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Celebrating America’s schizophrenic democracy

n this Independence Day weekend, I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward rooting for the protesters in Egypt.

Something stirs inside of most Americans, or should, when popular uprisings topple from power leaders who for one reason or another have fallen out of favor.

Only problem with Egypt is this particular leader, Mohamed Morsi, was the country’s first democratically elected president — ever. Watching the military take over, even under the guise that it is acting on behalf of the people, just feels a bit funny.

Sure, I was not really a fan of Morsi. Democratically elected or not, it was a bit frightening that Egypt elected an Islamist. Morsi is a member of the country’s Muslim Brotherhood. A lot of people deeply believe this is really a terrorist group disguised as a political party.

Nonetheless, freely elected is freely elected. A military coup is not the same as a coup of the people in my opinion. But I’m not all that familiar with how Egyptian society is organized. One thing I do know is that Morsi got zero support from the Obama Administration. White House officials told news outlets that the U.S. government wasn’t going to take sides. But by making such a statement, it’s clear to any thinking person that indeed the U.S. had already taken sides — against Morsi.

So, as we celebrated our own Independence Day, our own government was pretty much okay with a military force — that this country mostly arms to the tune of $1 billion a year — taking out an elected leader almost three years after another coup took out a true dictator there, one that for decades was propped up by, you guessed it, the U.S. government.

That’s a head scratcher, particularly when you think back on all of President Obama’s now somewhat empty rhetoric about the democratic process.

The rhetoric, of course, is for you and me. The bullets and the guns and the blood and the behind-the-scenes diplomacy and spying is for everyone else.

At least we hope.

Several weeks ago, when news broke that a young, 29-year-old contractor with the National Security Agency had absconded with secrets gleaned from his top secret job, I was skeptical that he was performing any sort of public service with what he’d done. I remain doubtful that his purpose is to strengthen American democracy. He stole secrets, violated his oath to his bosses and this country, split to China and now is holed up in Russia. He’s been charged in the U.S. with multiple felonies, including espionage and he’s having a lot of trouble finding a place that won’t turn him in to his own countrymen.

I just don’t think much of Edward Snowden. This is admittedly mostly for lack of good information and a gut hunch. I could be wrong.

One thing he is doing is causing all kinds of diplomatic problems for the Obama Administration.

Some of our closest allies, France and Germany, are super upset over allegations our NSA has been spying on them. Suspicions are high that the U.S. was behind an effort to force the plane carrying Bolivia’s president to land after he left Moscow this week because Snowden might have been aboard. Not to mention new stresses on relations with Russia, China and Ecuador for their roles in this whole mess to begin with.

And while I think Snowden is a coward for leaving the country in the first place, one thing I think he has done is shone a light on just how undemocratic the greatest democracy in the world really can be.

Spying on our own citizens, spying on our allies — that’s not terrorism we’re fighting in Europe; I suspect that’s business intelligence gathering for G.E. or IBM or Boeing — there’s the behind-the-scenes maneuvering against weaker countries, Bolivia and Ecuador.

A whiff of all of this combined, the coup in Egypt, the smoldering NSA scandal, and you wonder what democracy are we celebrating this weekend?

Is it the one that keeps us safe by spying on us and our friends in Europe, or by toppling freely elected governments, or looking the other way when others do it, like fat, television-hypnotized hypocrites?

I wonder.

Obviously some very undemocratic policies and over-reaching methods have seeped into this democracy, with the potential for far-reaching effects on our society if we’re not vigilant.

I truly hoped, but never really believed, President Obama would usher in a new era for America. He sadly hasn’t.

I’m not sure any president in the modern political world will ever again be remotely capable of doing anything more than tilting the pendulum ever so slightly one way or another. That is until America gets serious about cultivating democracy, like by getting money out of politics for starters, or term-limiting some of these professional public servants, or banning lobbying altogether. That could start to right the ship. But don’t hold your breath.

No, democracy in America feels almost as if it is becoming overly-complicated.

It’s so complicated that we debate Snowden’s freedom of speech while he hands our secrets to people actively working to kill us. Our democracy is so complicated that we watch live trials of men who kill black teenagers and women who stab their boyfriends to death, riveted to the screen by testimony, but barely bat an eyelash when a U.S. taxpayer provided, multi-million-dollar missile from a multi-million-dollar drone slams into a home in Pakistan and kills two dozen people.

What a complicated democracy we live in when one day the Supreme Court kills a law designed to foster equal access to the ballot box and then strikes down a federal ban on gay marriage the next.

It’s like a bad script that doesn’t make any sense, and on top of that, the lead actors can’t even remember their lines.

Is it independence from tyranny I celebrate this week? Or is it an illusion that we salute, a lie we play along with as we sort out the hypocrisies and complexities and complications of this wonderful American democracy in all its schizophrenic glory?

I wonder.

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