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Democracy in Peril Solving the Crisis of the

Democracy in Peril Solving the Crisis of the

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Published by Jaime Puente

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Published by: Jaime Puente on Jun 20, 2010
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06/19/2010

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Democracy in Peril: Solving the Crisis of the U.S./ Mexico Border In 2002 when President George W Bush gave the State of the Union Address he labeledIraq, Iran, and North Korea as the so-called axis of evil—even though they never reallycollaborated on anything. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon andWorld Trade Center, our national psyche was severely devastated and many government officialsreadily cited the ‘axis’ as the number one threat to the security of the country. Nearly ten yearslater the threat from overseas remains the same, over seas, but that threat was always a physicalthreat that could be relatively contained. Today, the border between the United States andMexico poses both the greatest threat and most promise to the future success of Americandemocracy because the violent problems that plague the region can only be overcome if citizensare willing to exercise their democratic muscles by respecting other’s democratic ideals,demanding equal justice, and embracing our differences as strengths. Using the Jean-PaulSartre’s dedication to the individual’s radical freedom and Cornel West’s three deep democratictraditions, I will argue that the problems facing the United States/ Mexico border can beovercome. In order to find solutions, though we must first identify the barriers that stand in our way.When President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in the United States and aroundthe world in June of 1971 he created a cabinet level office to combat what he believed thegreatest issue facing the American public at the time.[1] Nixon started the Drug EnforcementAgency with a Congressional budget of $371 million and by the end of the century it balloonedto more than $17 billion.[2]In spite of billions of dollars of American government efforts, theillicit drug trade is thriving more than ever, and it is estimated that global drug trafficking is nowa $400 billion industry with more than $70 billion of that coming from the United States.[3] Nearly forty years after Nixon declared the war on drugs it has failed in every effort one canthink of, and some are now blaming it for the brutal violence that is ravaging our democraticneighbor to the south, Mexico. For the better part of the last decade the country has been the1
 
 bystander of a different kind of drug war. Highly trained, armed, and deadly organizations suchas the Sinaloa Cartel and the Arellano-Felix Organization have taken control of entire Mexicanstates and are responsible for thousands of murders each year including journalists, countlesscivilians, and even federal narcotics agents.[4]The power of drug kingpins in Mexico is spilling over into the American cities in Texas,Arizona, California, and everywhere in between. In recent months the Secretary of HomelandSecurity Janet Napalitano even requested the United States government activate and mobilizemilitary forces along the border.[5]The violence that has painted the streets red with blood inMexico is slowly moving into the United States and our government is trying to combat a greasefire with a water hose. Scholar and champion of democracy Cornel West argues that overlymilitarized government responses exhibit an evangelical nihilism that promotes only cannedresponses to complex problems because “democracy matters little, plutocracy reigns, and empirerules”.[6]The drug war being fought along the U.S/ Mexico border is endangering the processof democracy in both countries because as Mexican officials move their families north of the border to flee the murderous retribution of the cartels, we in the United States casually dismissour responsibility in the situation by simply flexing our military might. There are more optionsavailable to the United States other than increasing the brutality with more soldiers, guns, andviolence. It is not a drug war that is terrorizing the U.S./Mexican border; it is a war ondemocracy that has multiple fronts that we as citizens must confront because our nation’s futuredepends on our ability identify these threats and neutralize them.Identifying threats to democracy on a societal level must begin with the individual.French existentialist Jéan Paul Sartre argues that the power of one person to influence others isinherent in the expression of one’s radical freedom.[7]The United States of America is a society built on the assumption that “all men” are created free and equal, but considering our troubledhistory, even that statement is disingenuous. In a country that spreads the rhetoric of free andequal Sartre’s atheist existentialism compels each individual person to confront his or her owncomplacency because “[wo]man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the whole2
 
world on [her] shoulders; [s]he is responsible for the world and for [her]self as a way of  being”.[8]American freedom, as we readily acknowledge, is the beacon of hope for many of theworld’s oppressed peoples, but along with that freedom comes the responsibility to protect itthrough the exercise of democracy. Sartre denies the ability to excuse our accountability for bothour actions and inactions as free people because we are creating the image others will follow.Living in a democracy the individual is not alone, and although Americans have premiered their individuality Sartre reminds us that we are members of a society whose actions have implications beyond our own personal existence. In light of Sartre’s radical responsibility of a free individualwe can see that how our nation responds to the violence occurring along the U.S./ Mexico border is a reflection of every single American’s dedication to democracy.The war being waged by drug cartels and American evangelical nihilism is only one of the major threats to our idea of democracy and life that we must face in order to accept Sartre’scall to radical freedom. By far one of the most fiercely waged battles in the border-zone, and therest of the country for that matter, is the fight for and against allowing legal immigration. In acountry that was built by slaves and remodeled with immigrant labor the question of allowing people access to the so-called American dream should not be a question at all. The reality,however, is that the policy of the American government is to restrict the flow of bothdocumented and undocumented people into the United States for reasons as varied as nationalsecurity, economic protection, and even racism. The policy toward undocumented immigrants inthe United States follows what West would call paternalistic nihilism because while many of those in the position of power understand the value of immigrants in terms of their labor the so-called liberal elites refuse to acknowledge them as being worthy of the same access to freedomand democracy than those born here.On the national level many powerful leaders acknowledge the problems Americanimmigration policy has created along the border, but none have yet been willing to examine theissue in way that treats people with the respect they deserve.[9]West’s idea of paternalisticnihilism can be used to describe how U.S. Immigration policy works to further alienate people3

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