This podcast was recorded in October 2011.
How did America come to accept having two classes of citizens, living under two sets of rules? Have Americans give up on the dream of fairness for all, or are we ready to restore some sort of equilibrium to our systems of finance, justice, and most importantly, our economy?
We got the chance to sit down with Salon’s Glenn Greenwald to discuss his book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. Glenn believes that unfairness in America is nothing new — in fact, he says, it is perfectly acceptable in this culture for us to admire those who we see as becoming successful and powerful by creating value.
At the same time, Americans accept unfairness with one explicit caveat: that each of us has the chance to be one of those people — that each of us has the opportunity to become successful. What Americans are rejecting now is not wealth disparity, but the corrupt and unethical way so much of the money in this country is now being made, with our government, more often than not, simply looking the other way.
Many Americans are saying “no more” to our government explicitly agreeing to legalize and codify that destructive behavior, protecting powerful political and financial elites while prosecuting ordinary Americans over trivial offenses. We are beginning to see a rejection of this unfairness via social movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party other national reform-based movements. As Glenn puts it:
“What has changed is not suddenly that people are angry about income inequality and wealth inequality and believe it’s illegitimate. What has changed is the perception that the people who have everything that they have, the top 1%, or I think more accurately 0.1%, have obtained that not fairly or legitimately or through meritocracy, but those are ill-gotten gains, that they are illegitimate, that the entire system has become illegitimate.”
Many feel like our government now has no problem with saying there are two kinds of people. This country used to be freedom and justice for all, with the aspiration that we all have a chance to make it — now it’s freedom and justice for some. In the past, there was a resistance to these policies, either by the President, the Congress or the people. We saw this with the ending of slavery, with women’s suffrage, to the civil rights movement. That seems to have ended. As Glenn explains:
“Even though we were obviously having all kinds of inequality, plagued by inequality throughout our first two centuries, the fact that we continue to affirm this principle and then eventually wrote it into the 14th Amendment, equality under the law, equal protection under the law, meant that we continue to move in that direction, and that is the history of the United States—disenfranchisement of women became the right of women to vote, slavery of African-Americans became emancipation and the elimination of Jim Crow, constantly moving in the direction of equality under the law. And what has really happened over the past four decades is not just that we violated the principle, because that’s been going on forever, it’s that we’ve stopped even affirming it, so you see explicit arguments all the time from the most important opinion-making elites in the society about why elites and people in power and people who are financially most powerful need not and should not be held accountable under the rule of law. Criminal processes, indictments, prosecutions, imprisonment, those are for the people who are selling drugs on the corner that you see as you drive by outside your window. They’re not for the Secretary of Defense. They’re not for high political officials. They’re not for heads of Wall Street firms. And this is an express repudiation of equality under the law that really is what makes things so different now.”