law in Orange County is that if you have a claim of up to $3000 and the court decides against you, you can’t appeal to the next higher court. But the defendant you’re suing can appeal. And the defendant, usually a merchant of some kind, of course hardly ever loses. Has the constitution been repealed? Landlords in south Orange County routinely take a substantial part of a vacating tenant’s security money to prepare the apartment for the incoming tenant. This is clearly illegal unless the vacating tenant has damaged the apartment. Yet landlords do it all the time because they know they can get away with it. I know of one case where the tenant contacted the Orange- County “Fair Housing” bureau to complain about this kind of theft of security monies by a landlord and was advised: “ If that’s the landlord’s policy we can’t help you.” Whoever has the most money in his pocket wins. That’s the law in right-wing Orange County. And that’s what the entire country is or will soon be under right-wing mercantile authoritarianism, our new political philosophy. God help us.
Oh, and if you get a traffic ticket in Orange County don’t bother pleading not guilty. If you get a ticket here and decide to plead not guilty you have to send the assessed amount of the fine in to the court along with your not-guilty plea. They don’t call it a fine; they call it “bail.” What do you think your chances are of getting it back? Again the public just surrenders and takes it on the chin. “Bail” for having a defective tail light? Yes, Ralph, and don’t protest about it or we’ll book you as a “disorderly person.” ( They often like to call you by your first name. It makes you feel like a nine-year-old recalcitrant child )That’s Orange County. The Model.
And employers? They have virtually absolute rights over employees and prospective employees. If a person applies for a job and it is found out that he has had a bankruptcy ( a federally protected remedy) he can be denied employment even though he is eminently qualified for the position. When did the constitution disappear? And even where an employer has a written grievance procedure, if an employee files a grievance against a manager, the employer can defeat his grievance by stalling indefinitely; and, if the employee should press for prosecution of his complaint, the employer can simply terminate him on fabricated charges or at will. Try to find a court which will vindicate the employee’s rights, particularly in Orange County, California. But it’s become more or less the same story all over the country. We have become a nation of underlings.
Having practiced law when the country was still a democratic republic, I spoke to some local ACLU attorneys about the kind of legal and constitutional violations I just mentioned. Their response? “Yes, sir, we know these practices are clear violations of citizens’ rights. But the courts don’t agree.” Even the ACLU has surrendered.
That’s the key- the courts. Since the Reagan era- and before- they have been packed on every level by far-right-wing authoritarian judges whose prime loyalty is not to the law or to the constitution but to the interests of the wealthy merchants who put them on the bench. They may be very clever in rationalizing the bases of their decisions to the public. But it’s a subterfuge. Most of the protests we hear today are concerned with the executive and legislative branches of government. And God knows they are more than justified. But the real “silent killer” of this nation is the judiciary. That’s where we’re supposed to go to rectify injustices. We no longer can. We have no place left to go. And after Bush and Cheney have had their eight years I’m afraid that that fact is going to be most painfully obvious to even the most comatose American.
When I started law practice during the 70s I worked as a Legal- Services attorney, doing a great deal of appellate and law-reform practice. We had sufficient funding to really push hard against injustices to ordinary people; and significant improvements were attained in tenancy law, criminal law, employees’ rights and commercial law. Funding for Legal Services began to be cut during the Nixon-Agnew era and it has gone radically downhill since then. The progress that was made in those days has been systematically destroyed by far-right legislators and judges. If some balance isn’t restored we’re in real trouble.
The situation in this country is much worse than people are generally willing to realize. We cannot succumb to surrender and apathy. That of course is what the ruling bastards want us to do. They want us to be
“ a nation of sheep” that they can herd the way they want to. There was a recent article in one the Orange-County newspapers about a young man who had decided to emigrate to another country and was preparing to leave, When asked why he decided to leave the USA his response was: “ I’m just sick of this American population which is nothing more than a bio-mass of apathetic consumers.” Not very flattering; but maybe a lot more than a grain of truth was in his indictment.
The American Bar Association is basically quite a conservative organization. But even they have begun to make some noises about Bush’s radical expansion of executive power. They ought to be making a lot more noise about the general decline of our legal system and the routine violations of citizens’ traditional rights by the judicial system. Nothing but a public outcry will get them to move. They have website. How about contacting them and demanding some answers: Why aren’t you demanding more funding for Legal Services and law-reform units? Why aren’t you making more public statements about negative developments in the area of constitutional protections and citizens’ rights in general? Why have you been so silent about judicial and legislative incursions into the law of eminent domain and federal bankruptcy rights? Why have you not spoken out about the outrageously usurious interest rates that Americans are being charged by banks and credit-card companies? Why have you been so acquiescent in approving the nominations of judges whose history shows that they are puppets of the corporations and landowners rather than objective interpreters of the law? You get the idea. And the ACLU has a website. They should also be pressed to explain why they usually seem to be involved in the more dramatic cases. But what are they doing to help ordinary people whose rights are being routinely violated by landlords, employers, corporations and local governments ?
We need to start asking more pointed questions of the legal profession. They should be in the forefront in the area of law-reform. They aren’t. And they won’t be unless their ears are filled with public outcry.